Blackwater Revisited

Bronwyn Flores

In an attempt to mend their forever tarnished reputation, Blackwater changed its name to Xe (pronounced “zee”) this February. The US private security firm made the decision hoping to divert international attention from the September 2007 shooting in Iraq involving some of its American contractors. The shooting, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killed 17 civilians. In addition, the subsidiary that conducted most of its domestic training changed its name from Blackwater Lodge and Training Centre to just US Training Centre, Inc.

Hailed by his former naval officers and the GOP as a hard worker and dedicated leader, Erik Prince created Blackwater Worldwide out of 6,000 acres of swamp land in North Carolina before the age of 35. The private company evolved into an international fleet of legally immune mercenaries. Responding to attacks, Prince claimed that Blackwater only engages in defensive operations. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill contests Prince’s claim. On Democracy Now!, Scahill said, “I mean, give me a break. What is more offensive than invading and occupying of a country? Blackwater is at the vanguard of the US occupation of Iraq. They’re protecting the people that the Bush administration has sent in to implement the White House agenda in Iraq,” he said in May 2007. “I mean, that is an inherently offensive operation.”

Also in Februrary, five of the former Blackwater security guards plead not guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter. A sixth guard plead guilty. The company itself does not face any charges; however, the unresolved attack in 2007 exacerbated what many believed to be anti-Iraqi sentiments by hired American personnel. The official death count was 14 civilians, but the Iraqi government alleges it was actually 17. In the same he-said-she-said fashion reminiscent of the Boston Massacre, an Iraqi probe deemed the attack was premeditated, whereas Prince testified that his team was defending itself in a heavily guarded area of the country.

Numerous Iraqi complaints have been filed against the Blackwater troops, claiming they are aggressive and act offensively, rather than defensively. In response, the current US-Iraqi security agreement specifies that civilian contractors no longer be immune from persecution for crimes committed on Iraqi soil, as Blackwater has been since they step foot in Iraq..

However, the firm’s hard line tactics have since landed its employees the nickname of “mercenary men.” This term is not taken lightly by those it targets. Prince points out that mercenaries are soldiers for a foreign government, whereas, his men are “Americans working for America’s government.” The key difference between the two interpretations of Blackwater’s mission is that Americans believe that the group does not act in its best interests, but Blackwater maintains that it is an embodiment of American willpower.

While the cause was not explicitly stated, Prince resigned from his position on March 2. The resignation was effective immediately and Prince announced in an email that he would hand the reigns of chief operating officer and executive vice president to a Blackwater staffer of 10 years. In the same email, Prince also announced that the company’s president, Gary Jackson, would be retiring, leaving the position of CEO open. While the future of Xe still remains unclear, what is unmistakable is that Xe is not Blackwater, nor does it hope to be.