Saturday, January 31, 2009

Anti-Blackwater Commentary Laced with Hate Speech

Wow - the online commentary about Blackwater today is really over the top! The latest news is really bringing out the left-wing nut jobs, who lace their commentary with bigotry and hate speech. One would expect more mainstream critics of the company to distance themselves, but so far they haven't.

At issue today is the report of the State Department's decision not to renew Blackwater's security contract in Iraq, citing the Iraqi government's refusal to reissue a license. We'll take a look at some of that coverage later, but what prompts this post is the reader commentary accompanying yesterday's Washington Post article.

Here are some selections from the reader comments. Some of these links might disappear from the Washington Post website once people start complaining about them for their offensive content, so I'm posting them so we can remember the critics' hate speech. Many of Blackwater's loudest detractors are hateful people:
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "has shown herself to be nothing more than a shrewish mouthpiece for her AIPAC paymasters while running the State Dept!! Her Zionist attitudes render moot any kind of impartial resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they speak volumes about the unconditional US support of Israel. . . ." (Posted by SMMajid_1 January 30, 2009 7:35 PM)

  • "We have experienced what it is like to live under evangelical, ultra-right-wing plutocrats. They do what they please. They do it in secret. They flout the laws. They gum up the works so they won't be questioned let alone prosecuted. In the end, like a certain German chancellor, they leave the country in ruin and leave office." (Posted by: BlueTwo1 January 30, 2009 11:34 PM)

  • Assorted swipes and slams on Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, written by people under the false impression that the owner of Blackwater is an evangelical and showing an ugly bigotry against Christian believers.
Standish recommends that Blackwater supporters post positive comments on online news stories, but cautions that those comments be brief, factual, respectful and polite.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pap Smear

Here's the video of trial lawyer Mike Papantonio's self-described "Pap Attack" on Blackwater. He's seen narrating the piece that ran in the Pensacola News Journal, which we dissected in the following post.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Out of Control Buffoonery - Trial Lawyer Embarrasses Himself with Ill-Informed Hit Piece

Imagine - a trial lawyer is calling someone a "phenomenally rich multimillionaire inheritance baby."

That's what Florida trial lawyer Mike Papantonio (pictured) calls former Navy SEAL and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.

But Papantonio's hit job is way off the mark, showing a staggering level of ignorance of American history, law, and of the subject of his attack. The trial lawyer's clumsily-worded, error-filled screed appeared in the Pensacola News Journal. I'm almost embarrassed for him. The piece looks it was written by someone who's had too much to drink.

Papantonio is a radio talk show host on Air America and is founder of

Standish has found at least nine major, glaring errors in Papantonio's attack piece.

1. Papantonio has his legal definitions wrong. He repeatedly refers to Prince and Blackwater as "mercenary." As a lawyer, Papantonio should know better. The international legal definition of mercenary, as defined by the Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, to which the US is a party, is as follows in Protocol I, Article 47.2:

A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

Blackwater contractors do security guard, logistics work, training and related jobs abroad on contract for the US government or under US government license. They are not "specially recruited" to "fight in an armed conflict" or to take "direct part" in hostilities. Their main motivation is to serve their country again, not "essentially the desire for private gain;" as we'll see below, Blackwater contractors are well paid financially, but they pay high taxes and receive none of the non-taxable benefits that military personnel receive, so in the end, the compensation is comparable to those on active duty. All Blackwater personnel guarding the State Department are nationals and residents of the US, a party to the conflict (support staff are multinational). So they do not meet the Geneva Conventions' six standards to be considered mercenary.

Consequently, Papantonio is slandering American veterans who return from their private lives to serve their country again in wartime. The story of helicopter pilot Art Laguna, who gave his life in defense of a trapped US diplomat in Iraq two years ago, shows the caliber of the military vets who join Blackwater: Unusually dedicated people. The Defense Department gave Art Laguna the Legion of Merit posthumously last year, citing his "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements." Click here for the story.

2. Papantonio says that Erik Prince's (deceased) father funded a "neo-con[servative] revolution." Again, the trial lawyer is wrong, misusing a word intended as a pejorative. Edgar Prince funded Reagan-line social conservatives, including leaders of evangelical Christian causes. Those folks are very different from neo-conservatives, a movement founded by Norman Podhoretz, who characterized neo-cons as liberals "mugged by reality." Neo-cons and social conservatives have seldom been comfortable with one another on major issues; neo-cons tend to be hawkish on defense issues but more liberal on social matters. Many prominent neo-cons turned their backs on their Marxist backgrounds, which is why so many on the left particularly hate them. Neo-conservative movement ideology centered around Podhoretz and other Jewish intellectuals with Commentary magazine - a totally different kind of movement than what Edgar Prince supported, which was based on Protestant Christianity. (Erik Prince is not an evangelical but a Catholic, so his views are not the same as those of his late father.) But "neo-con" is now an unpopular epithet, used both as a means of discrediting the recently-departed Bush Administration's first-term defense team that included some prominent neo-cons. It's also a code word for "Jew" among some closet anti-semites.

