A lawyer for the Blackwater contractors charged last week with killing two men in Kabul says his clients were thrown under the bus by a company desperate to preserve its standing with the Afghan government, after another shooting case in Iraq led to a crackdown on its operations in that country.
Directly after the Kabul shooting last May, Blackwater went into crisis mode, Attorney Daniel Callahan tells TPMmuckraker. That same month, the company fired the two contractors who were charged last week, as well as two others who were involved in the incident, for violating the company’s drinking policy.
Callahan says Blackwater fabricated the drinking charge and was worried because the men had been given guns even though they weren’t authorized to carry weapons off base. The shooting occurred after a disputed traffic accident in Kabul.
Callahan says Blackwater portrayed the men as “on a lark” to dissociate itself with episode. “The company didn’t want to get kicked out of Afghanistan,” he says.
A federal prosecutor repeated the drinking charge in arguing against bond for one of the contractors in court in Virgina Tuesday.
Blackwater, now known as Xe, declined to respond specifically to Callahan’s charges. But spokesman Mark Corallo said “Xe Services immediately and fully cooperated with the government’s investigation of this tragic incident and terminated the individuals involved for violating company policy. Out of respect for the judicial process, the company will not provide further comment.”
Callahan, who is based in Santa Ana, CA, and has been involved in lawsuits against Blackwater in the past, says he helped Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon, the two contractors charged with murder, get out of Afghanistan last year after the shooting.
The contractors have said they fired in self-defense after a car rammed one of their two vehicles, but Afghans on the scene say the shooting was unprovoked. Callahan sent us pictures of one of the contractors’ badly damaged vehicles — a Land Cruiser — taken a couple weeks after the incident, he says. You can see a gallery of the images here.
According to the contractors’ version of the story, they were driving in a pair of cars bringing two translators home at the direction of their employer, Paravant, a Blackwater company. Drotleff and Cannon were in the back vehicle when an Afghan car driving the same direction came up from behind and rammed the front vehicle, flipping it over.
When Drotleff and Cannon got out to help their comrades, the Afghan car — reportedly a Toyota sedan — turned around and drove at them, they say. They opened fire, killing one of the Afghan men in the car, and one bystander who was walking some distance away.
However, local residents of the Kabul neighborhood where the shooting occurred have said the contractors fired unprovoked after one of their vehicles tipped over in some kind of accident.
Unnamed federal officials told the Washington Post this week that there was a traffic accident, but “no Paravant car was struck by another vehicle and that the Afghans who were shot were in a car that had passed the contractors from the other direction.”
Whatever occurred that day, Callahan believes Blackwater wanted to protect its interests — at the expense of the men involved in the incident. He says the men had AK-47s that Blackwater had given them, even though they were not authorized to carry weapons. (The indictment alleges Cannon used an assault rifle, and Drotleff a handgun.)
As evidence, Callahan cites a DOD letter of authorization for one of the men who has not been charged, Steve McClain. In the document, which Callahan says allowed McClain to enter Afghanistan, a box granting permission for an “authorized weapon” is unchecked.
Callahan, who has been working for the men pro bono, says he is now in the process of handing off the case to lawyers in Virginia.