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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16 January 2010

3 Blackwater Guards Called Baghdad Shootings Unjustified

Author: James Risen, New York Times

Three private security guards working for Blackwater Worldwide who witnessed a 2007 episode in Baghdad in which at least 17 Iraqi civilians were killed by other Blackwater guards told a federal grand jury that they believed the shootings were unjustified, according to newly unsealed court documents. Two senior United States military officers who arrived at the site soon after the shooting also told investigators that they saw no evidence of insurgent activity that would have justified the shootings, according to the documents. The statements were disclosed in a report prepared by prosecutors in the federal criminal case against five guards from Blackwater, now named Xe Services...

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8 January 2010

US to Review Court Decision on Blackwater

Author: Voice of America News

The U.S. State Department says it will review a recent U.S. court ruling that dismissed charges against five American private security guards accused of killing at least 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007. A federal judge last month dropped charges against the Blackwater Worldwide guards, saying federal prosecutors violated their constitutional rights by using statements they made under immunity. The decision angered the Iraqi government, which says it has filed its own lawsuit against the private security firm. On Friday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley released a statement saying the judge's decision does not exonerate the defendants or necessarily terminate the proceedings. He says the State Department and Justice Department will assess all available legal options.

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7 January 2010

Blackwater settles series of civil lawsuits

Author: Mike Baker, Associated Press

The security firm formerly known as Blackwater has reached a settlement in a series of federal lawsuits in which dozens of Iraqis accused the company of cultivating a reckless culture that allowed innocent civilians to be killed... The seven lawsuits cited a pattern of illegal activity, including several killings such as the 2007 shooting in Iraq's capital that left 17 Iraqis dead... Blackwater, now known as Xe, released a statement saying the company was "pleased" that the settlement, in the works for months, had been affirmed.

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5 January 2010

[video] McCain Hopes Blackwater Charges Will Be Reinstated

Author: AP

Senator John McCain told Iraqis that he 'hopes and believes' that criminal charges against five Blackwater security guards accused of killing Iraqi civilians will be reinstated.

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4 January 2010

Iraq files case against Blackwater: PM

Author: AFP

Iraq has filed a lawsuit against private security firm Blackwater in a US court and will file another in Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday, amid fury over an American court dropping charges against five Blackwater guards…The guards, who had been part of a convoy of armoured vehicles, had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others during an unprovoked attack at a busy Baghdad roundabout using guns and grenades. Iraq says 17 people were killed.

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3 January 2010

Iraqi rage at Blackwater decision in US court

Author: Michael Hastings, Sydney Morning Herald

[F]or Iraqis, January 1 was marked by bitter recriminations over a US judge's decision to dismiss charges against five Blackwater security guards who had been accused of killing civilians in 2007…The shootings…became to many Iraqis a symbol of US disregard for their lives…Family members of the dead and survivors said Thursday's decision added a painful epilogue to the incident, making a mockery of the justice that the US was supposed to bring to their country…An attorney for the guards has said they fired in self-defence. Iraqis described the decision as unfathomable…The Iraqi Government also protested, and said it would pursue its own case against Blackwater in an Iraqi court.

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1 January 2010

Judge Drops Charges From Blackwater Deaths in Iraq [USA]

Author: Charlie Savage, New York Times

In a significant blow to the Justice Department, a federal judge on Thursday threw out the indictment of five former Blackwater security guards over a shooting in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead and about 20 wounded. The judge cited misuse of statements made by the guards in his decision, which brought to a sudden halt one of the highest-profile prosecutions to arise from the Iraq war…A Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said no decision had been made about whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.

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31 December 2009

Good News for Blackwater is Bad News for Industry

Author: [commentary] David Isenberg, Huffington Post

Federal District Judge Ricardo Urbina has dismissed all charges against five guards from US security firm Blackwater over the killing of 17 Iraqis in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, in 2007. While the five Blackwater contractors and their parent firm (now renamed Xe Services) are undoubtedly relieved, the overall private security sector should refrain from cheering because this is not good news for them…Because the charges are being dismissed, on what will be widely viewed as a technicality, there will be no trial and thus the central issue, whether the Blackwater guards were innocent or guilty of killing unarmed civilians, will never be examined. This is not good news for an industry which is already, if mostly erroneously, widely viewed as being able to literally get away with murder.

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31 December 2009

[PDF] United States of America v. Paul A. Slough, et al. - Memorandum Opinion

Author: Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Court for the District of Columbia

[Full text of the memorandum opinion granting the defendants' motion to dismiss the indictment; denying as moot the Government's motion to dismiss the indictment against Defendant Slatten without prejudice.]

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21 December 2009

[US Department of Justice] Urges Closed Hearing in Blackwater Criminal Case

Author: Mike Scarella, National Law Journal

The Justice Department wants to bar the public from a court hearing Jan. 7 in the Blackwater criminal case in federal district court in Washington, D.C., saying that the proceeding may result in the disclosure of classified information. The government filed a motion Dec. 3…so that the court can determine the use, relevance and admissibility of classified information in the prosecution of five Blackwater security guards, who are charged in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians…Earlier this month, Judge Ricardo Urbina said the hearing will be held in camera if Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. certified to the court that the proceeding may result in the disclosure of classified information.

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