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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Article
25 October 2013

Lawyers for Blackwater Guards to Fight New Charges

Author: Zoe Tillman, Blog of the Legal Times

Four former security guards charged with fatally shooting more than a dozen Iraqi civilians in 2007 intend to challenge the new indictment prosecutors filed earlier this month. The Blackwater guards…will argue prosecutors unlawfully built the new case on protected statements the guards made after the shooting, defense lawyers said at a hearing today. The guards were first charged in 2008, but that case fell apart after a judge found the government improperly relied on the guards' statements. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr. told the court today he expected the indictment would survive…The government initially charged five Blackwater guards in the shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead.

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Article
17 October 2013

New charges brought against former Blackwater guards in Baghdad shooting

Author: Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

The Justice Department brought new charges Thursday against four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of taking part in a shooting in Baghdad six years ago that killed 14 unarmed civilians, wounded 18 and enraged public opinion in Iraq. A federal grand jury…returned a fresh indictment charging the four guards with voluntary manslaughter and other crimes in the shooting in Nisour Square…Charges were first brought against six Blackwater guards in 2008. In 2009, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said that federal investigators and prosecutors had obtained the indictment by using tainted evidence…Two years ago, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit revived the prosecution by ruling unanimously that Urbina had misinterpreted the law.

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Article
19 September 2013

Watchdog Body Will Oversee Private Military Contractors

Author: Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service (IPS)

Member governments, security companies and civil society organisations...formally created the first international body to be tasked with the monitoring and oversight of private military contractors’ adherence to human rights standards and international law. Advocates say the move is significant, formalising a sector whose actions...have often fallen into legal grey areas amidst the complexity of conflict and humanitarian emergency...Yet critics warn that the voluntary agreement lacks sufficient enforcement mechanisms while potentially legitimising the privatisation of armed conflict, a process that has been on a steep climb over the past two decades...[T]he ICoC Association...will now be mandated with overseeing companies’ adherence to the ICoC guidelines. [refers to Blackwater, Academi]

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Article
20 March 2013

Iraq War Contractors Fight On Against Lawsuits, Investigations, Fines [USA]

Author: Christina Wilkie, Huffington Post

Until recently, many of the war's most controversial…U.S. contractors faced relatively few repercussions for their conduct in Iraq…But a handful of court rulings in the past two years have put big-name Iraq War contractors on the defensive against allegations of torture, fraud, negligence and extrajudicial killings…In November 2012…a jury found KBR guilty of negligence in the poisoning of eight soldiers in Iraq who were exposed to highly toxic chemicals. The company is appealing the decision…In many cases, the close working relationships between contractors and U.S. personnel during the Iraq War have exacerbated the difficulty for the government in prosecuting contractors who violated U.S. laws or for alleged victims of contractor malfeasance in seeking redress...Like Blackwater…L-3 Services and CACI, are still in the process of settling claims related to Iraq War incidents...[Refers to Academi (formerly Blackwater), Blackwater, CACI, Halliburton, KBR, L-3 Services, Reflex Responses, Xe Services (formerly Blackwater)]

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Article
5 March 2013

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

Author: Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, for Global Research

The new security industry of private companies moves large quantities of weapons and military equipment. It provides services for military operations recruiting former militaries as civilians to carry out passive or defensive security. However, these individuals cannot be considered as civilians, given that they often carry and use weapons, interrogate prisoners, load bombs, drive military trucks and fulfill other essential military functions. Those who are armed can easily switch from a passive/defensive to an active/offensive role and can commit human rights violations and even destabilize governments. They cannot be considered soldiers or supporting militias under international humanitarian law either, since they are not part of the army or in the chain of command, and often belong to a large number of different nationalities. PMSC personnel cannot usually be considered to be mercenaries for the definition of mercenaries as stipulated in the international conventions dealing with this issue does not generally apply to the personnel of PMSCs which are legally operating in foreign countries under contracts of legally registered companies. Private military and security companies operate in a legal vacuum: they pose a threat to civilians and to international human rights law. [refers to Blackwater, Xe, Unity Resources Group, CACI, L-3 Titan (part of L-3 Communications), Jeppesen (part of Boeing), DynCorp, Meteoric Tactical Solutions, Steele Foundation, Triple Canopy, BAE Systems, United Defence Industries, Lockheed Martin, Lazard Frères, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, BP, Shell, MPRI)

