Erik Prince is a former Navy SEAL who founded the “security contractor” Blackwater in 1997 and acted as its CEO until 2009. Blackwater was heavily involved in the Iraq War, and in September 2007, Blackwater employees shot and killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in what numerous witnesses—including some Blackwater whistleblowers—described as the grotesque, unprovoked massacre of unarmed civilians. (The massacre was an extreme but not isolated incident: In 2007, the State Department was already investigating Blackwater’s involvement in a number of fraudulent and abusive practices. The company’s top executive in Iraq threatened to murder one of the investigators.)
A decade later, three Blackwater guards have been convicted of felonies in U.S. court for their involvement in what prosecutors called the Nisour Square “atrocity,” while another is awaiting retrial for murder. Erik Prince, meanwhile, is hanging around the Trump administration—and, as of Wednesday, writing a mind-boggling op-ed in the New York Times that argues that the United States should replicate its Iraq strategy by handing Afghanistan over to “security contractors”:
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 plan would use former Special Operations veterans as contractors who would live, train and patrol alongside their Afghan counterparts at the lowest company and battalion levels — where it matters most.
Prince’s citation of the 26,000 figure is misleading: The document he links to says there are 26,000 contractors of all kinds in Afghanistan right now, of which only 1,700 are “private security contractors.” Details about Prince’s plan published elsewhere make clear that he is, in fact, calling for an increase in the number of private security contractors deployed to the country. More broadly, the piece doesn’t address Prince’s connection to an infamous private-security atrocity or the allegation—uncovered by the Times’ own reporting!—that one of his private-security executives threatened to murder a representative of the U.S. government. And while Prince’s Times bio notes that he’s the chairman of the Frontier Services Group, it doesn’t make clear that the Frontier Services Group’s business involves selling “force protection” to clients in countries including Afghanistan.
There is something to be said for using the most prominent newspaper in the U.S. as a venue for opinions besides the ones liberal readers already agree with. But shouldn’t those opinions be subject to the same journalistic scrutiny and transparency as everything else in the Times?