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Blackwater Founder Goes on the Defense

Erik Prince, the founder of security firm Blackwater USA, is defending his company before a House oversight committee Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Prince took exception to the idea that his employees in Iraq are out of control cowboys. He told lawmakers his employees are not reckless — they are saving American lives.

However, a committee report on Blackwater actions in Iraq found that in many of the shooting incidents Blackwater has been involved with, the company's employees were the ones who fired first. The report contradicts Prince's position that his company plays defense, not offense.

The report also accuses the State Department, which has paid Blackwater an estimated $750 million between 2004 and 2006, with being an enabler, protecting Blackwater's employees from being held accountable for their actions.

Tuesday's hearing also offers a rare public glimpse at the media-shy Prince.

Sandra Svoboda, a reporter with Detroit's Metro Times, says Prince, a millionaire and former Navy SEAL, comes from a Michigan family that made its money selling auto parts. He made his first political contribution — $15,000 — to the Republican Party at the age of 19, Svoboda tells Alex Cohen.

Prince has recruited personnel for Blackwater in Detroit and given speeches at private clubs, where he discussed his security firm.

Svoboda says that people who have attended Prince's speeches described him as very friendly.

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Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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