Monday, October 30, 2006

From Whitewater to Blackwater

In The Nation's web-only article entitled "From Whitewater to Blackwater," Jeremy Scahill and Garrett Ordower report that Ken Starr, dean of the Pepperdine School of Law, is representing Blackwater USA, one of the many private military firms (PMFs) (or private security companies) hired by the U.S. Department of Defense to carry out certain military operations in Iraq without direct governmental supervision. Blackwater is being sued by the families of its employees who were killed in Fallujah in 2004.

The lawsuit raises some interesting questions about the status of combatants who fight without the legal protections afforded to those in uniform. (The Bush Administration calls those who fight without uniforms or the direct ties to a state that such uniforms signify "unlawful combatants"--unless, of course, they work for the United States Government.) Basically, the issue is this: Can a company that lures away from the U.S. armed services some of their most valuable human assets and then turns around and contracts its services to the Department of Defense (with enormous profits guaranteed) benefit from the same protections against wrongful death suits that the military itself benefits from?

Dean Starr's work for Blackwater appears to be limited to "forum shopping"--that is, trying to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that this case belongs in the federal courts rather than in a state court, but nonetheless he's on the wrong side of a very significant issue.