Blackwater USA lawsuit (re 16 Sep 2007 Baghdad incident)

Security personnelOn 16 September 2007, a group of Blackwater personnel providing security for a US State Department convoy in Baghdad were involved in a shooting incident in which shots were fired at civilians.  As many as 17 Iraqis were killed, and over 10 injured.  On 11 October 2007, a survivor and the estates of three victims of the attack filed a lawsuit under the Alien Tort Claims Act in US federal court against Blackwater, its parent company The Prince Group, and Blackwater founder and chairman Erik Prince.  The plaintiffs claim that Blackwater is liable for extrajudicial killings and war crimes because its employees opened fire on unarmed civilians.  The plaintiffs’ claims also include wrongful death and negligent hiring, training and supervision by Blackwater of its personnel.  In an interview, Erik Prince said the lawsuit was “politically motivated” and without basis.  In July 2009, the court consolidated this case with five other lawsuits based on similar facts.  On 6 January 2010, parties to five of the consolidated lawsuits announced that they had reached a settlement with the defendants, while the suit filed on behalf of the three victims of the 2007 incident continued.  In December 2010, Blackwater argued that the US government, and not the company itself, should be held accountable for the shooting incident because it was providing security to State Department personnel.  In January 2011, District Judge Terrence Boyle ruled that nonresidents are unable to sue in federal court for injuries sustained outside the country and sent the case back to a North Carolina court, where the suit was first filed.  The company, now known as Academi, settled this lawsuit out of court in January 2012.  The terms of the settlement are confidential.


On 8 December 2008, the US Department of Justice filed criminal charges against five individual Blackwater security guards with regard to the same incident.  The Department of Justice did not file charges against the company.  The defendants were charged with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter.  A sixth guard pleaded guilty to lesser charges in return for cooperating with the government.  On 31 December 2009, the judge in this case dismissed the lawsuit. The judge stated that the Department of Justice's mishandling of the case required the indictments to be dismissed.  The Justice Department appealed the decision and on 22 April 2011 a three judge panel at the federal court of appeal reversed the lower court’s decision, sending the case back for further hearings.  On 6 June 2011, the defendants filed a petition asking the full court of appeal to review the panel’s decision.  On 19 July 2011, the court of appeal unanimously rejected defendants’ request. The Blackwater guards petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on 21 October 2011, but on 4 June 2012 the Court declined to hear the appeal.

On 17 October 2013 the US Deptartment of Justice filed new charges against four of the individual Blackwater security guards charging them with voluntary manslaughter and other crimes.  On 22 October 2014, a jury found the four guards guilty of murder and manslaughter.  The jurors rejected the guards' claims that they had acted in self-defence.  On 13 April 2014, the guards were each sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

On 1 February 2016, the four guards appealed their convictions on the grounds that a key witness for the prosecution changed his testimony, and that the prosecutors lacked jurisdiction to bring the case under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, as the guards were acting under the State Department authority, not military. 

On 17 January, two former Blackwater Security guards appealed their sentences, arguing a witness lied during their trial.

- "Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis", Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, 13 Apr 2015

- "Four Blackwater guards found guilty in 2007 Iraq shootings of 31 unarmed civilians", Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, 22 Oct 2014
- "New charges brought against former Blackwater guards in Baghdad shooting", Sari Horwitz, Washington Post, 17 Oct 2013
- "Supreme Court rejects Blackwater Iraq shooting appeal", James Vicini, Reuters, 4 Jun 2012
- "Blackwater successor settles Baghdad shooting suit", AP, 7 Jan 2012
- "Blackwater Guards Pitch Manslaughter Case to U.S. Supreme Court", Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times, 24 Oct 2011
- "D.C. Circuit Refuses to Rehear Blackwater Manslaughter Case", Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times, 19 Jul 2011
- "Former Blackwater Guards Challenge Appeals Court Ruling", Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times, 6 Jun 2011
- "Appeals court revives Blackwater case", Nedra Pickler, AP, 22 Apr 2011
- "Judge returns Iraq shooting suit to NC court", Mike Baker, AP, 27 Jan 2011
- "Blackwater on Nisour Square Killings: 'US at Fault'", Al Jazeera English, 17 Dec 2010
- "Blackwater settles series of civil lawsuits", Mike Baker, AP, 7 Jan 2010
- "Charges Against Blackwater Guards Dismissed in Iraq Killings", Charlie Savage, New York Times, 31 Dec 2009
- “Blackwater Shootings of Iraqis Unprovoked, Say Prosecutors”, Lara Jakes Jordan & Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press, 9 Dec 2008
- “Blackwater Chairman Defends His Guards Against Allegations of Unprovoked Attack on Iraqis”, Sean Maroney, Voice of America, 14 Oct 2007
- “Family Members of Slain Iraqis Sue Blackwater USA for Deadly Baghdad Shooting”, Democracy Now, 11 Oct 2007

