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Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill

Posted: October 27, 2006 03:12 PM

From Whitewater to Blackwater: Ken Starr, the Mercenaries' New Lawyer

Blackwater USA, the mercenary company servicing the Bush Administration's "war on terror," has a new lawyer working to defend it against a ground-breaking wrongful death lawsuit brought by the families of four of its contractors killed in Iraq. The new "counsel of record" for the North Carolina-based company is none other than former Whitewater investigator, Kenneth Starr--the independent counsel in the 1999 impeachment of President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Starr was brought in last week by Blackwater to file motions in front of the US Supreme Court in a case stemming from the killing of four Blackwater contractors in the Iraqi city of Fallujah on March 31, 2004.

"I think that Blackwater has brought in Kenneth Starr to somehow leverage a political connection to help them succeed in a case where they can't win on the merits," says Marc Miles, an attorney for the families of the Blackwater contractors. Starr takes over from Blackwater's previous counsel, Greenberg Traurig, the influential Washington law firm that once employed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "They bring in all these big time lawyers from nationwide firms with hundreds of attorneys. Blackwater is really painting this David and Goliath picture themselves."

In the lawsuit, originally filed in January 2005 in state court in North Carolina, the families of the contractors argue that Blackwater cut corners in the interest of profits, sent the men into Fallujah without proper personnel, armored vehicles and adequate weapons. The men were ambushed, their vehicles burned and their charred bodies hung from a bridge. The incident sparked the first US siege of Fallujah that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis and the destruction of the city.

Starr's name first appeared in connection with the case in Blackwater's October 18, 2006 petition to US Chief Justice John Roberts asking for a "stay" in the state case while Blackwater prepared to file its petition for writ of certiorari, which if granted would allow Blackwater to argue its case for dismissal at the US Supreme Court, now dominated by Republican appointees. Starr and his colleagues argued that Blackwater is "constitutionally immune" from such lawsuits and said that if the Fallujah case is allowed to proceed, "Blackwater will suffer irreparable harm." In the eighteen-page petition to the Supreme Court, Blackwater argued that there are no other such lawsuits against private military/security companies in state courts "because the comprehensive regulatory scheme enacted by Congress and the President grant military contractors like Blackwater immunity from state-court litigation."

Starr and his colleagues also alluded to a fear that this lawsuit, similar to early tobacco litigation, could send shock waves through the war profiteering community. "[I]f companies such as Blackwater must factor the defense costs of state tort lawsuits into the overall costs of doing business in support of US 'public works' contracts overseas...American taxpayers will pay more for less operational results." Blackwater has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal contracts, and was accused in a 2005 government audit of trying to include profit in its overhead and its total costs, which would have resulted "not only in a duplication of profit but a pyramiding of profit since in effect Blackwater is applying profit to profit."

Read the full story, which I wrote with my colleague Garrett Ordower

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