Blackwater and “The Hurt Locker”

By Jeremy Scahill

January 11, 2010 –

One of the stars of the widely acclaimed Iraq war film The Hurt Locker has claimed that the filmmakers hired the mercenary firm Blackwater while shooting the film in the Middle East, including in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended to include a response from the film’s screenwriter and supervising producer Mark Boal who says the film “never hired Blackwater.”

“We had these Blackwater guys that were working with us in the Middle East and they taught us like tactical maneuvers and stuff–how to just basically how to position yourself and move with a gun,” said Hurt Locker star Anthony Mackie in an interview with the New York Times‘s Carpetbagger blog. “We were shooting in Palestinian refugee camps. We were shooting in some pretty hard places. It wasn’t like we were without enemies. There were people there looking at us, ‘cuz we were three guys in American military suits runnin’ around with guns. It was nothing easy about it. It was always a compromising situation.”

After The Nation‘s coverage of the New York Times blog was originally posted, the Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal contacted The Nation. “As the producer and supervising producer on set, I can say that The Hurt Locker never hired Blackwater in any capacity on this movie. We did hire a number of former military personnel as advisors, as well as guys from the Jordanian military,” says Boal, who supervised all of the hiring of military consultants for the film. “I think Anthony [Mackie] was doing a kind of stunt where the Oscar blogger for the Times was going to shoot paint guns with him. I think he was using the term Blackwater colloquially to refer to contractors or mercenaries, which we had plenty of on set.” When asked about comments made by the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, in other interviews mentioning the presence of Blackwater men on set, including as technical advisers, Boal said, “It’s possible that at some point somebody on set worked for Blackwater, but we never hired Blackwater.”

Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince, has been accused by former employees of “view[ing] himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” Two former Blackwater contractors were arrested last week on charges they murdered Afghan civilians and German prosecutors are probing an alleged Blackwater assassination team that was covertly operating in Hamburg after 9/11. Blackwater, whose operatives are accused of killing innocent civilians, has an office in Jordan and has trained Jordanian military forces.

The Hurt Locker has been widely acclaimed as the best Iraq war movie to date and is considered a front-runner for the Academy Awards. It tells the story of an elite US military bomb squad unit in Iraq.

In an online video posted by the New York Times, Mackie’s interviewer, Melena Ryzik asks the actor, “Can you teach me some of those military moves?”

“Why not?” Mackie replies. “I think you’d make a fine soldier.”

Ryzik says, “I think so too.”

With that, the two head to a paintball range to fire guns. As Mackie shows Ryzik his moves, he shows her how the Blackwater men trained him to hold his weapon. “If you’re a trained killer,” he tells her, “you’re very precise.”

In The Hurt Locker, US forces go out of their way to avoid shooting Iraqis, even in the case of a known suicide bomber, practices certainly not among the qualities for which Blackwater forces are (in)famous. Apparently Mackie forgot that Blackwater was at the center of the single worst massacre of Iraqi civilians by a private US force: the 2007 Nisour Square shooting. In what the US military and federal prosecutors said was an unprovoked shooting, Blackwater forces killed seventeen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children. More than twenty others were wounded and some were shot in the back as they fled.

The Hurt Locker is a terrific film and Blackwater is a horrific lawless, organization,” actor John Cusack told The Nation in response to Mackie’s comments.

About Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. more…

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