learned of Blackwater when most of the world did,” said investigative
journalist Jeremy Scahill. “March 31, 2004, when four Blackwater
guys were killed, ambushed in Fallujah, their bodies strung
up from a bridge over the Euphrates. I had spent time in Fallujah,
over five years, going in and out of Iraq, and when I saw
the Bush administration destroy that entire city, I said,
‘the deaths of four private contractors was worth the life
of an entire city?’ ”
Scahill, who will be speaking at Troy’s Sanctuary for Independent
Media on Monday night (April 16), explained in a recent telephone
interview that, at that time, there were nearly 100,000 such
private contractors operating inside of Iraq. They were performing
such delicate operations as patrolling the war zone, manning
the prisons (like Abu Ghraib), and guarding top U.S. officials
like Ambassador John Negroponte and Paul Bremer. Blackwater
USA was then, and it is now, the largest security firm in
A private military company based in North Carolina, Blackwater
was envisioned, bankrolled and is headed by 37-year-old multimillionaire
and former Navy SEAL Erik Prince. Prince, a politically driven
right-wing ideologue, has said that his mission for the company
is to offer a private military force powerful and efficient
enough that any government will call upon it just as they
would the National Guard or other branches of the military.
To this end, he has built a 20,000-man elite military force,
capable, as Scahill said, of overthrowing many of the world’s
Scahill, a Polk Award-winning reporter, has spent years investigating
Blackwater and what he referred to as “the radical privatization
policy of the Bush administration.” His reporting, which has
appeared in The Nation and on the airwaves of Democracy
Now!, culminates in his recently published book, Blackwater:
The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
In 2005, Scahill was on the street in the French Quarter of
New Orleans, he said, reporting on the damage wrought by Hurricane
Katrina when he again encountered Blackwater employees. They
were heavily armed, cruising the streets in vehicles that
had no license plates. These operatives, he would find, were
“policing” the damaged city, part of a haphazard force of
local and transplanted cops, National Guard troops, and others
charged with keeping the peace.
had this hour-long conversation with this handful of Blackwater
guys,” he recalls. “Some of them had just been in Iraq two
weeks earlier. And while I am talking to one guy, another
is on his cell phone saying to his buddies, ‘Nah, you don’t
wanna come down here and work for Blackwater, they are only
paying $350 a day.’ Another guy tells me it doesn’t compare
to Iraq. It’s like a vacation.”
Blackwater men are used to receiving more than double that
daily rate in Iraq.
When Scahill pushed the issue of whose authority they were
operating under, he was told they had been deputized by the
governor of Louisiana, and were sleeping in a camp that had
been organized by the Department of Homeland Security.
found it so profitable to operate in New Orleans after the
hurricane,” Scahill says, “that they started a whole new division
of the company for domestic operations.” The company has also,
he points out, filed for operating licenses in every coastal
Scahill is currently touring the country in promotion of his
book. At every stop, he says, he has encountered a packed
think that it is tapping into a very deep level of concern
on the part of people across the political spectrum,” he says.
“People are really outraged, not only at the fact that there
seems to be no end to the occupation in sight, but that the
Bush administration, behind the backs of the American people,
essentially doubled the size of the occupation force through
the private sector.”
Scahill says that he is receiving a lot of correspondence
from military families and soldiers who are outraged that
service in the military pays so little, and service for Blackwater
can easily pay six digits. Conservatives, he says, see it
as “spitting in the face” of American values.
get a lot of e-mails that begin, ‘I never thought I’d be writing
someone like you a positive letter,’ ” he says. “It taps into
something that defies traditional political labels.”
Jeremy Scahill will speak Monday (April 16) from 7 to 9:30
PM at the Sanctuary for Independent Media (3361 Sixth Ave.,
Troy). For more information, call 272-2390 or visit thesanctuary
been lucky over the last week; it isn’t often that an extensive
retrospective of a major European filmmaker’s work is held
in the Capital Region. The week-long Margarethe von Trotta
Festival at Skidmore College concludes tonight (Thursday)
and Friday with a few more events.
Von Trotta came out of the same New German Cinema movement
of the 1970s that birthed the careers of Rainer Werner Fassbinder
and Volker Schlöndorf. In fact, she began as an actress in
films by both directors, but quickly moved on to make her
own, woman-centered films like the moving, memorable biopic
of Communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg and the great
Marianne & Juliane (both screened this week).
Tonight (April 12), in Skidmore’s Gannett Auditorium at 6
PM, there will be one more screening of Marianne &
Juliane, followed at 8 PM by von Trotta herself, who will
discuss her career and works in the 35th annual Frances Steloff
Lecture. Tomorrow (Friday, April 13), von Trotta will participate
in panel discussions of her films at 11 AM and 3 PM, followed
by an audience Q & A with the filmmaker from 5 to 6 PM.
For more information on these events, visit www.skidmore.edu.
G. Banner, 73, passed away on April 6 at Saratoga Hospital.
The longtime local dance journalist and critic for Metroland
and the Saratogian had been ill for some months, and,
according to the Saratogian, died with her family at
Our thoughts are with her family.
Here at the paper, Ms. Banner’s work will be missed. Over
the last decade, Banner reviewed in these pages, with wit
and insight, dance performances by national, regional and
local companies at the Egg, Jacob’s Pillow, Skidmore College,
eba Theatre, Proctor’s, the Palace and, of course, the Saratoga
Performing Arts Center, summer home of her beloved New York
City Ballet. She combined an aficionado’s passion with a critic’s
discerning eye. She possessed a generous, nuanced appreciation
for the form at the multiple levels: technical, theatrical
and cultural. When the SPAC powers-that-were capriciously
decided that the New York City Ballet would be banished from
the venue, Banner chronicled the grassroots efforts that eventually
reversed the decision.
Our names may be on the same masthead and in adjacent sections
of the paper, but even at an independent operation like Metroland,
the staff editors and freelance contributing writers don’t
necessarily know each other much—if at all. Writers are given
assignments, and we publish the work. That’s why I feel lucky
to have finally, after editing her for a couple of years and
having only phone conversations, met Mae Banner at a ballet
performance at the Palace Theatre in March 2006. She was as
gracious, warm and funny in person as she was in print.
Ms. Banner wanted others to follow in her footsteps, so memorial
donations can be made to the Mae Banner Dance Writers’ Scholarship
Fund, c/o Adirondack Trust Company, 473 Broadway, Saratoga
Springs NY, 12866.