From the Washington Post:
Like the company he founded, defense contractor Erik Prince doesn’t seem to answer to anybody.
His security business, Blackwater, has been involved in at least 195 shootings in Iraq — but it has operated outside U.S. and Iraqi laws. Similarly, when Prince made a rare public appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, he acted as if the lawmakers were wasting his time.
How much does Blackwater, recipient of $1 billion in federal contracts, make in profits? “We’re a private company, and there’s a key word there — private,” Prince answered.
What about the 2004 crash of a Blackwater plane in Afghanistan, when federal investigators said the pilots acted unprofessionally? “Accidents happen,” Prince explained.
The lack of prosecution for a drunken Blackwater worker who shot and killed a security guard to an Iraqi vice president? “We can’t flog him,” Prince said.
The high wages for Blackwater security guards? “They’re not showing up at the job naked,” Prince reasoned.
What’s more, Prince said, “I believe we acted appropriately at all times.” It was a bold statement for a man whose company is being probed by the FBI for the killing of 11 Iraqis in Baghdad last month — but Prince, a former Navy Seal, was a cool performer.
Republicans, meanwhile, proved content to shill for a major donor. Prince’s father helped to bankroll the religious-conservative movement, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is a big Republican fundraiser who married into the Amway fortune. Prince himself has given $236,000 to GOP candidates and conservative causes — typical of a defense contracting industry that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, gave nearly $1 million to members of the oversight committee since 2003 — 83 percent of it to Republicans.
We should take care not to prejudge,” said Tom Davis of Virginia ($717,829).
“We should not be holding this hearing,” protested John Mica of Florida ($145,454). “Therefore, I move that the committee do now adjourn.”
Many Republican questions could only loosely be qualified as such. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) congratulated Prince for a “very good job,” while Chris Shays (Conn.) credited him with a “perfect job.”
“How many individuals under your protective service have been injured or killed?” asked Patrick McHenry (N.C.).
Democrats were careful not to even mention Prince’s politics — but California Republican Darrell Issa ($131,235 from defense interests) decided to take offense anyway. “Labeling some company as Republican-oriented because of family members is inappropriate, and I would hope that we not do it again,” Issa complained.
“Well, the only one who’s done it is you,” [Henry] Waxman pointed out, accurately.
Issa stammered and didn’t complete his reply.
When Danny Davis (D-Ill.) asked him to concede that Blackwater had killed innocent civilians, Prince replied: “No, sir. I disagree with that. . . . There could be ricochets. There are traffic accidents, yes. This is war.”
As the hearing stretched through the lunch hour, the witness grew cockier. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) said no more than “Thank you for being with us” before Prince shot back: “Glad I could come here and correct some facts.”
So who is this arrogant asshole who believes that Iraqi casualties are a result of magic richocheting bullets and car accidents? I bet the good people at NPR can tell us:
Prince grew up in Holland, Mich., where his father, Edgar Prince, built Prince Corporation, an auto-parts company that based its success on novel products, such as the lighted vanity mirror for car window visors. The elder Prince was a close friend and supporter of Christian evangelists, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, as well as a contributor to the Republican Party. He was an early benefactor of the Family Research Council.
Erik Prince was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy, but dropped out after three semesters. He later told the Virginia-Pilot newspaper that he loved the Navy but disliked the academy. He finished his schooling at the Christian-oriented Hillsdale College in Michigan.
Prince later rejoined the Navy through Officer Candidate School and qualified for the SEALs. He served about three years, but left the service early after his father’s death in 1995. The family sold the business shortly afterward to Johnson Controls for more than $1.3 billion.
Prince has been a steady contributor to the Republican National Committee, giving more than $200,000 since 1998. He also has supported various conservative candidates, including President Bush, Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Rick Santorum (R-PA), Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).
Other members of Prince’s family have been active in Republican politics. His sister, Betsy DeVos, has served as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, and her husband, Dick DeVos, was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor of Michigan in 2006. Dick DeVos, a member of the conservative family that co-founded Amway, succeeded his father as president of that company.
Prince serves as a board member of Christian Freedom International, a nonprofit group that provides Bibles, food and other help to Christians in countries where they face persecution.