Blackwater's 'Merchants of Death'

Peter White, the head of the Mayer Brown team, plans to convince the judges in Alexandria this week that the Blackwater case isn't a case at all. In his written response to Burke's lawsuit, White argues that any public disclosure of Blackwater's methods would endanger its personnel in war zones, and her suit should be dismissed.

White also argues that if there is any culpability, it rests with the individuals who committed the acts in question, not the entire company. He points to unsuccessful lawsuits that were filed against US corporations after the Vietnam War, including the case of Vietnamese plaintiffs who tried and failed to sue the US multinational corporation Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of the defoliant Agent Orange. In one respect, the comparison is apt: Blackwater has become a symbol of an entire era, just as Agent Orange was a potent symbol of the Vietnam War.

Outsourcing War

After the al-Qaida attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney began using large numbers of private security contractors for the first time. The mercenaries were intended to make up for a lack of manpower, especially in the area of personal security, as well as to perform the dirty work, such as interrogating detainees, thereby leaving US military personnel untainted. Erik Prince's company turned into an empire practically overnight, collecting more than $1 billion (€700 million) in revenues from US taxpayers. Seventy percent of Blackwater's contracts with the government were no-bid contracts.

The company's most important personnel, its fighters, who were known internally as "shooters," were recruited around the world, including from places like the Philippines and Latin America. In 2007, the company proudly changed its name to Blackwater Worldwide.

The advantage of privatizing the war was obvious for the Bush administration. Blackwater contractors are cheaper than regular US soldiers. When they were killed, their widows received only minor compensation, while the US military pays lifelong survivor benefits. Besides, Blackwater employees died quietly -- in other words, they were never part of the official death statistics, which was convenient for the president.

With the end of the Bush administration, Blackwater received fewer contracts and the company changed its name to Xe Services. But its founder's most determined adversary, Susan Burke, continued her fight.

'A Christian Crusader'

Burke now plans to call 40 witnesses to testify against Prince. If the court agrees to hear her suit on Friday, eyewitnesses to the various killings will be summoned from Baghdad. In the United States, Burke, who made a name for herself defending detainees subjected to abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, will ask the court to subpoena several former Blackwater employees, including a former executive.

Two affidavits that have been filed in the Alexandria court contain serious allegations against company founder Erik Prince. The men who signed the affidavits, fearing that their lives could be put in danger if their identities were revealed, are identified anonymously as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2.

In his affidavit, John Doe 1, who served in Iraq, writes that he "personally observed multiple incidents of Blackwater personnel intentionally using excessive and unjustified deadly force."

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