Federal court rules Iraq murder case can proceed against Blackwater

On Oct. 21, the federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia affirmed, in the well-known Blackwater/Xe case, that the murder of civilians in connection with an armed conflict overseas is actionable in a US court under the controversial Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. The court relied on the universal acceptance, everywhere in the world, of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits the murder of civilians in an armed conflict.

The court found that the Geneva Conventions’ norms are universal, specific and obligatory—on governments as well as on private actors. Unlike governments, though, private citizens and corporations can be sued.

The Xe decision is an encouraging development in a very tough area of law. In the last two months, efforts to hold Coca-Cola, Shell, Exxon, and the Talisman Energy Corp liable for their participation in war crimes have been frustrated, for a variety of reasons particular to each case.

The case differs from the others in that the owner of Blackwater/Xe, Erik Prince, is being sued personally and accused of personal involvement in murders in Iraq. The judge found that the complaints lacked sufficient detail to hold Prince liable, and dismissed them without prejudice. This means that the plaintiffs can refile their claims with the additional details.

The judge has set a high standard, however. For each murder, the plantiffs must prove “that defendant Prince (i) intentionally (ii) killed or inflicted serious bodily harm (iii) on innocent civilians (iv) during an armed conflict and (v) in the context of and in association with that armed conflict.”

At first glance, this would seem to imply that the plaintiffs must prove that incidents like the notorious Nisur Square shooting were premeditated by Prince, who is not even a defendant in the separate criminal case against Blackwater/Xe. Nevertheless, we should reserve judgement, since we do not know what evidence the plaintiffs may have tying Prince to the Nisur Square incident, or to others.

The 56-page decision touches on many other aspects of the Alien Tort Claims Act, as well. As district court decision, it is not a binding precedent for other cases. But it remains a legal victory because it affirms the principle that private military contractors can be held liable for killing civilians. Whether Prince himself is liable remains to be seen.

Paul Wolf for World War 4 Report

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.

  1. Blackwater in Iraq bribery scandal
    Blackwater executives approved secret payments of approximately $1 million to Iraqi officials to “silence their criticism” after company guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, the New York Times reports in a front-page story Nov. 11. Citing interviews with four unnamed former Blackwater executives, the Times said the company’s president at the time, Gary Jackson, approved the bribes.

    1. U.S. lost people’s heart in Iraq
      U.S cannot win this war because they lost people’s heart. After the World War II, the Communist People’s Liberation Army in China were poorly armed with significantly less men power compared to its counter part, the kookmindang backed by the U.S. The Koomindang troops armed with tanks, aircrafts and more man powers. However, the Kookmindang was defeated by poorly armed communist troops because they lost people’s heart. The distinct difference in treating civilian population caused this defeat to the Kookmindang. Mao intructed his communist troops to treat civilian population with civilized manners. He said, “Don’t take even a piece of needle from people.” “If you need food, pay value for food. Never ever take people’s property without paying value.” “If you used civilian’s property, after use, give it back to civilian in the original condition.” “Treat people fairly, civily, and kindly.” They took people’s heart in all over mainland China and kicked out the Koomindang troops.

      U.S Troops lost people’s heart in Iraq. They handled civilian populations poorly. So many allegation of civilian murders by U.S. troops and private contractors have arisen from Iraq. So many allegation of civilan abuses have also arisen. In most of cases, the charges against the accused in civilian killings and abuse were dropped or the accused had meager sentnce compared to their crimes.

      Without taking people’s heart, no matter how strong or well armed, the U.S. cannot win this war. They lost people’s heart there.

      1. Please check the spelling of Goumindang
        “Kuomintang” is an outdated but acceptable alternative, but not what you wrote.

        There is truth to what you say, but you are overlooking a few things too. First, the Soviets left behind a lot of confiscated Japanese war material after their brief occupation of Manchuria in 1945, which was subsequently claimed by the Communists, considerably evening up the firepower imbalance with the Goumindang. But much more to the point: The attitude towards the civilian populace that Mao espoused is inimical to that of the Iraq “insurgents,” who indiscriminately kill civilians. In fact, the US has restored a modicum of stabilility to Iraq over the past two years–not because the Iraqis love the US, but because they hate al-Qaeda even more.