3. Papantonio is wrong when he states, "today, the Prince family's private army numbers about 25,000 strong." That's an outrageous estimate. It's not even on the most oddball, foil-hat conspiracy websites. Papantonio must be making it up. It looks like he is referring to the number of private security guards in Iraq, which is estimated at about 25,000, but most of those are Iraqi nationals working for other (mainly Iraqi) security companies.

Blackwater makes up only about 1,000 of the private security guards in Iraq, perhaps even fewer. If one adds the press reports and State Department testimony of Blackwater personnel abroad, and the company's own statements, one finds that the actual number of Blackwater personnel at about 700 in the US and between 1,000 and 3,000 contractors abroad. All Blackwater contractors abroad are either in the direct employ of the United States government, or operating with US allies under explicit US government permission and license. Many of these people are trainers and logisticians, not guards.

4. Papantonio is wrong when he claims, "Soldiers enlisted in the U.S. military get paid about $70 a day to put themselves in harm's way, while Mr. Prince's private soldier gets about $1,500 a day for facing the same risks." This is nonsense, an allegation that was debunked during a congressional hearing nearly a year-and-a-half ago, and by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in August 2008. Blackwater guards make only a fraction of that, and they have to pay their own expenses, from food, housing and healthcare to self-employment taxes and other items that soldiers receive as part of their non-taxable benefits. A 2007 Serviam magazine study found that the compensation is roughly the same. Blackwater has published its own comparison figures.

The CBO discussed cost comparisons less exaggerated than the figures Papantonio uses, and discounted the data. "Those figures are not appropriate for comparing the cost-effectiveness of contracting the security function or performing it using military personnel," according to the CBO. "The figures of $1,222 a day represents the contractor's billing rate, not the amount paid to the contractor's employees. The billing rate is greater than an employee's pay because it includes the contractor's indirect costs, overhead, and profit." CBO says a better comparison would be to estimate the total cost to the government. "CBO performed such an analysis, comparing the costs of a private security contractor with those of a military alternative. That analysis indicates that the costs of the private contractor did not differ greatly from the costs of having a comparable military unit performing similar functions."

5. Papantonio is wrong when he says that Blackwater guys are unaccountable to American law. He claims, "to this day, the lawyers for the Prince-family soldiers are still arguing that these mercenaries can't be prosecuted under traditional criminal and civil U.S. statutes." This claim is false. Indeed, some prominent legal scholars say that Congress never bothered to keep the laws up-to-date, creating a "legal vacuum" and accountability problems. Keeping federal laws up-to-date are up to Congress, not Blackwater, to solve. Blackwater operates under the laws in existence - some of which are either imprecise or contradictory - and it has urged that the laws be updated so that the company's work can be more specifically defined.

6. Papantonio is wrong when he implies that Blackwater is in danger of becoming an "independent, unchecked power in America." The company is tightly regulated under a host of state and federal laws. Its operations are regulated by the Justice Department, Defense Department, Treasury Department, Commerce Department and State Department. It is subject to the same gun-control and export laws that govern everyone else. Where laws haven't kept up with the outsourcing trend, they have been amended, and Blackwater has been urging Congress to continue updating the law. Congress even passed a law that Prince personally advocated in testimony before Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight panel on October 2, 2007.

7. Papantonio is wrong when he says that the US won World War II without the use of "American mercenaries." Perhaps he's never heard of the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers, led by Claire Chennault - a private air force of American aviators who fought the Japanese in Burma, China and Australia. Most people are familiar with the AVG's famous P-40 fighter plane with its distinctive shark-mouth paint job (pictured). Other "American mercenaries," as the trial lawyer would define them, were the armed civilian crews of the Liberty Ships who ferried supplies across the Atlantic to make D-Day possible. The US relied heavily on private contractors to support the military during World War II. In 1941, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the Defense Base Act (DBA) to provide insurance for civilian contract workers on US military bases, an Act that Congress has expanded over the years as the contracting sector has grown.

