The Nation is claiming to have information from informants that Blackwater founder Erik Prince is some sort of delusional latter-day Templar Knight, ordering murders to cover up his plot to wage war against the Islamic world. If it sounds a bit far-fetched … well, it should.
Without going into the specific allegations being made in the consolidated civil cases, logic and factual errors in claims made in the article are troubling. See this claim from a man who claims to be a former member of the Blackwater management team, identified as John Doe #2:
Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed-off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution.
There are no such firearms as “semi-automatic machine guns.”
In fact, the terms are mutually exclusive, a basic fact that any manager at a military contractor would almost certainly know. A weapon may be semi-automatic, capable of one shot per trigger pull, or it may be a selective-fire or fully-automatic-only machine gun, capable of firing for as long as the trigger is depressed and the weapon has a supply of ammunition from a belt or magazine. It cannot be both.
Nor are military units prone to using sawed-off weapons of any type.
Some units, including the personal security details (PSDs) fielded by Blackwater, use short-barrel rifles, but at no point are they “sawed-off.” They are manufactured with shorter barrels. Further, many firearms with short barrels abbreviated beyond a certain length require retuning or redesigning the entire operating system to make it reliable, something generally only done on the manufacturer level.
Sawing off a modern combat rifle would make it deadly to the user. It’s a preposterous claim.
It is also worth noting that there is nothing specifically illegal about the use of silencers. Correctly called suppressors, they have some limited military use in certain situations. That said, it would make very little sense for Blackwater PSDs to use them to any great degree. Why? Most suppressors function by having a series of baffled chambers that capture and slow the expulsion of burning gasses that propel a bullet, slowing them down to subsonic speeds to reduce the noise of the gunshot somewhat. To do this, a series of baffled chambers are enclosed in a long tube that attaches to the end of a gun barrel. Most suppressors are at least four to six inches in length, which presents a significant problem to security detail members that typically operate in close quarters, in buildings, and around vehicles.
Stealth is not needed, but speed and weapon mobility is life. Silencers are neither needed nor wanted by PSDs, because they make it more likely that your weapon will snag on projections or vehicle interiors, increasing your deployment time and adding no practical benefit to the shooter.
It is impossible to determine at this point if the company was using “unlawful channels of distribution” to acquire weapons in Iraq, but weapons that Doe #2 claims were shipped simply do not exist as described.
And this isn’t the only questionable claim:
Doe #2 expands on the issue of unconventional weapons, alleging Prince “made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers. Mr. Prince’s employees repeatedly used this illegal weaponry in Iraq, unnecessarily killing scores of innocent Iraqis.”
Again, for a witness that is supposed to be a military manager, Doe #2 makes very odd claims, using terminology that undermines his credibility.
While I do not know if the use of hand grenades is authorized by contracting authorities, they are not unconventional, having been used in combat in its modern incarnation since the WWI Mills bomb. World War I is also around the last time “hand grenade launchers” were used. Dedicated rifle grenades were in use by the Second World War and they were phased out in favor of grenade-launchers that fired specialized 40mm shells over 40 years ago. Various grenade launchers are common in military units and see some use in civilian police agencies due to their ability to also launch smoke shells or tear gas.
But “hand grenade launchers”? It’s been generations since they were last in combat, and that is very odd terminology to use if Doe #2 is referring to simple 40mm grenades.
Doe #2 ends with another bizarre claim from the same paragraph:
Specifically, he alleges that Prince “obtained illegal ammunition from an American company called LeMas. This company sold ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body. Mr. Prince’s employees repeatedly used this illegal ammunition in Iraq to inflict maximum damage on Iraqis.”
Le Mas Ltd. makes ammunition and markets it exclusively to law enforcement and military customers. The ammunition they manufacture is not explosive in any way, shape, or form. This claim is not made in their literature, nor in reviews of their products.
The company claims to use “blended metal” technologies to produce bullets that penetrate armor and cover, but which become frangible in soft tissue. In other words, they seem to be claiming that they make bullets with a hard outside and soft inside that comes apart and fragments after impact, creating significant wound channels. This fragmentation claim is exactly what led the U.S. military to adapt the M-16 chambered in 5.56 NATO during the Vietnam War, and why small diameter, lightly jacketed, hyper-velocity bullets are currently fielded by most of the world’s front-line military units. If their bullet designs actually work as advertised, they are quite legal for use.
But the company is very secretive about releasing specific information about their products and the limited testing that has been published notes that it is little or no different than conventional ammunition, because it appears that it is in most regards conventional ammunition, apparently deceptively advertised. As such, they may actually underperform and be less lethal than standard military/contractor ammunition in some instances, while still being illegal.
There may be some truth to the claims made in this article in The Nation, but based upon the problems revealed, it is hard to believe the Doe #2 they hang so much of their case on has a high degree of aptitude or credibility.