One of the most gruesome episodes in the U.S. war on Iraq began calmly enough as two SUVs with darkened windows negotiated the dense traffic of downtown Fallujah. It was the morning of March 31, 2004, and the vehicles—each containing two American civilians guarding kitchen supplies for the U.S. military—belonged to Blackwater USA, the world's largest private mercenary army.
The silence ended—and the first major salvo in the anti-American Iraqi insurgency began—when a group of Iraqi fedayeen approached the SUVs from behind and riddled them with bullets, then dragged the bodies to the pavement, where a crowd of onlookers tore them apart, set them on fire and hung their remains from a nearby bridge.
The following year, the families of the slain contractors hired Callahan & Blaine, a Newport Beach law firm, and sued Blackwater, citing evidence the company, whose corporate leadership includes former top Bush administration officials, violated its own security procedures by sending them to a hotbed of the insurgency without a risk-assessment study, armor plating, or rear-door gunners for their vehicles. So far, Blackwater has made repeated, if unsuccessful, efforts to have the case thrown out and has refused to answer any questions posed by the families' attorneys. The company even rehired a key witness in the case, shipping him from Alaska to Baghdad to avoid being deposed in the lawsuit.
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"Blackwater has done nothing but stall this case," lawyer Marc Miles of Callahan & Blaine told the Weekly last year. (See "Only Pawns in Their Game," July 13, 2006.) "It has now been one year since we filed the case, and Blackwater has not answered one question or produced one document."
Now Blackwater has done something other than stonewall: It has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the bereaved families. The lawsuit threatens to bankrupt the families and also seeks to prevent them from even speaking publicly about the case. According to a statement by Callahan & Blaine obtained by the Weekly, they've also been "threatened" with legal action by Blackwater for taking the case. If so, that tactic hasn't produced the desired results. The firm is now trying to raise donations to help keep the lawsuit afloat.
"I have found the evidence concerning Blackwater's involvement in the deaths to be overwhelming and appalling," says Dan Callahan, the chief attorney for the families. "Even more disturbing is the callous nature in which Blackwater has not only concealed the truth, but also outright sued to force the families to stop pursuing the case and to silence them."
If you're interested in helping the families see their day in court, send donations to C&B ITF Blackwater Victims Defense Fund, c/o Callahan & Blaine, 3 Hutton Centre Dr., 9th Floor, Santa Ana, CA 92707, or online at www.blackwatervictims.com.