Blackwater sued over mass shooting of Iraqi civilians

A U.S.-based legal team today filed a civil lawsuit [PDF] against Blackwater USA, the North Carolina-based private security contractor whose employees were involved in a Sept. 16 Baghdad shooting incident that at last count left 17 Iraqis civilians dead and wounded 22. The team includes the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the law firms of Burke O'Neil and Akeel & Valentine.

The suit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on behalf of an injured survivor, Talib Mutlaq Deewan, and the families of three men -- Himoud Saed Atban, Usama Fadhil Abbass, and Oday Ismail Ibraheem -- who were killed in the incident. The suit claims that Blackwater violated U.S. law and "created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company's financial interests at the expense of innocent human life."

The complaint alleges that Blackwater violated the federal Alien Tort Statute in committing extrajudicial killing and war crimes, and that the company should be liable for claims of assault and battery; wrongful death; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; and negligent hiring, training and supervision. It also names as defendants Blackwater Security Consulting LLC, a holding company called The Prince Group LLC, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.

"This senseless slaughter was only the latest incident in a lengthy pattern of egregious misconduct by Blackwater in Iraq," said plaintiffs' attorney Susan L. Burke. "At the moment of this incident, the Blackwater personnel responsible for the shooting were not protecting State Department officials. We allege that Blackwater personnel were not provoked, and that they had no legitimate reason to fire on civilians. We look forward to forcing Blackwater and Mr. Prince to tell the world under oath why this attack happened, particularly since a Blackwater guard tried to stop his colleagues from indiscriminately firing."

Founded in 1997 by Prince, a former Navy SEAL and son of an auto-parts billionaire, Blackwater has close ties to the Bush administration. For example, its vice chairman is J. Cofer Black, who served as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism from December 2002 to November 2004, resigning from that post shortly after President George W. Bush was elected to a second term, and its former outside counsel is Fred Fielding, who now serves as White House counsel. Besides working in Iraq, Blackwater also had a $73 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security to guard federal workers on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.