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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4 June 2012

Supreme Court rejects Blackwater Iraq shooting appeal

Author: James Vicini, Reuters

The Supreme Court…rejected an appeal by four Blackwater Worldwide security guards who argued prosecutors made improper use of their statements to investigators in charging them with killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007. The justices refused to review a ruling by a U.S. appeals court…that reinstated the criminal charges against the guards for their roles in the Baghdad shooting…The shooting occurred as the guards…escorted a heavily armed four-truck convoy of U.S. diplomats through the Iraqi capital on September 16, 2007. The guards…responded to a car bombing when gunfire erupted at a busy intersection. The guards told…investigators they opened fire in self-defense, but prosecutors said the shooting was an unprovoked attack on civilians…In appealing to the Supreme Court, the attorney for the guards…argued the government had compelled them to make potentially incriminating statements.

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26 March 2012

Iraq bans security firms on oil fields

Author: UPI

With U.S. forces gone from Iraq, Baghdad has banned foreign security contractors, long abhorred by Iraqis, from the 12 major oil fields being developed by international companies, mainly in the south. But the government may find that hard to enforce...The contractors, the ministry declared, will be replaced by Iraq's Oil Police who "will provide the necessary protection."...The ban reflects a wider drive by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government to impose tough restrictions on the tens of thousands of private security personnel who remain in Iraq, and eventually to throw them all out...These companies using heavily armed mercenaries, most of them ex-military men, have a reputation in Iraq for reckless operations in which innocent civilians have been killed and with few of the perpetrators being brought to justice. [refers to Blackwater (now Academi)]

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28 February 2012

Private military & security contractors: a culture of impunity

Author: War on Want

War on Want...launched its campaign for tougher legal regulation of Private Military & Security Companies, criticising current attempts at regulation for showing 'no real determination to deter or punish human rights violations'...While the UK government is content for PMSCs to regulate their own behaviour, War on Want campaigns for national regulation of the industry...Voluntary codes like the 2010 International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (ICoC) are not the answer to the culture of impunity that PMSCs enjoy. [refers to Blackwater (now Academi)]

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21 February 2012

Corporate Accountability Now

Author: Corporate Accountability Now is a joint project of EarthRights International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School

On February 28, 2012, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that will determine whether corporations can be sued for their complicity in torture, crimes against humanity, and other human rights abuses [Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, and Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority]. These cases have profound implications for the future of corporate accountability in the United States. [Site has profiles of the following additional lawsuits: Holocaust settlements; Doe v. Unocal; Wang Xiaoyang v. Yahoo!; Blackwater cases; Apartheid cases; Almog v. Arab Bank; Chiquita cases; Sarei v. Rio Tinto; Abu Ghraib cases; Doe v. Cisco; Doe v. Exxon Mobil; Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners]

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7 January 2012

Blackwater successor settles Baghdad shooting suit

Author: Associated Press

The new owners of the security company formerly known as Blackwater…settled a lawsuit brought by some of the survivors and estates of Iraqis killed during an infamous 2007 shooting in Baghdad. The settlement closes the last lawsuit against the company now called Academi over the shooting that killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad's Nisoor Square…Security personnel of Blackwater…were guarding U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in the crowded square on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed…in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq. The Blackwater contractors argued that insurgents ambushed them in a traffic circle before they opened fire. Prosecutors who filed criminal charges said the men unleashed an unprovoked attack on civilians…The confidential settlement of the lawsuit against the former Blackwater "enables its new management to move the company forward," Academi said in a statement…

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Author: Marie-Amélie Clopès, Grotius International [France]

L’initiative suisse…entretient la conviction que la régulation des acteurs privés doit engager les Etats…C’est ce que tente d’engager l’initiative suisse par le biais du Document de Montreux ratifié en septembre 2008 par 17 Etats…[L]e Département des Affaires étrangères suisse et le CICR ont travaillé à l’élaboration d’un Code International de Conduite pour les sociétés militaires et de sécurité privées (ICoC) fondé sur le principe de l’autorégulation. Ce document a été signé le 9 novembre 2010…[L]’ICoC…a pour ambition de réguler ce secteur à un niveau global…[M]ême si l’établissement de ces principes est volontaire, leur implantation et leur contrôle sont régulés par des normes contraignantes dont la violation entraîne des conséquences pénales et civiles…[Fait référence à Blackwater, CACI International et DynCorp]

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1 November 2011

UN Panel Wants Iraq to Address Military Contractor Immunity

Author: Talk Radio News Service [USA]

With the role of security contractors set to increase in Iraq, UN experts want the Iraqi government to settle their legal status once and for all. Contractor numbers are expected to grow once American troops leave the country at the end of the year...In 2009, the Iraq-US Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) ended the legal immunity for certain types of contractors. [UN Working Group's] Patel says that while SOFA was an improvement, it was also unclear about which “category” of military contractors were exempt from prosecution in Iraq. But with US troops scheduled to withdraw from the country before the end of the year and SOFA no longer expected to be enforced, Patel says the immunity question needs to be addressed. “The status of foreign contractors in Iraq is quite unclear and this is a matter to which the working group believes the Iraqi government should pay urgent attention.”

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24 October 2011

Blackwater Guards Pitch Manslaughter Case to U.S. Supreme Court

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

The former Blackwater security guards charged with manslaughter in a shooting in Iraq want the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision that revived the stalled prosecution…Lawyers for the guards filed a petition in the high court Friday under seal, according to court records in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit…Much of the litigation in the case…was conducted under seal in 2009 because of the confidentiality of the statements that make up the centerpiece of the pitch to the Supreme Court…At issue is whether the indictment is tainted from the prosecution’s use of statements the guards were compelled to make in the hours after the shooting in Baghdad in 2007.

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19 July 2011

D.C. Circuit Refuses To Rehear Blackwater Manslaughter Case [USA]

Author: Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit...said it will not review a panel's decision to revive the prosecution of former Blackwater private security guards charged in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians in 2007. The nine active judges of the court issued an order today, without comment, unanimously rejecting the request from the guards that the full court review and overturn a three-judge panel decision in April. The panel decision remanded the case back to Washington federal district court for further proceedings. The panel ruling reversed U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina’s decision in December 2009 to dismiss the indictment. Urbina concluded the government, in building its case, improperly used compelled statements the guards made in the hours and days after the fatal shooting in Baghdad. The judge said the indictment itself was tainted...The guards were indicted in Washington federal district court in December 2008. The guards claim they acted in self-defense in the shooting, which left 34 civilians dead or wounded.

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6 June 2011

Former Blackwater Guards Challenge Appeals Court Ruling

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

Lawyers for four former Blackwater security guards are challenging an appeals court ruling that revived the government's manslaughter prosecution in Washington federal district court. The attorneys today filed a petition (PDF) asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the case…At issue is the extent to which the Justice Department misused compelled, protected statements the guards made following a fatal shooting in Baghdad in September 2007… The guards’ lawyers…said in today’s joint petition that the D.C. Circuit decision “creates a dramatic new burden for district courts” conducting hearings on the use compelled statements in criminal prosecutions.

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