- “Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First”, Sabrina Tavernise & James Glanz, New York Times, 18 Sep 2007

- “Blackwater Denies Any Wrongdoing in Shooting Incident”, Ken Fireman & Robin Stringer, Bloomberg, 17 Sep 2007

- US Department of Justice: Five Blackwater Employees Indicted on Manslaughter and Weapons Charges for Fatal Nisur Square Shooting in Iraq, 8 Dec 2008


- Center for Constitutional Rights [plaintiffs' co-counsel]:
     - Blackwater USA Sued for Firing on Iraqi Civilians, According to Legal Team for Injured Survivor and Families of Three Killed, 11 Oct 2007
     - Abtan, et al. v. Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, Inc., et al. - Case synopsis [includes links to legal documents]
     - Albazzaz & Aziz v. Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, et al. - Case synopsis [includes links to legal documents]

- [PDF] In re: Blackwater Alien Tort Claims Act Litigation - Consolidated Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, 24 Jul 2009
- [PDF] Estate of Atban, et al. v. Xe/Blackwater, et al. - First Amended Complaint, 1 Jul 2009
- [PDF] Estate of Himoud Saed Atban, et al. v. Blackwater USA, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia - Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, 22 Jan 2008
- [PDF] Estate of Himoud Saed Atban, et al. v. Blackwater USA, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia - Amended Complaint, 26 Nov 2007

- [PDF] Estate of Himoud Saed Atban, et al. v. Blackwater USA, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia - Complaint, 11 Oct 2007 


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20 December 2018

US jury convicts ex-Blackwater guard of murder over deadly shooting in Nisour Square in Iraq

Author: Reuters

"Report: Ex-Blackwater Guard Convicted of Murder in Iraq Shooting Spree", 19 Dec 2018

A 35-year-old former Blackwater [now Academi] security guard was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday for shooting a civilian at a crowded traffic circle in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in 2007...

The U.S. Justice Department has long pursued accountability for the Nisur Square shooting. Slatten's initial 2014 murder conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court that said he should have been tried separately from the three other Blackwater guards in the incident...

The appeals court also ordered the three other Blackwater guards to be resentenced, saying their 30-year terms were too long...

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17 January 2017

Ex-Blackwater guards argue appeal

Author: Matt Lakin, Knoxville News Sentinel (USA)

Attorneys for two former Blackwater Worldwide security guards from East Tennessee convicted of killing Iraqi civilians made the case Tuesday before a federal appeals court for their freedom...Court filings show the appeal argues at least one key trial witness lied under oath and ultimately recanted his testimony.  Attorneys for the men have also questioned D.C. prosecutors' jurisdiction for a shooting that happened outside the U.S. and have made claims of "vindictive prosecution."  It wasn't immediately clear...when the court might rule on the men's appeal.

