Who died?

Did Erik Prince order the murder of witnesses against him. Could be. But there’s no actual evidence of anything of the sort. Not only isn’t there a named accuser, there isn’t even a named victim.

Erik Prince runs an outfit (Blackwater, aka Xe) that I wish didn’t exist. His style of politically connected war profiteering is a danger to democratic values and to military success.

The evidence seems to show that the operating procedures of Blackwater encouraged homicide by its employees, and the cover-up of such killings. If it were to turn out that Prince had committed a murder, it wouldn’t much change my view of the man’s character, and I’d be delighted to see him go up the long ladder and down the short rope. Not only that, it would embarrass lots of right-wing politicians who deserve to be embarrassed.

Period. New paragraph.

Based on a story in the Nation, it’s being widely reported that Prince is “implicated” in the murders of witnesses to his company’s misdeeds. Only, I’d say, in the sense that Michelle Obama was “implicated” in having used the word “whitey,” or Bill Clinton in the death of Vince Foster. Two people have made allegations, that other people have made allegations, and highly unspecific allegations at that.

According to the story two Blackwater ex-employees have submitted sworn statements. They’re identified as “John Doe #1” and “John Doe #2.”

John Doe #1, says the story,

the former US marine who worked for Blackwater in Iraq, alleges that he has “learned from my Blackwater colleagues and former colleagues that one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information about Erik Prince and Blackwater have been killed in suspicious circumstances.”

As John Doe #2, a former Blackwater manager,

Doe #2 alleges in a sworn declaration that, based on information provided to him by former colleagues, “it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered,

one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct.”

That John Does #1 and #2 are anonymous doesn’t discredit the story; if what they say is true, they have every reason not to want their names known. But they aren’t accusing Erik Prince of murder. They aren’t even identifying anyone who was supposedly murdered, or when, or where. They don’t even purport to know any of those facts. What they say is that other, unnamed, people within Blackwater told them that other people, also unnamed, had died under suspicious circumstances, and that “it appears” that Prince was responsible.

Yes, we have sworn testimony. But it’s sworn testimony to a vague rumor. Eric Prince could be completely innocent, and the depositions completely accurate. So right now there is nothing like an actual accusation of murder.

There’s lots of other stuff in the depositions, some of it first-hand accounts of, e.g., weapons smuggling. What there isn’t is enough evidence to report that Erik Prince is “implicated” in killing witnesses.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.