8. Papantonio is wrong when he says that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have opposed private military companies to do outsourcing military work in the service of the United States. As soon as he became Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, Washington outsourced a naval force, without consent of the Continental Congress, leasing private ships and hiring private sea captains as what he called "privateers." Military historian James L. Nelson documents this in his new book, George Washington's Secret Navy. (See how Nelson's account takes the legs out from under another Blackwater critic, Bill Sizemore of the Virginian-Pilot.)

Washington as general and Jefferson as a member of the Second Continental Congress personally supported the legalization and regulation of private military companies to make war on British shipping, in March, 1776. Washington commanded ships that worked in partnership with privateers, and during the war he even held an ownership stake in a private warship. As president, Thomas Jefferson made extensive use of private warships to compensate for US naval weakness in defense of American trading interests against the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean. Robert H. Patton's book Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution is a great introduction to the subject in the 1770s and early 1780s. Privateering is one of the few businesses specifically authorized in the US Constitution, under the "letters of marque and reprisal" clause in Article I, Section 8. Papantonio is a trial lawyer who doesn't even know the Constitution.

9. Papantonio makes the preposterous claim that "Blackwater has reached a level of overgrown and unchecked power that makes it capable of overpowering the military of many of the world's governments." The company can do nothing abroad without the legal authorization of the State Department, Commerce Department, Defense Department and Justice Department. Its powers are not unchecked at all. Blackwater is liable under state and federal gun control laws, military export laws, labor and safety laws, and a host of regulations that fall under those laws.

"Blackwater spokesmen tell us that their mercenaries operate under a pledge of strict loyalty and patriotism," Papantonio says. "But take time to follow the story about this mercenary group, and you will wonder who or what entity actually benefits from that loyalty pledge." '

Papantonio's attack on Blackwater is one of the most ignorant this blogger has ever seen. Phony and sloppy allegations like his are what have given many well-intentioned people a false impression of the company and its role. The more people know about Blackwater, the more they appreciate what it does. So it was no surprise when last summer, a US Senator receiving Blackwater protection in Afghanistan said in comments picked up by US News & World Report, "Blackwater is getting a bad rap." That senator is now the new president of the United States.

Sizemore Gets Facts Wrong Again: Wartime Outsourcing Is as Old as the Nation

A dogged Blackwater critic in the media gets his facts wrong again - this time while reviewing a book about private military contractors. Bill Sizemore writes for the Virginian-Pilot, the main newspaper in the heavily military Norfolk, Virginia, area, and not far from Blackwater's headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina. Here's how Sizemore begins his article:

"WHATEVER ELSE the Iraq War may be remembered for, it has already achieved one unique distinction: It is America’s first outsourced war."

Sizemore is wrong. He doesn't know his American history. The nation's "first outsourced war" was its first war - the Revolutionary War. And the first American leader to do the outsourcing, according to military historian James L. Nelson, was General George Washington, as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

Nelson documents this amply in his new book, George Washington's Secret Navy (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

Others at the community and colonial levels took private sector initiatives to wage naval warfare, but Washington was the first leader chosen by the thirteen colonies who did so.
The first American naval enagement, on June 11-12, 1775, what Nelson calls "the first sea fight of the war," was carried out by private citizens in Machias, Maine, led by local businessman Jeremiah O'Brien. O'Brien captured the British warship HMS Margaretta. Some historians call the engagement the Battle of Machias. He outfitted a captured commercial vessel with the guns captured from the Margaretta, renamed the vessel Machias Liberty, and continued to raid British shipping as a privateer - with full authorization of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress(pp. 33-35). The US Navy has remembered O'Brien by naming five ships after him. The World War II Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien remains afloat as a museum in San Francisco, California.

On June 12, 1775, the Rhode Island General Assembly resolved to build a small armed fleet, and it outsourced the job. The assembly resolved to "charter two suitable vessels, for the use of the colony, and fit out the same in the best manner to protect the trade of this colony."

Providence merchant John Brown leased his sloop, the Katy, as the first government-commanded warship of the American Revolution. Named as commander was a local former privateersman, Captain Abraham Whipple.

Rhode Island Deputy Governor Nicholas Cooke instructed Whipple that he was "employed by the Government for the Protection of the Trade of this Colony . . . to kill, Slay and Destroy, by all fitting Ways enterprizes and Means, whosoever, all and such Person and Persons, as Shall attempt or enterprize the Destruction, Invasion Detriment or Annoyance of the Inhabitants of this Colony." The main target: The frigate HMS Rose (pp. 58-59).

