Mike's Reviews > Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill
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Oct 21, 2010

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Read in October, 2010

This is a tough book to review: it's clearly the best-researched and most-complete work on its topic, but it is also very biased. Jeremy Scahill is a first-rate investigative journalist, of that I have no doubt, but he also has a clear anti-Blackwater, anti-Prince family agenda to sell, and he wastes not a single word selling it here. While Scahill claims he requested interviews with Erik Prince and other Blackwater executives and was refused any such interviews, this is about as close to approaching the entire matter as in a non-biased manner as Scahill comes. There are numerous instances which, if they happened exactly as Scahill reports, were clearly abuses of power by Blackwater contractors. However, since Scahill delights in dwelling on issues such has pages upon pages explaining how many thousands of dollars the Prince family has contributed to conservative and Republican causes over the years, it is at times difficult to trust him. I am no fan of, in example, Focus on the Family (conservative Christian non-profit group) but Erik Prince has every right to donate some of his ample wealth to this group—just as, say, Barbra Streisand has every right to donate some of her ample wealth to liberal causes. I could have done without Scahill's extensive efforts to prove (over and over again) how conservative the Prince family and Blackwater's high administration are: I don't think their politics really surprise anyone. The focus should be fully on the work of Blackwater and where there were scandals and valid questions about that work.

Another issue I had with this book was how often Scahill would abandon a topic he brought up (often for something less interesting at that) such as when he starts to make connections between Blackwater and the CIA's rendition flights then, after he admits he really doesn't have any clear evidence to support his musings, simple drops the topic altogether. I would be willing to listen to Scahill's theories and see what dots he tries to connect even if lacking complete evidence given how murky a topic this is in the first place, but for him to bring something up then really not flesh it out as fully as possible was irksome. In Trevor Paglen's writing on rendition, Paglen often admits that only so many facts are availible and expectedly, a lot of conjecture must be entertained. Anyone interested in black ops will understand that, yeah, when dealing with secret projects such is expected. In contrast, Scahill seems to bring up numerous issues simply to further taint Blackwater's image; had someone who worked for Blackwater ran over a possum driving home from work or torn the little tag off their mattress, I suspect Scahill would have included that too.

The good of the book though is most of it is very well-researched and it brings up a lot of seperate incidents where Blackwater operatives engaged in actions which either got themselves or innocent bystanders killed, and often (apparently) because Blackwater couldn't be bothered with proper security or fully taking necessary measures to ensure mission safety. If you are interested in Blackwater/Xe or the war in Iraq in general even, this is a good place to start. Alas, there is nothing truly unbiased: you either get Blackwater's own stance on themselves or you get a book like this which is fully opposed to nearly everything about the company. A good 150 pages could have been trimmed out of this book and it would have contained all the key information and seemed less the vehicle of an agenda against Blackwater and more like a journalist's unbiased account.
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