Alex Constantine - March 16, 2011
By Jeremy Scahill
The Nation | March 9, 2011
As Representative Peter King begins his hunt for Islamic radicals in our midst, including infiltrators of the US government and military, I hope that part of his inquiry focuses on those who really advocate Sharia law in the United States. I have a suggestion for a witness for that panel: Joseph Schmitz, the former inspector general of the Department of Defense. Schmitz was among a group of conservative activists and former senior CIA and military officials, led by Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin and Lt. Gen. Edward Soyster, who last September issued a report: “Shariah: The Threat to America.”
In the report, the authors argued, “Today, the United States faces what is, if anything, an even more insidious ideological threat: the totalitarian socio-political doctrine that Islam calls shariah.” They concluded, “proponents of an expansionist shariah present a serious threat to the United States.”
So, why should Schmitz be called to testify on this? Because Schmitz himself has advocated for the United States to recognize Sharia law. After he left the DoD in late 2005, Schmitz went straight to employment with Blackwater, serving as the General Counsel for its parent company, The Prince Group. He coordinated Blackwater’s legal defense stemming from a series of lawsuits filed by Iraqi civilians, former employees and families of Blackwater employees killed in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of these lawsuits was brought in 2005 by the widows of US servicemen killed in November 2004 in Afghanistan in the crash of Blackwater Flight 61. There was ample evidence the pilots were reckless, the flight had inadequate equipment and that they should not have flown. Bolstering the families’ case was the fact that the US Army Collateral Investigations Board found Blackwater at fault for the crash, determining after a lengthy investigation that the crew suffered from “degraded situational awareness” and “inattention and complacency,” as well as “poor judgment and willingness to take unacceptable risks.” The investigation also determined it was possible that the pilots were suffering from visual illusions and hypoxia, whose symptoms can include hallucinations, inattentiveness and decreased motor skills. Further, the Army said there was demonstrated evidence of “inadequate cross-checking and crew coordination.” The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Blackwater’s pilots “were behaving unprofessionally and were deliberately flying the nonstandard route low through the valley for ‘fun.’ ”
In 2008, in attempting to have the case thrown out of federal court in Florida, Schmitz argued that because the crash occurred in Afghanistan, Sharia law should be applied. Conveniently, Sharia law does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their work. Schmitz and Blackwater’s other lawyers argued that the crash lawsuit “is governed by the law of Afghanistan,” declaring that “Afghan law is largely religion-based and evidences a strong concern for ensuring moral responsibility, and deterring violations of obligations within its borders.” To his credit, the judge in that case did not buy Schmitz’s Sharia law argument. (Needless to say, when Blackwater operatives gunned down seventeen innocent Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, Blackwater was not eager to have its men prosecuted under Iraqi law.)
While there is a sea of craziness about President Obama and Sharia law promoted by right-wing charlatans, Peter King could actually do this country a service by investigating those who actually seem to see a place for Sharia law in America—in defending corporate misconduct that leads to the deaths of US servicemen in war zones. Schmitz is a man who managed to infiltrate the Pentagon, serve as its inspector general and ascend to the highest ranks within Washington’s most sensitive security contractor, and who has continued to win lucrative contracts overseeing Afghan contracting oversight, including a $95,000 contract to work with the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction last year. (What makes the story all the more rich is that Schmitz is a member of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta.)
I hope Peter King focuses his laser sights on this potential threat in our midst before it’s too late.