Five members of Congress have called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to clarify if Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s recently disclosed deal to provide a small mercenary army to the United Arab Emirates complies with US law and export regulations. “We question whether private US citizens should be involved in recruiting and assembling forces, as well as providing military training and support to foreign governments and militaries,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “The implications of allowing a US citizen to assemble a foreign legion in any foreign country, and especially in a combustible region like the Middle East, are serious and wide-ranging.”

On May 14, the New York Times revealed that Prince was leading an effort to build an army of mercs 800 strong—including scores from Colombia—in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They would be trained by US, European and South African special forces veterans. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2, was bankrolled to the tune of $529 million from “the oil-soaked sheikdom,” according to the Times, adding that Prince was “hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi” Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

According to the lawmakers, under US law, Prince’s company is exporting a defense product and therefore falls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), requiring him to “first seek the approval of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls before the defense services are provided.” The DDTC is controlled by the State Department. “Has Mr. Prince, or any of the other Americans involved in the training contract, received such approval from DDTC?” the lawmakers ask Clinton in the May 23 letter [PDF], a copy of which was obtained by The Nation. Past attempts by The Nation to obtain certain DDTC records on Blackwater-affiliated companies have been rejected by the State Department.

They further ask Secretary Clinton for “any clarification as to US policy toward private US citizens who recruit, assemble, or train foreign militaries, and toward foreign countries that hire private US citizens to train their militaries.” They add: “We have long expressed concerns about the US government continuing to do business with Blackwater, despite that company’s growing list of misconduct, and we are concerned that Mr. Prince is now exporting his services. In addition, the Emirati regime’s use of an American-created and trained force of foreign troops has the potential to introduce further instability and suspicion into an already volatile region (and at a particularly sensitive time).” In addition to Schakowsky, the other signers of the letter are: John Conyers, Maurice Hinchey, James Moran and Peter Welch.

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