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Jeremy Scahill Headshot

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

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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