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Blackwater settles Iraq killings suit

By Reuters
Saturday, January 7, 2012 0:46 EDT
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(Reuters) – A wrongful death lawsuit linked to a defining moment of the Iraq war has ended with the company formerly known as Blackwater agreeing to settle with the families of four security contractors killed in a gruesome 2004 ambush.

The victims’ survivors reached a confidential settlement with the company’s successor, Academi, agreeing to dismiss the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The court entered an order dismissing the case on January 29.

An administrator for the estates of Stephen Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona sued Blackwater in 2005 after the contractors were murdered by Iraqi insurgents while escorting a convoy in Fallujah.

They were beaten, burned and executed, and two of their charred bodies were strung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Searing media images of the events disturbed Americans at one of the low points for the United States during the Iraqi occupation.

The former Blackwater came to symbolize the U.S. policy of hiring private contractors to perform work previously handled by the military.

The lawsuit accused the company of sending the employees into a high-risk, war-torn environment without armored vehicles, automatic weapons and the required number of personnel.

A federal judge in North Carolina dismissed the lawsuit in January 2011, after court-ordered arbitration efforts failed. The administrator of the victims’ estates had appealed to the 4th Circuit to revive the suit.

Details of the settlement were not immediately available. John Procter, a spokesman for the company, declined to comment, under the terms of the agreement.

Lawyers for the administrator of the victims’ estates did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Tim Gaynor)

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