US security firm Blackwater [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday reached a settlement agreement in seven federal lawsuits filed by Iraqi citizens. The suits claimed that Blackwater, now known as Xe, created a reckless culture [AP report] that resulted in numerous deaths, including the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST reports] in September 2007 and the 2006 killing of an Iraqi guard. The suits accused Blackwater founder Erik Prince of personal responsibility. The terms of the settlement have not been made public, but Xe said in a statement that it is "pleased" with the resolution.
The settlement comes just a week after after a US judge dismissed charges [JURIST reoprt] against five guards indicted for their involvement in the September 2007 killings. Judge Richardo Urbina of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed [opinion, PDF] voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges against the five guards, finding that statements were obtained in violation of the Constitution.
Susan Burke, who represents the plaintiffs, previously posted her response to Blackwater’s motion to dismiss in the case online.
To say the allegations are shocking would be an understatement:
These Complaints allege that Mr. Prince acted contrary to, and in violation of, United
States government policies and instructions. Through their actions, Blackwater seriously harmed the United States and violated the law. See, e.g., Abtan/617 Compl. ¶ 60.
These Complaints allege that Mr. Prince fostered a culture of lawlessness, and encouraged employees to act in the company’s financial interests at the expense of innocent human life. See, e.g., Sa’adoon/615 Compl. ¶¶ 16, 18, 25-29; Albazzazz/616 Compl. ¶¶ 13, 14; Abtan/617 Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3, 49-57; Hassoon/618 Compl. ¶¶ 31-35, 46, 47, 80-85; Rabea/645 Compl. ¶¶ 1, 13-21. Collectively, these Complaints describe with specificity multiple examples of Mr. Prince’s men killing and wounding innocent Iraqis. For example, the Hassoon/618 Complaint describes a killing as follows: “On July 1, 2007, a driver named Wala’a was driving a minibus for three related families who were going to Baghdad airport to apply for passports. The three families included parents with four children, including a three-month old baby; an uncle; and a cousin and his wife. As the families were returning from the airport, six Xe-Blackwater vehicles, including three with turrets, surrounded the minivan and opened fire for absolutely no reason. The Xe-Blackwater shooters killed the nine-year boy. The Xe-Blackwater shooters shot the mother in the back as she bent over, trying to protect the three-month old daughter from being shot. She was unsuccessful, as the baby was shot in the face. The Xe-Blackwater shooters hit the father and the uncle. They shot at, but missed, the two other children. The Xe-Blackwater shooters also hit the cousin, Sadiq Ahmed Ali. They shot at but missed his wife, Khalida Jasim Mohammed, and the driver. Hassoon/618 Compl. ¶¶ 50-56. The other Complaints are to like effect, spelling out in detail the dates and times of the killings. For example, the Abtan/617 Complaint describes the Nisur Square shootings: “On September 16, 2007, heavily-armed Blackwater mercenaries (known in Blackwater parlance as “shooters”) working in Iraq began firing on a crowd of innocent civilians without justification, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries.” Abtan/617 Compl. ¶ 2. The acts against each Plaintiff are detailed. See, e.g., Abtan/617 Compl. ¶ 17 (stating “Plaintiff Haider Ahmed Rabe’a is a 32-year old Baghdad resident who was seriously injured by Xe-Blackwater shooters when they shot him in both legs as he was trying to flee from his car to escape the gunfire.”) Abtan/617 Compl. ¶ 17
As testified to under penalty of perjury by John Doe No. 2, Mr. Prince views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe. Decl. John Doe No. 2 ¶ 9. Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, and encouraged them to kill Iraqis. Decl. John Doe No. 2 ¶¶ 10-11. In addition to his Christian supremacist views, Mr. Prince was also motivated by greed. He knowingly deployed unsuitable candidates for carrying lethal weaponry because deployments meant more money. Decl. John Doe No. 2 ¶ 12. Mr. Prince ignored the advice and pleas from certain employees, who sought to stop the deployments and resulting killings of innocent Iraqis. Decl. John Doe No. 2 ¶ 13. See also Decl. John Doe No. 1 which describes additional deaths; and Exhibit C, in which one of Mr. Prince’s men admits to killing innocent Iraqis.
Plaintiffs brought suit under three statutes: Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), Alien Tort Statute ("ATS"), and War Crimes Act ("WCA"). Blackwater’s motion to dismiss was still pending when the case was settled.
Dismiss? How could someone get away with shooting a baby in the face?
Judicial politics. It doesn’t matter if Congress passed at least three separate acts (RICO, ATS, WCA) making organized murder abroad illegal. It doesn’t matter if two successive Presidents — one Republican, one Democratic — refused to grant private contractors immunity.
All a private contractor needs is a conservative judicial activist and even a dozen Iraqis who "were beaten, electrocuted, raped, subjected to attacks by dogs, and otherwise abused by private contractors" will have their case dismissed, like in Saleh / Ibrahim v. Titan Corporation et al.
Ironically, the dismissal of the criminal case probably encouraged Blackwater to settle. Plaintiffs’ lawyers normally welcome simultaneous criminal prosecution of the defendants (for a host of reasons), and I imagine Burke did, too. Here, however, in light of the extraordinary circumstances, Blackwater may have felt the dismissal of the criminal charges offered them an opportunity to wrap everything up and retreat back into the shadows.
Where they can get back to business as usual.