2009/04/23:Quad City Times: 'Blackwater' critics organize conference - Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Dan Kenney

'Blackwater' critics organize conference
Steven Martens | Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2009 5:45 pm
Quad City Times

ROCK FALLS, Ill. — A group of people opposed to private military companies will hold a conference that will culminate Monday with a protest at the Mount Carroll training center for Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

People from throughout the surrounding states are expected to attend the Stop Blackwater Conference and Catholic Worker Regional Retreat, which will be held Friday through Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Stockton.

Speakers at the conference will include Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” and Kathy Kelly, co-founder and co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-Violence.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe, pronounced “zee,” in February after the company received negative publicity related to its involvement in Iraq, including a September 2007 situation in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.

Fred Turk of Rock Falls, a member of the Sauk Valley Interfaith Peace Action and Clearwater, a group of organizations opposed to private military companies like Xe, said his group is working on legislation that would make it illegal in Illinois for government agencies, such as law enforcement, to obtain training from private military companies such as Xe.

Turk said Xe is one of many similar companies, but that President Barack Obama has begun to create more oversight of such companies.

“The election of Obama has changed things considerably,” Turk said. “I think he’s acting as we would like an executive to act.”

The conference also will include training in the tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience, which will be required for people planning to take part in a demonstration Monday at the U.S. Training Center site near Mount Carroll. U.S. Training Center, which offers training for military, law enforcement and security companies, is a subsidiary of Xe.

Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the company hopes the group has accurate information about what Xe does.

“We are supportive of communities having discussions about us and our industry, but we would hope those conversations are based on facts and not the fiction that is often circulated,” she said.

Tyrrell said the company provides a service to communities by offering training to the law enforcement agencies that protect them.

Turk said the public is welcome to attend the conference. Anyone interested in attending can contact Dan Kenny at dkenny53@hotmail.com.