WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US rights group announced Thursday it was filing a lawsuit against private security contractor Blackwater on behalf of a survivor and the families of three victims of a deadly September 16 shootout in Baghdad.
The suit in a Washington federal court accuses Blackwater of murder and war crimes and seeks unspecified damages, the Center for Constitutional Rights said.
Filed by Talib Mutlaq Deewan and the estates of three men killed -- Himoud Saed Atban, Usama Fadhil Abbass, and Oday Ismail Ibraheem -- the suit claims Blackwater "created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company's financial interests at the expense of innocent human life," the center said in a statement.
"This senseless slaughter was only the latest incident in a lengthy pattern of egregious misconduct by Blackwater in Iraq," said lawyer Susan Burke.
"At the moment of this incident, the Blackwater personnel responsible for the shooting were not protecting State Department officials. We allege that Blackwater personnel were not provoked, and that they had no legitimate reason to fire on civilians," said added.
An Iraqi government report released on Sunday said 17 people died in the unprovoked shooting and 22 were wounded when Blackwater guards opened fire on civilians on September 16 in Baghdad in Nisoor Square.
Blackwater, one of the biggest security firms working in Iraq with around 1,000 staff, protects US government personnel in the country. It maintains its men were responding to an ambush while escorting a US State Department convoy.
The US Embassy in Baghdad has been tight-lipped on whether those involved in the killings would be handed over for prosecution in a case that has thrown the spotlight on the murky world of private security operators in Iraq.
"Blackwater's repeated and consistent failure to act in accord with the law of war, US law, and international law harms our nation and it harms Iraq. For the good of both nations, as well as for countless innocent civilians, the company cannot be allowed to continue operating extra-legally, providing mercenaries who flout all kinds of law," said the CCR's Michael Ratner.
According to a congressional report, Blackwater has been implicated in nearly 200 shootouts in Iraq since 2005, and its representatives were those who started shooting more than 80 percent of the time.
"Mr. Deewan and the families of the men killed deserve to know the truth about what happened at Nisoor Square, and they deserve justice. Incidents like this one and the many others that have made their way into government reports and news accounts must end," said Detroit attorney Shereef Akeel.
In 2004, Akeel was behind another suit filed by former detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq against the private firms Titan and CACI International, when their interpreters or interrogators were suspected of taking part in abuse of detainees.
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