Only Pawns in Their Game

Orange County lawyer seeks justice for families of slain U.S. security contractors in Iraq

Following an unsuccessful motion to kill the case, Blackwater is appealing to the Fourth Circuit Court in Richmond, Virginia. Citing the Defense Base Act, a federal law that requires private security contractors to pay insurance premiums to the U.S. government, Blackwater argues that it is not liable for the deaths of its employees. According to Miles, who flew to Richmond to argue against Blackwater's appeal, the federal appeals court is expected to rule any day. He fully expects the lawsuit will go forward.

Like any good trial attorney, Callahan likes his chances. But he says Blackwater's political connections with the Bush White House can't be underestimated. Erik Prince, Blackwater's founder, chairman and chief executive officer, a former Navy SEAL and conservative Christian billionaire, is a top Republican donor. The firm's executive staff includes Joseph Schmidt, a former Defense Department inspector general, and Cofer Black, Bush's former counter-terrorism czar. The company has hired seven different law firms to fight Callahan's lawsuit, including the Washington, D.C.-based firm Wiley, Rein, & Fielding. The firm's website brags that its staff includes ex-White House officials, and that "[we] maintain ongoing professional relationships with the highest Executive Branch officials and key Republican and Democratic members of Congress, as well as their respective staffs."

Callahan keeps a blown-up image of the charred remains of the contractors on an artist's easel near his desk. He says he can't wait to grill Blackwater executives in front of a jury.

Why he fights: Callahan with photo of slain Blackwater contractors. Photo by John Gilhooley
Why he fights: Callahan with photo of slain Blackwater contractors. Photo by John Gilhooley

"The underlying facts of this case are so hideous, and it will be on the national scene," he says. "I think it will be like the tobacco cases or the gun cases. It will be the first to shine a light on what's going on. It will make the contractors be held responsible for what they're doing."

nschou@ocweekly.com

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