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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25 May 2011

Congress Considers Penalties for U.S. Contractors Abroad

Author: David Ingram, BLT: The Blog of Legal Times [USA]

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is making a new push to apply some U.S. criminal laws to federal employees and government contractors who are working abroad. The move by Sen. Patrick Leahy…is at least the third such attempt since a high-profile killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater security guards in September 2007. But this time, Leahy has at least the tentative support of some in the contracting industry and of the U.S. Justice Department. Leahy said…that he was planning to introduce the latest version of legislation soon, and that he will move forward with it if he finds bipartisan support.

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22 April 2011

Appeals Court Reinstates Blackwater Manslaughter Case in D.C.

Author: Blog of the Legal Times [USA]

A federal appeals court today reinstated the prosecution of a group of Blackwater security guards charged...with manslaughter and weapons violations for their alleged roles in a shooting in Baghdad that killed more than a dozen civilians. In December 2009, Judge Ricardo Urbina of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the Justice Department prosecution of five guards, saying the prosecution was tainted through the improper use of compelled statements the defendants made to investigators...The D.C. Circuit remanded the prosecution with instructions for Urbina to determine what evidence the government presented against each defendant that was tainted and “in the case of any such presentation, whether in light of the entire record had shown it to have been harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”...Four guards...face the potential for further prosecution in Washington federal district court.

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26 January 2011

Federal judge returns shooting lawsuit involving company once known as Blackwater to NC court [USA]

Author: Mike Baker, Associated Press

Survivors and estates of Iraqis killed during an infamous 2007 shooting involving a U.S. security company's contractors cannot sue the firm or its workers in federal court, a judge ruled Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said in his decision that nonresident aliens are typically unable to sue in federal court for injuries sustained outside the country. He sent the case back to a North Carolina [state] court, where the lawsuit was initially filed…The lawsuit accuses the security company formerly known as Blackwater and its contractors of wrongful death and negligence in the shooting that killed 17 Iraqis…It was filed on behalf of three people killed in the shooting…along with survivors of the dead and others who were wounded.

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20 October 2010

Efforts to Prosecute Blackwater Are Collapsing [USA]

Author: James Risen, New York Times

Nearly four years after the federal government began a string of investigations and criminal prosecutions against Blackwater Worldwide personnel accused of murder and other violent crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cases are beginning to fall apart, burdened by a legal obstacle of the government’s own making…Interviews with lawyers involved in the cases, outside legal experts and a review of some records show that federal prosecutors have failed to overcome a series of legal hurdles, including the difficulties of obtaining evidence in war zones, of gaining proper jurisdiction for prosecutions in American civilian courts, and of overcoming immunity deals given to defendants by American officials on the scene…The difficulty of these cases also illustrates the tricky legal questions raised by the government’s increasing use of private contractors in war zones.

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21 September 2010

[PDF] State of Affairs: Three Years After Nisoor Square - Accountability and Oversight of U.S. Private Security and Other Contractors

Author: Human Rights First

[T]he United States’ reliance on private security contractors in zones of armed conflict is increasing as is the urgent need for effective contractor oversight and accountability. Private contractors continue to outnumber U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan...[O]versight and accountability gaps must be filled prior to increasing our private contractor force in conflict zones.

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20 September 2010

Cowboy contractors: armed and dangerous

Author: [comment] Pratap Chatterjee, in Guardian [UK]

[A] jury trial [is underway in the US]...on the alleged murder of two Afghan civilians on 4 May 2009 by two former employees of a subsidiary of Blackwater [now Xe], the private military company...Human Rights First...says that [such] incidents show why the government needs to strengthen the rules on oversight and coordination over private security contractors in war zones...Given that the US government has been ramping up the number of armed contractors in both Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Obama administration would be well-advised to pay attention to the Human Rights First report. [also refers to Paravant (part of Blackwater, now Xe)]

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6 July 2010

Privatizing War and Overlooking Abuses: The New Blackwater and their Recent Hundred Million Dollar Contracts with the United States Government

Author: Amol Mehra, Right Respect [USA]

…Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater has recently won a $100 million contract from the Central Intelligence Agency to provide guard services for facilities in Afghanistan…Blackwater itself has been fighting off prosecutions and civil suits since…September 2007…when guards opened fire in a city square, killing 17 unarmed civilians…[T]he firm continues to be associated with questionable and dangerous practices...The…Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs has partnered with the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) to support the development of a Code of Conduct (CoC) that seeks to develop operational guidelines, and to establish international PMSC industry norms and standards…

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31 May 2010

[PDF] Launch of online portal on “Business, Conflict & Peace”

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Today at the United Nations in Geneva, the non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is launching the first global information hub on “Business, Conflict & Peace”...Chris Avery, Director of the Resource Centre, said: “We are giving this subject priority because it is in conflict zones where abuses are most severe, where the risk of complicity is greatest, and where victims are the most vulnerable. We created this portal to bring together in one place all the best information about how companies are impacting human rights (positively or negatively) in conflict and post-conflict zones – and to provide guidance on how to avoid abuses”...The portal explains key initiatives in this field.

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19 April 2010

[PDF] Stakeholder Submission on United States Obligations to Respect, Protect and Remedy Human Rights in the Context of Business Activities

Author: Center for Constitutional Rights, EarthRights International, Western Shoshone Defense Project, ESCR-Net

This joint stakeholder submission analyzes the United States’ record in discharging its obligations to respect, protect and remedy in the context of human rights abuses involving business enterprises acting abroad and on or near indigenous lands in the United States.1 Businesses under U.S. domestic and extraterritorial jurisdiction…across the spectrum of industries have been implicated in, or found culpable for, inter alia, child labor, forced labor, extrajudicial killings and torture, abuses to the right to information, labor rights abuses, environmental abuses, gender discrimination, severe impacts to human health, and abuses to indigenous peoples’ rights…The State party is not doing enough to ensure that government agencies monitor and respect human rights in their dealings with private business projects. [refers to Blackwater (now Xe Services), Bridgestone, Caterpillar, Chiquita, KBR, Pfizer, Titan (now L-3 Titan, part of L-3 Communications), Unocal (part of Chevron)

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23 January 2010

Biden vows the US will appeal in Iraq Blackwater case

Author: BBC News

US Vice-President Joe Biden says the US government will appeal against a court ruling dismissing manslaughter charges in the Blackwater shootings case…Iraqis were furious when a US judge threw out charges against five Blackwater security guards over the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad…Mr Biden said the dismissal of the Blackwater charges was just that and "not an acquittal". Expressing "personal regret" over the…shootings in Baghdad's Nisoor Square, he said the US justice department would file its appeal against the court's decision next week…Iraq maintains the Blackwater guards fired without provocation. Blackwater said the firing followed an ambush on one of its convoys.

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