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3 February 2016

Blackwater contractors appeal US court convictions over shootings in Iraq

Author: Eric Tucker, Associated Press (USA)

“4 ex-Blackwater contractors appeal convictions in shootings”, 1 Feb 2016

Four former Blackwater security contractors found guilty in a deadly Baghdad shooting appealed their convictions on Monday, saying a key witness against them had changed his testimony after the trial and that prosecutors lacked jurisdiction to even bring the case…The case arose from a September 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square, with prosecutors accusing the guards in the deaths of 14 Iraqi civilians….Central to the appeal is a witness who defense lawyers say changed his account of what happened in a way that undermines the government’s narrative…[T]he defense team said Monday the new account dismantled the prosecution’s case and called into question the entire chain of events presented to the jury…“The district court abused its discretion by denying a new trial.”…Defense lawyers also challenged the federal law under which the case was brought— the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act — saying it was meant to hold Defense Department contractors accountable for crimes committed overseas.  But the Blackwater guards were in Iraq as State Department contractors and were responsible for providing security to State Department and diplomatic personnel…“They were acting under Embassy, not military, supervision, and were not participating in any military operation or supporting any Defense Department mission,” the defense lawyers wrote…

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14 April 2015

4 ex-Blackwater guards sentenced to long prison terms by US court over 2007 killings of Iraqi civilians

Author: Matt Apuzzo, New York Times

One by one, four former Blackwater security contractors wearing blue jumpsuits and leg irons stood before a federal judge on Monday and spoke publicly for the first time since a deadly 2007 shooting in Iraq. The men had been among several private American security guards who fired into Baghdad’s crowded Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, and last October they were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in what prosecutors called a wartime atrocity...[J]udge, Royce C. Lamberth...[sentanced] Mr. Slatten to life in prison and handing 30-year sentences to the three others....The ruling ended a long investigation into the Nisour Square shooting, a signature, gruesome moment in the Iraq war that highlighted America’s reliance on private contractors to maintain security in combat zones...In Iraq, Blackwater was perceived as so powerful that its employees could kill anyone and get away with it, said Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was killed in Nisour Square.

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Author: Le Monde (France)

"Des ex-mercenaires de Blackwater condamnés à de lourdes peines de prison", 13 avril 2015

D'anciens mercenaire de la société privée américaine Blackwater ont été condamné lundi 13 avril à de lourdes peines de prison pour avoir tué au moins 14 Irakiens en 2007…Les employés de Blackwater étaient chargés de la sécurité d'un convoi diplomatique américain le 16 septembre 2007 sur la place Nisour de Bagdad quand ils ont ouvert le feu. Au total, dix-sept civils irakiens ont été tués, selon les enquêteurs irakiens, quatorze selon leurs homologues américains. La fusillade avait blessé dix-huit autres personnes…Les quatre accusés avaient clamé leur innocence…Les quatre hommes avaient aussi affirmé qu'ils avaient répliqué à des tirs, mais aucun témoin n'est venu corroborer cette hypothèse…

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Author: Carlos Miguélez Monroy, Centro de Colaboraciones Solidarias (España)

“Freno a la privatización de los conflictos armados” – 14 de noviembre de 2014

Hace unos días, un tribunal estadounidense condenó a cuatro empleados de una empresa militar por la matanza de 17 civiles desarmados. Nicholas Slatten, de 30 años, abrió fuego contra la multitud en la plaza Nisour para que pasara un convoy con altos cargos de la Autoridad Provisional de la Coalición…Los cuatro condenados pertenecían a la empresa Blackwater, que cambió de nombre a Xe Services y luego a Academi tras ese y otros escándalos…Si ya se complicaba la aplicación de la justicia para militares por abusos y violaciones de derechos humanos, se complica aún más para empleados de empresas subcontratadas por un gobierno. La mayor parte de los contratos de Blackwater correspondían a tareas para el Departamento de Estado con el fin de proteger a diplomáticos norteamericanos, no para el Departamento de Defensa. También la CIA contrató a la empresa en labores de interrogación, de “inteligencia” y de espionaje…Hace unos años, ciudadanos iraquíes exigían una indemnización por parte de  Blackwater ante un tribunal de Estados Unidos por la misma matanza…Los representantes de la empresa llegaron a argumentar que la responsabilidad por asesinatos indiscriminados y torturas de contratistas de empresas militares “privadas” recaía en el gobierno que las subcontrataba...