As the Commander-in-Chief of the new Continental Army, General George Washington sought to borrow one of Rhode Island's privately owned warships to be sent on a mission to capture British gunpowder stored in Bermuda, "for a price," according to Nelson (p. 59). Washington also employed the Katy as his first intelligence ship, instructing that Katy patrol the waters to intercept a British mail packet bound for New York (p. 60).

With little fighting to do on land, Washington brought the fight to the sea, to intercept British ships supplying Redcoat forces blockaded in Boston. Washington completely outsourced his navy. "Finding we had no great prospect of coming to close Quarters with the Ministerial Troops in Boston, I fitted out at the Continental Expence, several Privateers," Washington wrote in December, 1775 (p. 79).

Washington's first warship, Hannah, was a Marblehead schooner leased from a private businessman, John Glover. Says Nelson: "For the perfectly reasonable rate of 78 dollars a month, Glover was leasing his schooner to the army of the United Colonies and allowing her to be sent into harm's way. . . . Washington, at the cost of a dollar per ton per month, finally had a navy" (pp. 83-84). A second vessel, the schooner Two Brothers, was leased from businessman Thomas Stevens (p. 120). The schooner Triton, owned by merchant Daniel Adams, went to sea as the Harrison (p. 121). Another was the Endeavour, owned by Sion Martindale and renamed Washington (pp. 153-154).

Washington outsourced the boats that sent Col. Benedict Arnold on his bold Kennebec mission to invade Canada through Maine (p. 99).

On October 13, 1775 - the day recognized as the founding of the United States Navy - the Continental Congress resolved to fit out warships, giving specifications that matched the Katy. In other words, George Washington had outsourced a navy as a stopgap until the Continental Congress would create what would become the United States Navy.
Katy would be renamed Providence as a Continental Navy warship, and ultimately placed under the command of John Paul Jones (p. 131). The Continental Congress funded the outsourcing of other private vessels as early US warships, including the schooner Speedwell, commissioned Hancock; Eliza, commissioned Franklin (p. 152); the Lee (p. 177); and Hawk, commissioned Warren after Dr. Joseph Warren, the slain hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill (p. 169).

All the sailors were hired hands, fishermen and other seafarers-turned-contract soldiers and outsourced as sailors. Washington didn't like sailors very well, once referring to them as "our Rascally privateers-men" (p. 201). Even though Washington personally leased the schooners Lee and Warren, and ordered the hiring of their crews on contract, "many people, including on occasion George Washington himself, referred to them as privateers," according to Nelson (p. 211).

To expand the revolution's ability to attack enemy fleets, the Massachusetts House of Representatives enacted the "Act for Authorizing Privateers and Creating Courts of Admiralty," which Nelson says "would set off a wave of privateering" (p. 211).

"Privateering fever," Nelson writes, "swept Massachusetts once that colony's General Court authorized citizens to fit out private men-of-war. Five privateers were commissioned during December [1775] in Salem, Gloucester and Newburyport. The speed with which these privately owned and operated vessels put to sea, when contrasted with the time and effort Washington expended to put a like number into service, spoke to the huge potential profit to be made from privateering" (p. 236).

In Boston, which Washington held under siege, British General William Howe wrote that Washington's privately-owned warships "will hurt us more effectually than any thing they can do by Land during our Stay at this Place" (p. 248).

Meanwhile, the Continental Congress Naval Committee resolved to outsource the construction of more warships. It did so by authorizing the direct purchase of four merchantmen in Philadelphia, and converting them into armed vessels. The Black Prince became the 32-gun Alfred; the Sally became the 28-gun Columbus. Both were ship-rigged. Two brigs joined the fleet: another Sally, remaned Cabot with 14 guns; and Defiance, renamed Andrew Doria. At this time, Rhode Island's 10-gun sloop Katy became the Continental Navy's Providence (p. 263).

Sometimes, privateers and Continental Navy ships worked together, according to Nelson (pp. 292-293, 293). The Continental Congress authorized privateering in March, 1776 (p. 316).

George Washington preferred outsourcing a navy to actually building one at government expense. Writes Nelson, "he felt - correctly as it turned out - that the frigates authorized by Congress represented a colossal waste of money and effort" (p. 317). "It was only with great difficulty that the thirteen frigates Congress ordered in March 1776 were constructed, and their contribution to the war effort amounted to almost nothing" (p. 318).

