You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Why is The New York Times op-ed page publishing Erik Prince’s sales pitch for more mercenaries?

Prince, whose notorious company Blackwater was responsible for the deaths of Iraqi and Afghan civilians and epitomized the folly of the Bush administration’s attempts to outsource U.S. military operations to the private sector, has a brilliant plan for Afghanistan, which you can read about it in the op-ed section of the Times:

My proposal is for a sustainable footprint of 2,000 American Special Operations and support personnel, as well as a contractor force of less than 6,000 (far less than the 26,000 in country now). This team would provide a support structure for the Afghans, allowing the United States’ conventional forces to return home.

This proposal would make Prince, who now owns another private military company, Academi, very rich. It is a sales pitch, written by a very well-connected operator (his sister is Betsy DeVos) who has privately tried to convince the Trump administration to send contractors to Afghanistan—a story that was broken by the Times’s reporting desk. He has written a version of this op-ed before, for The Wall Street Journal, arguing that corporations can operate “cheaper and better than the military.” The conflicts of interest are glaring, and yet this advertisement was given pride of place in the opinion section.

What’s worse, however, is the product the Times has allowed Prince to shill: mercenaries that, under Prince, committed war crimes in Iraq. Search for a mention of the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre in today’s editorial; you’ll be disappointed. In 2015, an American judge sentenced four former Blackwater security guards to lengthy prison terms for murdering 14 Iraqi civilians, including a nine-year-old boy. The Guardian reported at the time:

“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”

Earlier this month, another court overturned one sentence and ordered the three other plaintiffs re-sentenced. But that ruling is controversial, and as the Times itself reported at the time, one FBI agent even called the event the “My Lai massacre of Iraq.” And in June 2014, the Times’s longtime reporter James Risen—who recently took a buy-out and left the paper for The Intercept—reported that State Department investigators warned the government about Blackwater’s practices, weeks before the Nisour massacre:

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

Prince has long tried to distance himself from Blackwater. Academi is a rebranding effort, and the Times has helped him perpetuate it. The only justification for Prince’s editorial would be a good-faith argument in the efficacy of private military contractors, and that argument cannot come from a man whose business is to sell the services of those contractors and who has spent the last ten years trying to make everyone forget the atrocities they committed.