A federal judge on Wednesday tossed out a series of lawsuits filed by alleged Iraqi victims of the contractor once known as Blackwater USA, but is allowing the plaintiffs to refile their claims.
In a 56-page ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., dismissed claims filed by 64 plaintiffs — including the estates of 19 people who died — who says Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. The lawsuits also claim the company, now known as Xe, "fostered a culture of lawlessness" while it held a State Department contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.
Ellis is allowing most of the plaintiffs to refile, but only if they will be able to prove that employees engaged in intentional killings and beatings. He said a pattern of recklessness or a culture of lawlessness is not enough to sustain an allegation of war crimes under the federal law that governs the issue, the Alien Tort Statute.
Xe's lawyers had argued that the lawsuits should be dismissed under any circumstances because the allegations involve political questions that cannot be resolved by the judiciary and because private entities cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. Ellis rejected those arguments.
Both sides said they were pleased with the ruling. Plaintiffs' lawyer Susan Burke said she will refile. She has said in previous hearings that she will be able to prove that Blackwater's actions were intentional, not just reckless.
Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke said in a statement that "we are confident that they (plaintiffs) will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis' opinion."
The ruling comes as a federal judge in Washington is considering what evidence to allow in a criminal prosecution of five Blackwater security guards accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007.