Outsourcing is a tradition we inherited from the British. As Nelson notes, "During the French and Indian War, the British Department of Treasury had developed a system by which London firms were contractged to supply the troops in America, and those firms in turn subcontracted to colonial firms. When that war ended, the system had continued as a means to supply the peacetime garrisons that remained on the American continent." (page 7)

That's a far cry from what Sizemore writes in the newspaper. Sizemore wants to make outsourcing look like something new and dangerous. George Washington would probably disagree with him.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Radio Transcript 'Tells a Different Story' About Nisoor Incident

Radio transcript of the September 16, 2007 shootout at Nisoor Square "tells a different story" about the incident than federal prosecutors are alleging.

Foster's Daily Democrat, the hometown New Hampshire newspaper of Evan Liberty, a former Marine and one of five former Blackwater guards being put on trial, has studied the transcript, photographs and other evidence and concluded that the facts show something very different from what prosecutors claim.

Nobody involved with the prosecution - including the turret gunner in the convoy who copped a plea - has said that the Blackwater security convoy came under fire when guards reportedly opened up in defense of the American diplomat being protected.

"There is no mention of the team coming under fire or the vehicle being disabled in court documents based on the accounts by Ridgeway and the Iraqi witnesses," according to the newspaper.

Friday, January 9, 2009

State Department Inspector General Praises Perfect Security Record

In an investigation of the outsourcing of diplomatic security in Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department's Inspector General praised the private security companies' perfect records, and says the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which hires them, has done great in that regard.

The IG pointed out quite a few problems with the government's management and oversight of the contractors - understandable, given the huge scope of the problem that was tackled in a short time and under wartime conditions - but concluded with high praise for the services that Blackwater and two other companies provided.

The Washington Post reports that the IG found that "State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security had been 'highly effective in ensuring the safety" of diplomatic personnel in Iraq. There have been no casualties among U.S. diplomatic and civilian officials protected by contractors under the bureau's supervision.'"

The IG found several areas that government managers needed to fix.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


The five former Raven 23 team members of the Blackwater security convoy involved at Nisoor Square all plead before a federal judge that they are not guilty for having committed crimes.

The government has no idea who shot whom, but is nevertheless charging the five with "14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter," and - for good measure - a special charge of using a firearm in the commission of a crime.

"We want to make it clear to everyone these men committed no crime. They were defending themselves on a battlefield in a war zone when this occurred," said their defense lawyer, David Schertler, in comments covered by CNN.

Federal prosecutors wanted to ram the oddly prepared case through the courts as fast as possible, but the defense says it needs as much time to prepare to address the charges as the government took to make them.

"The United States government had a year and a half to investigate the case, and we did not. So we need a year to catch up," the defense says, according to CNN.

Federal Judge Grants Raven 23 Guards Time to Build Defenses

Federal prosecutors want to push through their poorly-constructed case against five former Blackwater security guards accused of illegally shooting civilians at Nisoor Square in Baghdad last year, but a federal judge has given the defendants more time to prepare their defense.

The judge said he wanted the case to proceed as quickly as possible, and would not tolerate unreasonable delays, but he said that the trial would not begin until 2010. US prosecutors wanted the trial to begin in the fall of 2009, to coincide with the second anniversary of the September 2007 incident.

In Case You Missed the News

The war in Iraq is essentially over. Some of us already knew that, but the Washington Post made it official in Media Land, in an unusual front-page story published on January 2.

Most people probably missed it because of the holidays. So here's what the story said, and we want to dwell on this a bit because it would never have happened without the brave guys from Blackwater, who kept our embassy people 100 percent safe.

"The war, in a sense, is over," the Post said in a center-of-the-front-page headline. No surrendering enemies, or captured fuehrer bunker, or any of those things that we like to see to bring us closure after a war. Here's how the article, by Anthony Shadid in Baghdad, began:
"Maybe it was the only shot heard for days in a neighborhood once ordered by the cadence of gunfire. Perhaps it was the smiles at checkpoints and the shouts of Iraqi policemen navigating the always snarled traffic. 'God's mercy on your parents,' they beseeched. 'God's blessings on you.' Maybe it was the music box still playing 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town' at a kiosk overflowing with Christmas tree decorations and heart-shaped red pillows.

"For anyone returning to Baghdad after spending time here during the darkest days two years ago, when it was paralyzed by sectarian hatred and overrun by gunmen sowing despair, the conclusion seemed inescapable.

"'The war has ended,' said Heidar al-Abboudi, a street merchant.

"The war in Iraq is indeed over, at least the conflict as it was understood during its first five years: insurgency, communal cleansing, gangland turf battles and an anarchic, often futile quest to survive."
Iraq is fragile, and bombings continue around the country, but the war is essentially over. Blackwater played a big part in the victory.