Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Welcomes FBI Probe into Iraq Shootings, Applauds Greater Oversight
RALEIGH, N.C. – The chief executive of Blackwater USA, whose guards are accused of killing 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last month, says he welcomes the FBI investigation into the shooting and supports the prosecution of any bad acts.
"I'm glad they can be a neutral party," Blackwater founder Erik Prince said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." "And if there's further investigation or prosecution even needed, if someone really did wrong and meant badly, I'm all supportive."
Prince also was to appear in an interview to air Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer"; was interviewed by Newsweek for an article posted Friday night; and will appear Monday night on PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show."
"These are guys that are prior military. They're prior law enforcement. They're used to that kind of accountability. ... This is not an unusual thing to hold them accountable again," Prince told Rose. "They want that. ... And they want clear names for those that didn't do anything wrong. They want justice to be done, just like we do."
Iraqi authorities have asked the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater within six months and hand over the contractors involved in the Sept. 16 shootings in Baghdad's Nisoor Square to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.
They have also demanded that North Carolina-based Blackwater pay $8 million in compensation to each of the families of those killed.
An Iraqi investigation into the shooting charges that four Blackwater vehicles called to the square began shooting without provocation.
In the interviews, Prince said he has evidence the Blackwater guards were fired on.
"The fact is three of our vehicles had pock marks in them from incident reports that I saw," Prince said. "So, clearly, our guys were not shooting at each other."
Prince also said one of the Blackwater vehicles was shot through the radiator and had to be towed from the scene.
"It wasn't deliberate; it wasn't murder," Prince told Rose. "I believe — wait until the investigation comes out, but in looking at the past performance of the guys, the previous military experience, the good judgment they've shown for the last 15 or 20 years serving in the U.S. military and law enforcement — I believe they used good judgment that day."
Blackwater's spokeswoman did not return messages left by The Associated Press on Saturday seeking comment from Prince, a 38-year-old former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater in 1997 using millions of dollars he inherited from his family's auto-parts fortune.
The company, headquartered in Moyock, N.C., in the state's northeastern swamplands, is the largest of the State Department's three private security contractors.
Two senior officials have told The Associated Press the State Department may phase out or limit the use of private security guards in Iraq, which could mean canceling Blackwater's contract or awarding it to another company. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the review is still under way.
Should that happen, Prince said, "We'll do what we're told and, you know, make the transition as smooth as possible."
Prince told Rose that Blackwater welcomes additional measures imposed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, including having federal agents accompany convoys and installing video cameras in their vehicles.
Families of Iraqis killed in the Sept. 16 attack have sued Blackwater, charging that the firm violated U.S. law and fostered a culture of lawlessness among its employees.
Prince this month told a House committee that while the company supports legislation that would place private security companies working for the State Department under the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, the FBI's investigation is proof that oversight and accountability already exists.
The legislation has since passed, and Prince told "60 Minutes" he welcomes additional oversight.
"We welcome the accountability," Prince said. "We want a good name for this industry."