Blackwater Sued for Wrongful Deaths, Injuries

The scandal surrounding Blackwater USA deepened on Thursday with the filing of a civil lawsuit that accuses Blackwater of being a lawless, ruthlessly profit-driven army of mercenaries whose corporate culture encourages the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.

The legitimacy of Blackwater’s contract with the US State Department has also been challenged, with the lawsuit pointing out that the US government is legally forbidden from doing business with mercenaries.

The sixteen-page complaint was filed on behalf of three people killed and one person seriously wounded in the September 16 shootings in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, where Blackwater contractors are accused of killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

The defendants named in the suit are Blackwater CEO Erik Prince and his empire of companies, who are alleged to have “created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst employees” resulting in a “lengthy pattern of egregious misconduct in Iraq” including the “repeated callous killing of innocents” according to the complaint.

The September 16 incident, described in the lawsuit as a “massacre”, was thus a “foreseeable and predictable” consequence of Blackwater corporate policy.

The complaint was brought by the families of Himoud Saed Atban, Usama Fadhil Abbas and Oday Ismail Ibraheem (who were killed on September 16) and Talib Mutlaq Deewan (who was critically injured in the same incident).

They have accused Mr Prince and Blackwater of extrajudicial killing, war crimes, assault and battery, wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent hiring, training and supervision.

Blackwater is also said to have consistently underreported and attempted to cover up incidents in which its contractors engaged in “wrongful” and “excessive” use of force.

The document cites known cases whereby Blackwater fired on unarmed civilians, as well as the Christmas Eve 2006 incident in which Blackwater contractor Andrew Moonen shot and killed the Iraqi Vice President’s body guard in a drunken rage. On that and other occasions, say the plaintiffs, Blackwater kept the victims’ families quiet by paying them $15,000 each.

Opinions given by three US military officials are included to further substantiate the case that Blackwater’s operations are characterized by a pattern of excessive force. One military official is directly quoted as saying that Blackwater’s conduct in Nisoor Square on September 16 “was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong”.

References are also made to Washington Post articles that featured comments from military officials regarding Blackwater’s habitual misconduct. One US Army lieutenant colonel says that Blackwater contractors are “immature shooters and have very quick trigger fingers. Their tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later.” In another article, a US commander complains that the contractors “act like cowboys over here … not seeming to play by the same rules everyone else tries to play by.” He added that the company has “a record of recklessness”.

The lawsuit notes that there are growing concerns that the misconduct of Blackwater is harming the US military’s counterinsurgency mission as well as harming “the reputation of the United States throughout the world”.

One of the more sinister allegations made against Mr Prince is that he has used his contractors’ willingness to kill innocent civilians as a corporate marketing advantage, to maintain the statistic that the company “has never had any American official under its protection killed in Iraq”.

Mr Prince’s alleged moral indifference is further said to be evidenced by his employment of foreign nationals who were once military officials in regimes known to have been involved in human rights abuses. Also noted is the ongoing investigation into Blackwater’s alleged smuggling of weapons into Iraq – weapons which ended up in the hands of militants the US regards as “terrorists”.

Then there are the public statements made by Blackwater’s executives that clearly identify the company as a mercenaries-for-hire service.

President Gary Jackson stated in 2003 that “I would like to have the largest, most professional private army in the world”. In March 2006, Blackwater executive Cofer Black boasted to a conference in Jordan that Blackwater could deploy a private brigade-sized force to any conflict or crisis zone.

Blackwater’s mercenary status calls into question the legitimacy of the company’s contract with the US State Department, which the lawsuit argues violates the US Anti-Pinkerton Act – legislation that forbids the US Government from employing companies that offer mercenary or quasi-military forces for hire.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for death and injuries (physical, emotional and economic), punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to strip Defendants of all of the revenue and profits earned from their pattern of constant misconduct and callous disregard for human life”, and reimbursement for legal fees and other costs permitted by law.

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