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Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill

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Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill, is a thorough, thrilling, and disturbing expose. Blackwater is a privately owned corporation that provides combat trainings, equipment, and services directly to the U.S. government and, theoretically, to any government that would hire them. They have been instrumental in the “war on terror” and are emblematic of the recent privatization of warfare that has, in the past decade, fundamentally changed the way that war is fought.

Blackwater is not the only “security contracting firm”, as they’d innocuously like to be known, of their type; but they are the most successful, and after having been the subject of quite a few scandals in recent years in which Blackwater employees have killed innocent civilians in Iraq without provocation and without facing prosecution, they are the most controversial. It was these scandals–the deadly shootings in Nissour Square, September 16, 2007, that came to be known as “Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday”, the killings in Najaf after the takeover of Fallujah–that finally forced the man behind Blackwater to make himself known to the public. That man is Erik Prince: a charismatic, entrepreneurial multi-billionaire Christian fundamentalist who believes that Blackwater’s mercenaries are engaging in a holy crusade on behalf of the United States, and who is careful to staff Blackwater with individuals who share this ideology.

What’s most frightening about Blackwater is that it operates in a legal gray zone. It is legally unaccountable for its actions. And despite its attempts at re-branding its employees as “peacekeepers” working for democracy, Blackwater has absolutely NO business incentive to promote anything but violence and disorder. Their preferred tactics, presumably employed under the “black contracts” kept secret from the public (it’s been hypothesized that rendition flights to black sites are included in these contracts), have been inspired by tactics used by dictators around the world, and in fact, Blackwater has actively recruited Chilean officials that have worked under Pinochet. Of course, these tactics, and Blackwater’s involvement in the “war on terror”, have done nothing to curb terrorism or promote democracy in the Middle East. Instead, they’ve inspired the opposite, and there have been instances in which even the U.S. military has deemed Blackwater operations as counter-effective to their own, but Blackwater’s ability to strike fear and terror into the Iraqi people was so integral to the U.S. agenda that it was decided they could not be let go, even though it would have been politically expedient.

And, Blackwater’s contracts have expanded. They no longer work exclusively in Afghanistan and Iraq, but were ominously present in New Orleans in the chaotic weeks following Hurricane Katrina, and have also been hired to do work around the Mexico-U.S. border in defense of the “war on drugs.” Though it was their cozy relationship with the religious right and the Bush administration that allowed Blackwater their success, Blackwater has so effectively integrated themselves into the very fabric of modern warfare and “security” that it does not seem as if a Democratic administration will be able, or willing, to extricate them from it. And so far, as far as I know, Obama’s administration has not made any real move to do so.

It’s obvious that Scahill has done his research, and there’s a wealth of information to be found in this book. The sheer volume of content definitely felt daunting at times. This was everything I wanted to know about Blackwater, plus more than I thought I could ingest all at once. It is a book for the lay reader, but it is not light. It might seem as though this is a book for those with particular interest in the subject. But the subject is so important, so relatively new, and so important to real understanding of the legacy that post-9/11 U.S. warfare  is leaving to the world, that I urge all who feel even vaguely vested in the situation to give it a go.

Written by Emily Jane

June 14, 2010 at 8:14 pm

9 Responses

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  1. I keep meaning to pick this up, but end up not because I just don’t know if I could stomach it. I read a lot of non-fiction on random and obscure and crazy topics, but this is the one that really scares me!


    June 15, 2010 at 12:03 am

    • And it should scare you, Amy! Yikes. But if you’re like me, it’ll taunt you until you do finally decide to pick it up. So good luck, if/when you do!

      Emily Jane

      June 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

  2. I’ll have to gear up before I read this one…I’m sure it’ll make me so angry and sad all at once.


    June 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    • Yeah, if you have an effective gearing up process, I definitely recommend using it for this one. :/

      Emily Jane

      June 15, 2010 at 4:52 pm

  3. This does sound absolutely chilling and upsetting and horrifying :\ Not that I’ll avoid it on that account… it’s just the world we live in :S


    June 16, 2010 at 9:10 pm

  4. Where has your blog been all my life? I really liked this book as well. I listened to it on audio and got through the 20 or so hours in two days because I wanted to know EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. Have you read Legacy of Ashes? It’s about the CIA and written in a similar style (with lots of research and excellent ethics).


    November 20, 2010 at 11:11 pm

  5. Aw 🙂 Wow, 20 hours in two days, impressive! For sure, this is one of those immediate obsession MUST KNOW MORE topics for me too. Makes me shiver just to think about it. Erik Prince: Prince of Nightmares! I have not read Legacy of Ashes, but now I really want to!

    What do you think of Blackwater re-brading itself as “Xe”? Totes creepy, right?

    Emily Jane

    November 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm



      November 21, 2010 at 3:48 am

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