It seems as though every week there is a new lawsuit filed against Blackwater for the killing of civilians in Iraq. While the Justice Department has failed to prosecute most of these cases (the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre being an exception), attorney Susan Burke has dedicated a substantial part of her practice to holding the company responsible for its crimes. She works in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Not only is Burke representing the victims of Nisour Square in their civil suit, and the family of an Iraqi guard allegedly murdered by a drunken Blackwater operative, but she has filed at least a half a dozen other cases against the company. "Erik Prince, a modern-day merchant of death, acts as if he is above the rule of law," charges Burke.
But beyond the specifics of her lawsuits, Burke is also alleging Blackwater/Xe remains firmly entrenched in Iraq, using affiliate companies like Greystone. She also says Blackwater is working for a "non-profit" organization, started under the Reagan administration, with a history of interference in internal affairs and elections of various nations, including allegations it helped foment a coup in Haiti: the International Republican Institute.
"The Iraqi government has barred Xe-Blackwater from operating in Iraq, and has refused to grant the licenses needed to carry weapons in Iraq," Burke says. "Yet Prince continues to provide armed personnel to the International Republican Institute. Such repeated illegal conduct by Prince must be stopped."
According to SourceWatch:
Loosely affiliated with the Republican Party, the International Republican Insitute (IRI) works closely with the the National Endowment for Democracy and United States foreign policy instruments, including the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, to support economic and political development programs around the world. The organization is almost exclusively funded by the U.S. government and related agencies.
IRI is also closely linked to Sen. John McCain. According to IRI's vice president, "Since the summer of 2003, IRI has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, civil society groups, and government officials and administrators. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs." One IRI grant recipient in Iraq told author Nikolas Kozloff, "Instead of promoting impartial, better understanding of certain ideas and concepts, they [the IRI] are actually trying to further the cause of the Republican administration." Kozloff notes that in 2005-6 Blackwater donated $30,000 to IRI.
[[UPDATE: An IRI spokesperson posted the following on RebelReports: "Like the State Department, which continues to use Blackwater for both security and other services, IRI has an ongoing contract with Blackwater in Iraq. As a State Department grantee, should Blackwater not be able to operate legally in Iraq, IRI would hire a new security firm."
This is interesting, particularly in light of the fact that the Obama administration supposedly elected not to renew Blackwater's Iraq contract in May.]]
[[UPDATE II: My colleague Bill Sizemore of the Virginian-Pilot reports: According to [IRI's] three most recent tax returns, for 2005 through 2007, Blackwater was paid $17 million a year for security services - nearly a quarter of IRI's $75 million annual budget.]]
These new allegations surfaced today as Burke filed yet another lawsuit against Blackwater-Xe-this one over a 2007 civilian shooting in Iraq. Burke alleges that "Xe-Blackwater ‘shooters' operating in Hilla, Iraq unnecessarily fired shots, killing Husain Salih Rabea and traumatizing Ali Kareem Fakhri, a student at the Babylon University College of Biology."
According to the lawsuit, the men were shot at as they drove in separate vehicles on a public roadway on August 13, 2007. Mr. Rabea died from the gunshot wound, leaving behind five sons and three daughters.
The complaint, which was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Blackwater/Xe:
• continues to flout Iraqi law and operate without a license by continuing to provide armed men under contract to protect employees of the International Republican Institute, an American government-funded organization,
- tries to hide its continued illegal operations in Iraq by using the Greystone name rather than the Blackwater or Xe name,
- captured illegal conduct of personnel on videotape and audiotape, but did not report or punish the illegal conduct of "shooters" and instead intentionally destroyed the evidence of illegal conduct, and encouraged the "shooters" to do the same.
Blackwater affiliate, Greystone, which Burke alleges is still operating in Iraq, is covered in-depth in my book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, is registered offshore in Barbados. It is an old-fashioned mercenary operation offering "personnel from the best militaries throughout the world" for hire by governments and private organizations. It also boasts of a "multi-national peacekeeping program," with forces "specializing in crowd control and less than lethal techniques and military personnel for the less stable areas of operation."
The most recent lawsuit names as defendants 12 companies or entities owned by Erik Prince. It alleges "war crimes, assault and battery, wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotion distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, training and supervision, and tortious spoliation of evidence."