During his time as independent counsel investigating the legality of President Bill Clinton's Whitewater investments, Kenneth Starr, newly appointed president of Baylor University, often stood in the driveway of his home and gave pious lectures to newsmen hoping for information about the progress of his investigation.
A Blackwater helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Iraq in 2004. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
On camera, he would say things like, "There's no room for white lies. There's no room for shading. You cannot defile the temple of justice." (See Jeffrey Toobin, "A Vast Conspiracy," p. 75) To this day, when asked about the wisdom of his decision to press for Clinton's impeachment, he will say things like "The law is the law and no one is above the law." (Good Morning America, Feb. 16)
Starr presents himself as a non-ideological man of principle, but does his rhetoric match the reality? As an attorney, has Starr always been concerned to preserve the sanctity of the rule of law? Or has he been a hired gun who sold his services to the highest bidder or, at least, to those nearest to his own political ideology?
The answer to that question may well be answered by your opinion of the validity and morality of the services that he has been rendering to Blackwater USA, the world's most powerful mercenary army.
Founded and solely owned by Eric Prince, a Dominionist Christian who once served as a Navy Seal, Blackwater, now operating under the name Xe Services LLC, trains and employs mercenary soldiers around the world.
Jeremy Scahill chronicled the advent of this industry for mercenary soldiers in his book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Army." In that book, Scahill recounts the story of four Blackwater contractors who died in the Iraqi city of Fallujah on March 16, 2004. Their deaths prompted the first siege of Fallujah by U.S. forces.
In January 2005, the families of those contractors filed a lawsuit in North Carolina against Blackwater. The families contend that Blackwater sent the contractors into Fallujah in lightly armored vehicles and with neither adequate weaponry nor sufficient personnel.
EthicsDaily.com's Featured Resource
They believe the multi-billion dollar corporation was cutting corners in the interests of profits. Scahill's book suggests that the contractors may have been deliberately sent on a suicide mission by a rogue Blackwater commander.
Starr was hired to defend Blackwater after unfavorable decisions in North Carolina state courts were upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a Nation Magazine article titled "From Whitewater to Blackwater," Scahill and Garret Ordower note the reason for bringing Starr into the case when they began their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court:
"There are undeniable benefits to having Starr, the U.S. Solicitor General under President George H.W. Bush, represent Blackwater – a highly partisan GOP company – in front of a Supreme Court stacked with Bush appointees. Starr also has a personal connection to Blackwater. Starr and Joseph Schmitz, the general counsel and chief operating officer of Blackwater's parent company, the Prince Group, have both worked closely with the arch-conservative Washington Legal Foundation. Since 1993 Starr has served on the legal policy advisory board of the organization for which Schmitz has frequently acted as a spokesperson and attorney."
After Starr came into the case, he expanded a line of argumentation that Schmitz had offered to support Blackwater in federal court. Schmitz contended that state law should not interfere with or try to regulate "conduct on a foreign battlefield." His contention was that the court had no jurisdiction in the case.
After Schmitz's argument was overruled in the appellate courts, Starr expanded Schmitz's line of reasoning at the Supreme Court to contend that Blackwater is "constitutionally immune" from such lawsuits. In effect, Starr argued that Blackwater was above the rule of law and beyond liability.
Is that the position of a man without an ideology? Is this the position of a man of principle who is committed to the rule of law? Or is this the position of a mercenary lawyer using his skills to service the interests of a multi-national army of mercenary soldiers?
You be the judge.
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. This column appears on his blog, Mainstream Baptist.