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Author: AFP & Le Monde (France)

« Des ex-mercenaires de Blackwater reconnus coupables du meurtre d'Irakiens », 22 octobre 2014

Quatre anciens mercenaires de la société de sécurité privée américaine Blackwater ont été reconnu, mercredi 22 octobre, coupables d'avoir tué quatorze Irakiens en 2007...Les employés de Blackwater étaient chargés de la sécurité d'un convoi diplomatique américain le 16 septembre 2007 sur la place Nisour de Bagdad quand ils ont ouvert le feu. Au total, dix-sept civils irakiens ont été tués, selon les enquêteurs irakiens, quatorze selon les enquêteurs américains. La fusillade avait aussi blessé dix-huit autres personnes...La société Blackwater, dont la licence en Irak avait été révoquée par Bagdad, a été rebaptisée Xe Services en 2009 puis Academi en 2011. Après l'arrivée de Barack Obama à la Maison Blanche, en 2009, le département d'Etat a annulé son contrat avec cette société...

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22 October 2014

Blackwater Guards Vow to Appeal Convictions for Iraq Shooting

Author: Zoe Tillman, Legal Times

Former Blackwater security guards convicted Wednesday of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians will challenge the verdict, according to defense lawyers...David Schertler of Washington’s Schertler & Onorato, said the defense would fight the verdict “every step of the way”...Court proceedings over the past year offer hints at the issues that might be raised in the...Court of Appeals...The defense lost on a series of challenges to the indictment and the prosecution’s handling of the case, including:

  • Vindictive prosecution: Slatten’s lawyer, Thomas Connolly, argued that the government’s decision to charge his client with first-degree murder after they could no longer pursue the voluntary manslaughter charges was “vindictive prosecution.”... 
  • Tainted indictment: Defense lawyers argued the new indictment was based on protected statements the guards gave after the shooting. That issue was the basis for a 2009 ruling dismissing the original indictment, which was later reversed.
  • Venue: The defendants argued that the indictment failed to allege facts that supported keeping the case in the District of Columbia.
  • Failure to state an offense: The defendants claimed the indictment didn’t meet the requirements of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act because their employment wasn’t related to supporting the mission of the U.S. Department of Defense.

...Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he applauded the jury’s decision...“Efforts to prosecute those responsible for these shootings have been fraught with difficulties, and the lack of clarity regarding U.S. jurisdiction over these crimes complicated the initial prosecution and investigation. It should not have taken this long for justice to be served,”...[Subscription required]


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22 October 2014

Blackwater guilty verdict long overdue

Author: Lauren Carasik, Western New England University School of Law in Al Jazeera

Seven years after Blackwater contractors killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and injured 17 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, a federal jury in the District of Columbia convicted one defendant of murder and three others of manslaughter and weapons charges for the bloodbath. The verdict was announced on Wednesday after 27 days of deliberation...Efforts are underway to fix the accountability gap at the international level as well, largely focused on industry self-regulation...[N]onbinding initiatives are not enough...The U.S. resists labeling its private military contractors mercenaries. But Washington is increasingly relying on paid private gunmen to provide critical services on the battleground and elsewhere, where the risk of lethal errors and the consequences of misconduct are high. Without clear laws, private soldiers will continue to operate in a legal vacuum. The verdict against the Blackwater guards is a small and laudable step toward ending impunity...


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22 October 2014

Four Blackwater guards found guilty in 2007 Iraq shootings of 31 unarmed civilians

Author: Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post

Seven years after American security contractors killed 14 unarmed Iraqis by firing machine guns and grenades into a Baghdad traffic circle, a jury…convicted all four Blackwater Worldwide guards charged in the incident…The guilty verdicts marked a sweeping victory for prosecutors, who argued in a 10-week trial that the defendants fired wildly and out-of-control…after one of them falsely claimed to believe the driver of an approaching vehicle was a car bomber. The guards claimed they acted in self-defense and responded appropriately…, their defense said. Overall, defendants were charged with the deaths of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others at Baghdad’s Nisour Square shortly after noon on Sept. 16, 2007. None of the victims was an insurgent. David Schertler, who represents one of the guards, Dustin Heard, called the verdict “incomprehensible.”

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