A federal judge’s ruling Wednesday won’t shutter a war crimes suit against the security contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater, despite the fact that lawyers must refile their claims against the company.
64 Iraqis — including the estates of 19 who died — have sued the company, now called Xe, for indiscriminate beatings and killings.
Judge TS Ellis III dismissed several of the suits on Wednesday, citing a new ruling by the Supreme Court which raises the bar for allegations of war crimes.
“Ellis’s ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis’ lawyers, but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed,” The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, who has covered the case closely, wrote Thursday. “In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs’ to document facts before going to trial, According to Ellis’s ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.”
“We were very pleased with the ruling,” says Susan Burke, the Iraqis’ lead attorney, was quoted as saying. A Blackwater spokesman said, “”We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis’ opinion.”
Ellis rejected several of Blackwater’s core arguments.
Among them, Scahill writes, he took umbrage with the company’s claim that “‘conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a ‘military objective’ rather than for economic or ideological reasons.’ Ellis said that under Blackwater’s logic ‘it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate ‘military objective’ for committing the murders.’”
The declarations described Blackwater as “having young girls provide oral sex to Enterprise members in the ‘Blackwater Man Camp’ in exchange for one American dollar.” They added even though Prince frequently visited this camp, he “failed to stop the ongoing use of prostitutes, including child prostitutes, by his men.”
One of the statements also charged that “Prince’s North Carolina operations had an ongoing wife-swapping and sex ring, which was participated in by many of Mr. Prince’s top executives.”
According to the two former employees, Blackwater supervisors in Iraq sometimes sent men back to the United States for wanting to “kill ragheads,” excessive drinking, steroid use, or failure to follow weapon safety procedures, but “Mr. Prince and his executives would send them back” with a reprimand to the supervisor for costing the firm money. Blackwater even fired “those mental health professionals who were not willing to endorse deployments of unfit men.”
The former employees stated that Prince was engaged in illegal arms dealing, money laundering, and tax evasion, that he created “a web of companies in order to obscure wrong-doing, fraud, and other crimes,” and that Blackwater’s chief financial officer had “resigned … stating he was not willing to go to jail for Erik Prince.”
This video is from LinkTV’s DemocracyNow!, broadcast Oct. 23, 2009.