Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) took to the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday to accuse former Blackwater (now Xe) chief Erik Prince of “attempted intimidation of a member of Congress.”
The “threat”–which Schakowsky appears to have exaggerated somewhat–consisted of a letter from Prince’s attorney to Schakowsky, asking her to desist from making potentially defamatory statements about Prince. These included allegations printed in a British newspaper, in which Schakowsky was reported to have said: “If Mr Prince had not emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, which does not have an extradition agreement with the US, he too would now be facing prosecution.”
The statement does not appear to have been enclosed within quotation marks, though it is common journalistic practice in some parts of the Anglophone world to report some portions of direct quotes in ordinary text. Prince denies that he has emigrated, and has never been charged with a crime. British libel laws tend to be more advantageous to plaintiffs than American libel laws.
Schakowsky may have responded on the floor of the House because her statements there are immune from legal challenge under the “Speech or Debate” clause of the U.S. Constitution (Art. 1, Sec. 6): “…and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.” She may also simply have been trying to spin a legal challenge to her political advantage.
Private military companies have been a focus for Schakowsky for several years. She ran for re-election in 2010 on a platform whose top priority was to “eliminate private military contractors.” [Full disclosure: I was her Republican opponent.]
Ironically, the very military cuts demanded by Democrats have helped give rise to the need and demand for private military companies to provide security and logistical assistance to U.S. forces deployed abroad.
Adding to the irony, Schakowsky has also accepted donations from political action committees associated with private defense companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
The emergence of private military companies does pose some ethical and legal challenges. There is the danger that some companies could become mere mercenary forces, acting beyond the control of national and international authorities, prolonging and exacerbating conflicts. Yet the danger of banning private military companies outright is that they are sometimes the only option available for peacekeeping missions that national governments and international bodies are unwilling to undertake.
For example, as Greg Campbell noted in Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones, the presence of Executive Outcomes, the (now banned) South African private military company, had “prevented a coup” in Sierra Leone and “an untold number of civilian deaths” at the hands of rebel forces while also ending the illegal diamond mining that fueled the conflict. (77-78) The international community, which had largely ignored pleas for a formal peacekeeping force, then insisted that the government cancel its contract with Executive Outcomes. The company’s departure shortly thereafter created a vacuum in which the most gruesome stage of Sierra Leone’s civil war began to unfold. (78)
In typical dogmatic fashion, Schakowsky ignores the complexities of the issue. She simply insists that all private military companies be banned. The issue has become a useful proxy for her visceral assault on American foreign policy and the U.S. armed forces in general–a crafty way of attacking our national defense without attacking the military directly.
Far-left politicians like Schakowsky and the outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) want it both ways–they want to cut U.S. defense spending while also eliminating the private contractors that have become necessary to pick up the slack. That is because their real agenda is to gut American military power altogether, and direct national resources instead towards their socialist ambitions of economic redistribution.