Sunday, November 05, 2006

Representing Blackwater

Last Monday, I blogged about the wrongful death suit against Blackwater USA. There I noted what had been reported in The Nation, that Pepperdine School of Law dean Ken Starr is representing Blackwater. To be more specific, Dean Starr is preparing a cert petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Blackwater.

Whether it was my blog entry that prompted this or not I simply don't know, but on Friday I learned that a reporter for the Graphic, Pepperdine's campus newspaper, is working on a story about the Blackwater case and Dean Starr's role in it. Hopefully, Dean Starr will have something to say on the record about how he came to be the attorney of record for Blackwater. The story, if it makes it into print, should appear on Thursday.

The more I've thought about this, the more convinced I've become that Dean Starr's involvement is an indicator of the significance of this case for the private military industry. Because he has a full-time job as the dean of a law school with aspirations, Starr must be (and generally has been) very selective about the cases he takes. He specializes, by virtue of his experience as a federal circuit court judge and as the U.S. Solicitor General, in representation before the U.S. Supreme Court. But he has no obligation to represent a client like Blackwater, which has a business model pulled from the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine. He would seem to have little to gain from doing so. After all, he's defending a firm that is making a lot of money off of the disaster that is our Iraq policy in a case brought by the families of some of its employees who were brutally killed by Iraqi insurgents allegedly as a consequence of the firm's cost-cutting measures.

What this suggests is that the case has great political ramifications and that it's not just Blackwater's business model that is at stake. What is at stake is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's warfighting model.

Private contractors like Blackwater make it possible for the United States military to operate in Iraq with with a much smaller force than would be necessary if the U.S. were relying solely on the uniformed military and not on private security companies to do everything from building bases to protecting American diplomats and VIPs and transporting vital supplies. Take away the private contractors and the shortage of translators becomes even more acute, overstretched Army units are forced to do even more, and critical infrastructure in Iraq gets even less protection than it now has. Secretary Rumsfeld's views have certainly been undermined by reality on the ground in Iraq, but the day of reckoning would have come much sooner and would have been even more obvious had it not been for the heavy reliance on largely invisible (even if very costly) private military firms.

To put it very directly, I don't think Ken Starr is representing Blackwater because someone at Blackwater asked him to. I think he's doing it because someone in the Bush Administration asked him to. A major judgment against Blackwater in a wrongful death lawsuit would open the gates to a flood of litigation against private military contractors operating in Iraq. And with that, the possibility of withdrawing the military from Iraq while leaving private security companies as surrogates for the military would be eliminated. Not even the privatization of the war would remain as an option.