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Article
31 January 2013

Prosecutors Mounting New Case Against Blackwater Security Guards [Iraq]

Author: Mike Scarcella, Blog of Legal Times

The government isn't retreating from a new criminal case against a group of former private security guards who were first charged in 2008 with manslaughter for their alleged roles in a shooting in Iraq that left more than a dozen civilians dead…[It ] is moving forward with a superseding indictment and should have new charges finalized in the next six-to-eight weeks…The defense attorneys said today they'd likely challenge any new indictment [and] that it's an open question whether the government has jurisdiction to prosecute the guards…[The Judge] dismissed the charges in a ruling in December 2009, finding that the indictment was "fatally tainted."

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Article
1 November 2012

Prosecutors Outline ‘Stringent’ Safeguards in Second Chance at Blackwater Case [USA]

Author: Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times [USA]

Federal prosecutors in Washington are moving forward with a new criminal case against a group of former Blackwater security guards whose first prosecution on manslaughter charges collapsed amid allegations of government misconduct. A federal trial judge in Washington threw out the case against the guards after concluding that prosecutors unfairly used protected statements that the guards made following a fatal shooting of more than a dozen civilians in Iraq in 2007. [P]rosecutors say, the government has "developed a thorough, careful filter process" to ensure that prosecutors and grand jurors will not be exposed to the tainted information that doomed the earlier case.

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Article
29 October 2012

[PDF] Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin - Issue 7

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

[Full text of October 2012 issue of the Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin. Refers to lawsuits against adidas, Amesys (part of Bull), Anadarko, Anglo Platinum (part of Anglo American), Areva, Blackwater, BP, CACI, Cameron International, Chevron, Copper Mesa Mining, Curacao Drydock, DynCorp, Esmor Correctional Services (part of Correctional Services Corporation), Ford, Global Horizons, Halliburton, L-3, PA Child Care, Paladin, Shell, SNCF, Texaco (part of Chevron), Transocean.]

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Article
28 August 2012

US uses contractors to bypass international humanitarian laws

Author: RT TV [Russia]

The use of private contractors allows the US to evade responsibility for violations of international humanitarian legislation, a top Russian diplomat for human rights and democracy said...The comment came from Foreign Ministry Commissioner Konstantin Dolgov as the US Justice Department halted an investigation into the attempted bribing of Iraqi police officials by employees of the Blackwater security company...“The Blackwater case is a vivid example of impunity enjoyed by the employees of private security companies, despite blatant violations of international Human Rights standards. The current situation is a result of the inconsistent and selective actions of the US authorities, who ignore the rights of Iraqis who fall victim to the employees of private security companies. We expect that the US authorities will at last take some measures to punish the responsible contractors of the company formerly known as Blackwater,” the statement read.

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Article
25 July 2012

DOJ Builds Criminal Case Against Blackwater Security Guards

Author: Mike Scarcella, BLT: The Blog of Legal Times [USA]

Prosecutors in Washington are building a new criminal case against a group of former Blackwater private security guards whom the government believes wrongly killed more than dozen Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad shootout in 2007...Assistant U.S. attorney...Anthony Asuncion...said...that the government is moving forward to obtain a superseding indictment. He did not discuss potential new charges...Steptoe & Johnson partner Brian Heberlig, a lawyer for Paul Slough, said in court he anticipates challenging any new indictment on the ground that witnesses could have been exposed to information that was supposed to remain confidential.

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