MaltaToday: Bad vibes reverberating through the Order and Rome
OPINION | Sunday, 13 January 2008

Bad vibes reverberating through the Order and Rome


Remember the rumpus over Opus Dei? Well the latest conspiracy theory centres even closer to home with The Order of Malta being connected with the notorious security organisation, Blackwater.
Fra’ Andrew Bertie, the grandmaster of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John and Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, on Tuesday lamented during his traditional New Year’s address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the order that misinformation spread by media, careless of verifying their sources, was putting “the lives of volunteers offering humanitarian assistance in grave danger”.
He referred to the “new conspiracy theories which have sprung up, over recent months, in various television channels and newspapers in friendly countries, but associating the sovereign Order of Malta with a private society of mercenaries, which it is said are operating in Iraq and Afghanistan for a foreign government. These assertions have absolutely no factual basis,” he maintained.
But it is not just the volunteers’ safety that is jeopardised by the allegations.
The Order had already rejected any connection with “any involvement in military activity in Iraq or any other country in the world” in December. It had responded to a message posted in early December on Islamist websites close to al-Qaeda.
The message urged jihadists to carry out a terrorist attack on the Order’s embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
It followed an editorial “The Knights of Malta - more than a conspiracy” in the United Arab Emirates daily al-Bayan, by Jordanian MP Jamal Muhammad Abidat, which claimed the order was playing a direct role in conflicts in the Middle East, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Abidat described the role played by the Knights of Malta during the Crusades and claimed that the Order is playing a similar role in the Middle East today, citing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conspiracy theory being espoused is that the Order is not merely a charitable organisation, but it is linked with freemasonary and Blackwater, the highly controversial private army.
Eric Prince, co-founder and CEO of the company, is a multi-millionaire, right wing fundamentalist Christian from a powerful Michigan Republican family. A Dutchman by birth, he is a major Republican campaign contributor and has close connections with the White House.
It is alleged that General Joseph Edward Schmitz, Blackwater’s operations chief, is a member of both the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John and Opus Dei. He was educated at the Jesuit Georgetown University and is a former Pentagon Inspector.
We all recall the furore caused by Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and the Opus Dei connection. Now another book, not a novel this time, by journalist Jeremy Scahill “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”, links the notorious security firm to the Order.
He writes, “Blackwater’s employees… share the same religious zeal of ancient crusaders”, Prince, writes Scahill, shows how “politically powerful Christian fundamentalists and Neocons are pressing forward with their battle for what they call ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’
“He has connections with conservative Catholic groups and funds rightwing organisations through his Freiheit Foundation. Senior Blackwater executives such as Joseph Schmitz do not only subscribe to the theocon ideology but are also members of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.”
Blackwater’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan has made the company notorious. Last September, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that the government had revoked Blackwater’s licence to operate in the country after gunfire from a convoy killed eight civilians.
Blackwater employees’ assertions – that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians, that they retaliated in self-defence and that three company vehicles were damaged by gunfire – were sharply contradicted by investigators who found no evidence to support the assertions.
Iraqi officials have long complained about what they have called indiscriminate gunfire by private security forces hired by Americans.
There was also a well-documented case of gas misuse by Blackwater.
A website “Aftermath News” claims that Blackwater “is more than just a private army, much more than just another capitalist war-profiteering business operation. It is an army operating outside all laws, outside and above the US Constitution and yet is controlled by people within and outside our government (US) whose allegiance is primarily to the foreign Vatican state.
“In other words, Blackwater is a religious army serving the Pope in Rome through the Order of Malta, which is itself considered under international law, as a sovereign entity with special diplomatic powers and privileges. Like Blackwater, the Order of Malta is ‘untouchable’ because it is at the heart of the elite aristocracy.”
A European Parliament working document, drawn up by Giovanni Claudio Fava and claiming, “Malta is the operational base of Blackwater”, added fuel to the conspiracy theory.
Blackwater claimed that Malta served as a European base for aircraft, which “carry paratroopers and oversized cargo and can operate from short and unimproved runways”. Blackwater has, however, disputed the EP committee’s report, labelling the assertions as “erroneous and undocumented”, and called on the committee to re-examine its findings, saying it was “alarmed by these statements, because they are completely false and defamatory”.
Trying to unravel the speculative from the factual is no easy task. There is no doubt that some websites promoting the conspiracy theory are more like Harry Potter than real life.
However, one must have reservations about Blackwater’s tactics, power and connections. And if the allegations that Schmitz, Blackwater’s operations chief, is a member of both the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John and Opus Dei are correct, a clear link does exist.
Fra’ Bertie specific statement about the Order’s principles does not exclude such a link, “It is essential that those involved in medical, hospital and health care projects for the victim populations of armed conflicts or civil wars, scrupulously respect the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality, independent of any political or partisan consideration. These are the absolute principles that the Order of Malta has observed since the start of its missions and activities around the world.”
But the Order also rejected any connection with “any involvement in military activity in Iraq or any other country in the world”, in December.
So is the link real or fantasy? And are today’s knights’ principles different to those of the 11th century – when the Knights of Malta began their operations as a Christian militia fighting the Crusades as well as founding the famous hospital?

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