Over the years all sorts of things have been said and written about Erik Prince, founder, owner, and former head of Xe Services (formerly Blackwater Worldwide). Most of it has been critical. I've written before that while some of it, perhaps even lots of it, has been deserved, much of it has not. But thanks to pop culture, some lazy reporters, lots of ignorant online commentary, and people's inclination to fit people into simplistic frameworks of good and bad, and ignore underlying structural reasons as to why we have private security contractors in the first place, Prince has been subjected to all sorts of unwarranted rhetorical abuse.
So one might be inclined to forgive him when he pops off and says something rash. On the other hand, there is a saying that when you find yourself in a hole the first thing you do is stop digging. Remember the proverb; silence is golden. As in Erik should know by know that there are times when he should just keep his mouth shut.
The reason he should button it is that you may recall that last month Prince was questioned in Abu Dhabi in connection with a fraud lawsuit filed by former employees that seeks millions of dollars in damages. He was questioned by Susan Burke, the lawyer who represents two former Blackwater employees, Brad and Melan Davis, who filed the lawsuit in a US district court in Virginia in December 2008, alleging that Prince and companies he controlled defrauded the US government. For background see my past Feb. 13, 2010 post "Blackwater Uses the F(raud) Word."
Now it turns out that the defendant Prince is seeking a protective order to seal the court file and to gag extrajudicial statements in the "Davis v. Prince" litigation. As one would expect Ms. Burke s arguing that the plaintiffs would be severely prejudiced "if the Court adopted Defendants‟ proposed Protective Order sealing everything and Defendants‟ proposed Gag Order prohibiting any contact with the media. Relators' investigative efforts would be severely circumscribed by either Order."
A hearing on this issue will be held tomorrow morning at the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Yesterday Burke and her co-counsel filed a motion with new allegations. Note: if you are someone with a subscription to PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) you can download the motion (1:08-cv-01244-TSE -TRJ)
Reading it one understands why Prince wants it suppressed.
To start with:
On August 23, 2010, Relators‟ counsel deposed Defendant Erik Prince. After his deposition concluded, Mr. Prince threatened to "come after" Ms. Burke, as is explained in the appended Burke Decl.
Evidently keeping cool under fire is not one of his strong points. True, the appended declaration is still under seal so the precise words exchanged and their context is unknown. Still, the Eastern District Court of Virginia is not Fallujah; there is no need for lock and load rhetoric. As Dr. Evil said to his son, zip it.
Moving on, a more provocative point would be this:
Media reports regarding the lawsuits prompted a third party named Howard Boardman Lowry to contact Relators‟ Counsel. Mr. Lowry's sworn testimony is attached in its entirety as Exhibit B. Mr. Lowry testified he purchased steroids, human growth hormones, and testosterone for Blackwater employees and his observation of rampant drug use among Blackwater employees. Initially, Blackwater paid for the steroids from company funds. Later, Blackwater management steered Blackwater personnel to Mr. Lowry. He also testified that Blackwater employees would often shoot at Iraqi pedestrians for no reason and would regularly shoot into adjacent buildings housing Iraqi civilians among other acts of unwarranted violence. In short, Mr. Lowry provides critical and corroborating evidence. See Exhibit B.
Critical and corroborating evidence indeed! That doesn't begin to do justice to Mr. Lowry's assertions. Consider this excerpt from his videotaped declaration.
There were numerous individuals that would come to my hotel room and - and give me money to purchase usually steroids or testosterone, and once I came back to my room, on several occasions. Mr. Chris Fuller, Mr. Madison Webb, and a gentlemen by the name - he was a New Zealand special, SAS, special forces, who went by the name of "Baaz." It is the only name that I knew him by. He was known companywide by that name. And the three of them on numerous occasions injected themselves with testosterone and steroids in my presence.
There were other individuals after. There was a - a gentleman in the room next to me that I had gotten a room for, actually two floors in the Mosafer Hotel for Blackwater at the behest of Mr. Berry at that point because the company was expanding very rapidly, and Jerry was one of the gentlemen who ended up being killed in Fallujah. [This would be Jerry Zovko who was one of four Blackwater contractors ambushed and killed by insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq on March 31, 2004].
Jerry was a good friend of mine and gave - provided me tremendous insight into the company and confirmed that the use of steroids and human growth hormone, testosterone, were pretty much endemic to them and almost companywide. It was - it was a wide-ranging problem, and this included individuals that were on Bremer's personal detail.
I cannot say for the record that I personally witnessed them taking it.; however, on numerous occasions, individuals that did provide me money to make the purchases of the steroids and testosterone did convey that these were going directly to members of Blackwater personnel and Bremer's - Ambassador Bremer's personal detail.
Why do plaintiffs oppose Prince's ‟ motion to seal all evidence in this lawsuit and to impose a "gag order" on the plaintiffs and their counsel?
First, note that they do not oppose to entry of an appropriate protective order. They had been collaborating with defense counsel and the State Department to prepare such an order. But Burke argues that the defendants have not demonstrated good cause for their proposed protective order. "Plaintiffs and the public would be substantially prejudiced by entry of Defendants‟ overbroad protective order, which seeks to seal everything disclosed in pretrial discovery."
Second, "Defendants repeatedly assert that Relators‟ counsel intends to publicize
materials merely to annoy, embarrass, and oppress Defendants. This is false. Relators‟ counsel wants the media to cover the pre-trial proceedings in this action because that media coverage results in fact witnesses such as Mr. Howard Lowry contacting them. These witnesses are going to be helpful in showing the jury that Relators‟ claims of widespread fraud and misconduct have merit."
Third, and this says much about Prince's inability to do effective public relations:
It is absurd to suggest that media attention surrounding Defendant Prince and
Blackwater is somehow caused by Relators and their Counsel. Although Relators‟ counsel often shares non-sealed materials with the media to further the Relators‟ interests in finding additional corroborating witnesses, Defendant Prince and his companies create the media stir by their own actions. Indeed, their misconduct has led to a series of indictments (Exhibit D), charging letters from the State Department (Exhibit E), and criminal trials (Exhibit F). Indeed, Defendant Prince seeks publicity that serves his own ends. He voluntarily participated in a Vanity Fair interview, pressing his view that anyone who criticizes his misconduct must have a "political agenda." Exhibit G. Defendant Prince voluntarily cooperated with a book about his life, called Master of War. Exhibit H. In the book, he voluntarily revealed, among other things, that he fathered a child out of wedlock and cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer.
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