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Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

The recurring theme Scahill tries to convey in the book is Blackwater’s ability to commit heinous crimes, ranging from the murder of innocent civilians to bribing officials, and yet continue to be employed by the US government.Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army provides the reader with a revealing in-depth look at the inner workings of the world’s leading private military company (PMC). A PMC is easily described as a company that provides services of a military nature – think mercenaries or soldiers for hire, and you have Blackwater.

With the advent of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States government increased its reliance on using contractors to assist the military. While other PMCs are also used by the United States government, the company that benefited most from the increased reliance on outside contractors was Blackwater. Scahill focuses on telling the story of Blackwater’s international activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and domestically during the Hurricane Katrina cleanup (one of the few times in US History that a private company was used by the government to assist in disaster relief).

Scahill starts the book by vividly describing the Nisour Square massacre, also known as Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday, where 17 Iraqi civilians (including women and children) were unnecessarily killed. The perpetrators of the incident all worked for Blackwater. The very next day, Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq was revoked. (Although it is reported that Blackwater continues to operate illegally in Iraq.) This is after four years of operating in Iraq as the personal security company for then Coalition Provisional Authority Paul Bremer (part of a $21 million no-bid contract) and the Fallujah ambush, where Blackwater personnel were killed and hung on Fallujah’s bridges, forcing the media to formally introduce the public to Blackwater. (The Fallujah incident led the victims’ families to sue Blackwater for wrongful death.)

After the reader is given a grim introduction to the company and its scandalous history within Iraq, Scahill reverts back to the early days of Blackwater’s existence by describing founder and current CEO Erik Prince’s rise to power. The book paints Prince as a former Navy SEAL and religious zealot from the state of Michigan whom a former employee describes as a “Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”. In addition to discussing Mr. Prince’s role within Blackwater, the author provides the reader with additional background information of other Blackwater officials who also contribute to the extreme religious agenda.

Prince used his military contacts and family wealth to start Blackwater by first opening a school for special operations operators in 1997. The company existed under the radar until the Bush administration launched its “War on Terror”. Since then, Blackwater rose to become the largest security contractor for the US State Department.

The recurring theme Scahill tries to convey in the book is Blackwater’s ability to commit heinous crimes, ranging from the murder of innocent civilians to bribing officials, and yet continue to be employed by the US government. Scahill fills each chapter with sources and direct quotes from various officials involved with Blackwater or the US government to better support his claims. If you question Scahill’s writing at any point in the book, an index of sources is provided to verify his work and prove it for yourself.

Given the level of impact of Blackwater’s actions on the Islamic world, Scahill’s book is a recommended read. The book is not a light read, approximately 560 pages, but it is definitely worth the time and effort, given the substantial amount of information Scahill provides when describing Blackwater’s infamous rise. Once you are finished, you will most likely find yourself going online and doing your own research to learn more about the private military contractor industry.   

Editor’s Note: On February 13, 2009, Blackwater officially changed its name to Xe (pronounced zi) in an attempt to rebrand the company stemming from the negative publicity attributed to the work performed in occupied Iraq.

About Arsalan Rizvi

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