Blackwater’s founder and former CEO Erik Prince joined Head to Head on Al Jazeera English and defended his private security firm’s record during the Iraq War, denied suspicions that he may have lied to a US Congressional Committee, and emphasized the need for the Afghan government to adopt his “rationalisation” plan that calls for sending US and NATO troops home in exchange for private contractors.
Asked by presenter Mehdi Hasan about Blackwater securing around a billion dollars’ worth of contracts from the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan, Prince stated: “The company did exactly what the US government asked us to do, which was to protect diplomats, reconstruction officials, visiting UN or other congressional delegations.”
Prince seemed to dismiss the December 2018 conviction that found one of his former guards guilty of first-degree murder in the court cases regarding the infamous Nisour Square incident in September 2007 when 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians were shot and killed by Blackwater guards (three others were found guilty of manslaughter in another court case following the same incident), saying “I would say, a jury of your peers does not really compare to the rest of America.”
He further said “We did more than a hundred thousand missions, no one under our care was ever killed or injured, and people try to characterise the company as overly aggressive.”
When asked about his hotly-debated proposal to help the US-led war in Afghanistan by using private forces instead of NATO and US troops, including why Prince modelled it after the colonialist British East India Company and suggested appointing a “viceroy” figure, he argued “I'm advocating a rationalisation at a significant cost savings.”
When asked how his proposal would be put through, considering the administration of President Ashraf Ghani has flatly rejected it, Prince said, “I doubt very much that Ashraf Ghani will win in the next election.”
“If they [the Afghan government] don't do a plan like this, if there is not a skeletal structure support, supporting the Afghan forces, the next president's gonna wind up like Najibullah did,” he warned. [The former Afghan president was brutally killed when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996.]
Hasan also asked Prince about another company he founded, the Hong Kong-based security and logistics firm, Frontier Services Group (FSG). Reports – including a company-issued press release from 2018 – have said FSG would be allocating funds to open a “training facility” in China’s Xinjiang province, the same province where China has been accused of detaining a million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, allegedly in a network of highly secretive re-education camps.
Prince, who is currently the Executive Deputy Chairman of FSG, vehemently denied the reports and the contents of the press release, which was written while he was executive chairman. “The company has zero footprint in Xinjiang, China,” adding that “the company doesn't do any security per se, it does some training for people to avoid being a victim of a terror … of a terrorism incident.”
Presenter Mehdi Hasan also questioned Prince on the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. Prince was questioned by the US House Intelligence Committee in November 2017 and by the Mueller team in 2018.
When asked why in his 2017 congressional testimony, according to the transcript provided by Congress, he failed to mention an August 3, 2016 meeting he attended in Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s son, Don Jr., and a Gulf emissary among others, Prince first said, “I don't believe I was asked that question.”
Mehdi read from the transcript where he was asked, ‘Were there any formal communications or contact with the campaign?’ and Prince at the testimony had responded that ‘apart from writing papers, putting up yard signs, no.’
“Sure, I mean, I might have been, I think I was at Trump Headquarters or the Campaign Headquarters maybe [...] We were there, we were there to talk about Iran policy,” Prince acknowledged.
But when pushed later during the interview on why there was no mention of that meeting in his testimony to Congress, Prince then said he did disclose the meeting: “I don't know if they got the transcript wrong,” he added.
In this episode, Hasan is joined by a panel of three experts: award-winning journalist for The Guardian Ghaith Abdul-Ahad; former US Army officer, former private contractor and author Sean McFate; and former British Army commander and chairman of New Century, a military consulting company, Cl Tim Collins.
This series of Head to Head also includes interviews with Gowher Rizvi, international affairs advisor to the Bangladesh prime minister, and Chinese financier, Charles Liu. This episode will be available online on Friday:
“Blackwater’s Erik Prince: Iraq, privatising wars, and Trump” will be broadcast on 8 March 2019 at 20:00 GMT and repeated on the 9 March at 12:00GMT, 10 March at 01:00 GMT and 11 March at 06:00 GMT.