" ... Joseph Schmitz--the former Pentagon Inspector General turned general counsel to Blackwater's parent, The Prince Group--lists on his résumé membership in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta ... ... "
Blackwater Contractors Involved in Suspect Baghdad Shooting Get State Department Immunity.
By Marie Therese
October 31, 2007
Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, may find himself and his company in a lot more hot water as new details emerge in the aftermath of the allegedly unprovoked killing of at least 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater security guards that took place on September 16, 2007. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, the Iraqi men, women and children who were gunned down died as part of a tactic known as "spray and pray." According to Wikipedia, "spray and pray" is "a derisive term for firing an automatic firearm towards an enemy in long bursts, without aiming. This may be done especially when quick reaction is needed to achieve a form of suppressive fire, either when aiming proves too difficult (for example due to a moving shooting platform) or when the location of an opponent is not exactly known." With video.
Iraqi anger over the September 16th incident has not died down and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi Parliament have demanded that Blackwater leave Iraq. According to a story aired on yesterday's Special Report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has approved a "transparent" FBI investigation into the incident. The British paper, The Independent, notes that Blackwater has a bad reputation in Iraq and that this incident is just the latest in a series of similar occurrences.
Shortly after the incident, Blackwater's notoriously camera-and-interview-shy CEO, Erik Prince, suddenly started making the rounds of the talk shows, giving essentially the same story, i.e., that the Blackwater guards were completely innocent of any overreaction, that they responded to gunfire. However, several investigations into the shooting have not corroborated the Blackwater version of events.
Yesterday, with the release of the news that the Blackwater guards had been given immunity by the State Department, the likelihood of prosecution faded. According to reports just released, the State Department granted the immunity under something called the "Garrity Clause," which was designed to protect federal employees.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dutifully denied that the State Department can give anyone immunity from prosecution, but others disagree, contending that the immunity offered to the guards by the State Department will hamper future investigations.
However, evidence obtained in a different Congressional investigation may throw a monkey-wrench into what looks suspiciously like an orchestrated attempt by the State Department to whitewash Blackwater and protect its guards from facing trial here in the United States.
On October 22nd, Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a thirteen-page letter to Erik Prince regarding Blackwater's disputed claim that its guards are all "independent contractors" and therefore responsible for their own tax payments. The IRS - and Waxman - believe that Blackwater has been playing fast and loose with the tax code, thus saving the company millions in social security, disability, liability and workman's compensation outlays.
By definition, an independent contractor is not an employee, but a sole proprietor of his/her own business, who contracts to do work. Unless the federal government signed a separate contract with each and every Blackwater security guard in Iraq, it seems to me that there is no way they can be designated as "federal employees." With their immunity gone, the mercenaries will be hung out to dry, both by the State Department and by Blackwater. At that juncture, the first defendant to cop a plea gets a reduced sentence while the rest of the men will get the book thrown at them. ...
Jeremy Scahill reported on Erik Prince's religious connections in the following excerpt from The Nation magazine:
Blackwater founder Erik Prince shares [President George] Bush's fundamentalist Christian views. He comes from a powerful Michigan Republican family and social circle, and his father, Edgar, helped Gary Bauer start the Family Research Council. According to a report prepared for The Nation by the Center for Responsive Politics, in all of Erik Prince's political funding generosity since 1989, he has never given a penny to a Democrat running for national office. Company president Jackson has also given money to Republican candidates. For his part, Joseph Schmitz--the former Pentagon Inspector General turned general counsel to Blackwater's parent, The Prince Group--lists on his résumé membership in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia formed before the First Crusade. Like Prince, he comes from a right-wing family; his father, former Congressman John Schmitz, was an ultraconservative John Birch Society director who later ran for President. Joseph Schmitz was once in charge of investigating private contractors like Blackwater, but he resigned amid allegations of stonewalling investigations conducted by his department. He now represents one of the most successful of those contractors.