Within minutes of Code Pink's emailing out a press conference invitation in the name of Blackwater's new Department of Corporate Integrity, Blackwater was on the phone to the Code Pink D.C. house. We hadn't sent them the invitation, but they got it right away, anyway.
The release read:
“Blackwater USA Unveils New Corporate Integrity Department
Where: Phoenix Park Hotel, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 11 a.m.
“As part of the 2007 Annual Summit of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), Blackwater will be unveiling its new Department of Corporate Integrity. Given the public's concern over recent allegations about the lack of oversight and accountability for private security contractors in Iraq, Blackwater has felt a need to defend its corporate name and clear up its public image. “Just as in warfare, a good offense is the best defense,” says Eric Prince, chairman and CEO of the Prince Group and Blackwater, USA. “So we are going on the offense to defend the image of our great company.
“Blackwater has become synonymous with mercenary, but the public doesn't understand that mercenary has actually be a positive term throughout history,” said Max Boot of the Council of Foreign Affairs at the IPOA opening plenary. [Code Pink's Medea and Gael snuck into the Sunday night opening session of the IPOA convention.] “Mercenaries have provided service to kings, popes, and national governments that armies could not provide. So instead of running from the label mercenary, Blackwater should embrace it and reclaim the term.
“Directing the new Department of Public Integrity is Kitty Laver, who has 20 years' experience in public relations and corporate responsibility. “My job is to put the mercy back in mercenary,” says Laver, who will be unveiling the department's new code of conduct and presenting new measures the corporation is taking to hold its employees and contractors accountable for unethical behavior. “I'm certain the American public and the Iraqis will embrace the new, improved Blackwater,” says Laver.
Baffled by this press release, Blackwater didn't know who they were calling, just the number in the announcement.
“We're Blackwater and we don't know anything about this,” our confused caller said.
“Well if you're Blackwater, how come don't you know anything about this?...” a Code Pinker replied.
Code Pinkers stayed in character as Kitty Laver of Blackwater while our phones rang off the hook from Blackwater and the press, confused because the mercenary firm was claiming they didn't know anything about this and the press couldn't find any information on a Kitty Laver [aka Medea Benjamin]. A television network called us to schedule Blackwater president Eric Prince for their morning talk show. We accepted, and arranged for a friend to show up as Prince, but that appointment soon fell through, given the growing questions about this press conference. Through Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, no one admitted we were not Blackwater, though the occasional irrepressible whoop of glee in the background might have raised suspicions. Code Pinkers planned the Wednesday press conference in three hours of late-night brainstorming Tuesday.
The next morning we headed over to the Phoenix Hotel, Medea and Des all in black as Kitty Laver and her assistant, and with a “minister” carrying a wood cross marked:
“Put the mercy back in mercenary!”
We also had a “disgraced Blackwater employee” in an orange prisoner's jumpsuit, and his plain clothes guard. The rest of us wore white coveralls with (paper) Blackwater logos, logo hats, and white rubber gloves as we gathered in front of the hotel, while hefty security men in suits and ties blocked the hotel's entrance and watched us, unsmiling.
The press was gathered, waiting to find out who we really were. As we walked up, someone said, “Oh, it's Code Pink!” But we stayed in character.
Medea as Kitty explained that while Blackwater had not had corporate integrity before now, we were here to take on the task of cleaning up its tarnished image, starting with a generous gift to the disadvantaged of the next generation. As Des displayed some macho fighting man action toys bearing the fierce Blackwater logo, Kitty said the new corporate cleanup crew would be distributing them to disadvantaged youth in the city's homeless shelters during the holidays, “to help them on the road to growing up to be mercenaries themselves!”
Kitty described the public's misunderstanding of the heroic role of mercenaries in America's shining history, and introduced the new head of the Division of Corporate Spirituality. The Reverend (Jay Marx), holding his cross, spoke of Blackwater's deep missionary zeal and the need to reclaim the term “mercenary.” Finally, Laver explained that henceforth Blackwater would be policing its own employees, and in a program of tough love, imposing painful penalties on sinners, “such as the one we brought here today, for our demonstration of waterboarding.”
Steve Lane as the erring employee in the orange jump suit and Jim Preston then gave a chilling demonstration of waterboarding while our white-clad colleagues held the prisoner down. (It was a good fake, not the real thing. No one drowned.)
We concluded, as we'd started, with our corporate chant:
In God we trust,
Leave the killing to us.
No matter what you do,
We'll clean it up for you.
Be it blood or guts,
Leave the cleaning to us.