A US federal judge has ruled that the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a USAID-funded organization providing local governance services in Iraq, can be sued in the United States for the deaths of two Iraqi women killed by their security guards in Baghdad in October of 2007. The judge will also allow the victims’ attorneys discovery on whether the security company, Unity Resources Group, has sufficient business contacts in the United States to be sued in a US court. Whether Unity Resources Group can be sued should be decided within the next few months.
The RTI incident occurred only weeks after the infamous Blackwater massacre in Nisur Square, in which 17 innocent bystanders were killed. The first of two civil lawsuits on behalf of Nisur Square victims ended in a disputed settlement, which, along with a botched criminal prosecution, outraged many in the US and Iraq, and recently led to the ouster from Iraq of all former Blackwater employees. A second civil case, brought by a different group of Nisur Square victims, is still pending in federal court in North Carolina.
Although the RTI case involves a different incident, it presents similar legal issues. It is not as well-known, but in some ways is a more important case. Incidents where only one or two people are killed rarely make the news, but occur with a disturbing frequency. The RTI case may be the first of its kind to go to trial, proving that private military contractors—as well as the people they are protecting—can be held responsible for their actions in a US court.
Judge Shanstrom dismissed claims of war crimes and torture, holding that these acts cannot be committed by private corporations. In practical terms, this limits the legal theories the victims can use, to claims of wrongful death, negligence, assault, and so on. Although this part of the decision was disappointing, the case is now fairly simple, and should encourage other lawyers to bring similar actions on behalf of victims of other unjustified shootings in Iraq.
“We’re looking forward to bringing the case against RTI to trial, and hopeful that their security contractor, Unity Resources Group, can also be held accountable in the United States,” said Paul Wolf, who represents Jalal Askander, the father of the deceased passenger of the car, Genevia Jalal Antranick. “Not only for justice in this case, but to set an example to deter the reckless attitude many contractors have towards the lives of innocent civilians in Iraq.”
The trial itself is at least a year away, but today’s decision marks an important milestone, and should send a warning to corporations working in war zones: they are not above the law. If they kill people, they’d better be prepared to justify their actions in court. Further information about the case can be found at Expose the War Profiteers. (Asesorias Paul press release, Feb. 26)