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War Profiteer Blackwater Shot Down in Federal Court

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In a major blow to one of the most infamous war profiteers operating
in Iraq, Afghanistan and New Orleans, a federal appeals court has
ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the mercenary firm
Blackwater USA can proceed in North Carolina's state courts. The suit
was brought by the families of the four Blackwater contractors
ambushed and killed in Falluja, Iraq on March 31, 2004. Blackwater had
tried to have the case dismissed or moved to federal court.

"I've been bawling ever since I've heard the decision," says Katy
Helvenston, whose son Scott was killed in Falluja, his charred body hung
from a bridge. "It's been overwhelming. I am so glad that they ruled this
way. Blackwater has stalled and stalled. Look at the
hundreds of millions of dollars in profits in Iraq and New Orleans they've
made since my son was killed. It's time to go to trial and let the chips
fall where they may."

The lawsuit, filed in January 2005, alleges that Blackwater cut
corners in the interest of profits, leading to the brutal deaths of the
four men: Scott Helvenston, Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, Mike Teague and Wes
Batalona. "It has now been more than a year and a half since the lawsuit
was filed, and Blackwater has managed to stall and frustrate the
litigation," Marc Miles, an attorney for the families, told me. "I
anticipate that this matter will now be on a fast track to trial, and
believe that a jury will ultimately find Blackwater liable for its
wrongful conduct in causing the deaths of these four Americans."

In its motion to dismiss the case in federal court, Blackwater argued that
the families of the four men are entitled only to government
insurance payments under the federal Defense Base Act. Many firms
specializing in contractor law advertise the DBA as the best way for
corporations servicing the war to avoid being sued. "What Blackwater is
trying to do is to sweep all of their wrongful conduct into the Defense
Base Act," says Miles. Blackwater spokesperson Chris Taylor told the
Associated Press, "We are reviewing the decision."

Blackwater argued in its appeal that the four men "were performing a
classic military function... with authorization from the Office of the
Secretary of Defense that classified their missions as 'official
duties' in support of the Coalition Provisional Authority" and
therefore any court, federal or state, "may not impose liability for
casualties sustained in the battlefield in the performance of these
duties." In other words, because Blackwater was supporting the
occupation with its forces, the company is immune from damages or
lawsuits. The court said this argument "proves too much" to permit, saying
Blackwater's "constitutional interpretations" were "too
extravagantly recursive for us to accept."

The ruling Thursday by the three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals gives "the green light" to a trial that the families believe
will show that Blackwater was ultimately responsible for the deaths of
their loved ones, says attorney Miles. The incident sparked the first US
siege of Falluja, in April 2004, resulting in the deaths of more than 600

"The message that this ruling sends to Blackwater is that it must now face
the evidence in this case, including answering tough questions and
producing critical documents, which it has refused to do for more than a
year and a half," says Miles. "Blackwater cannot be allowed to get away
with murder and that's what they're trying to do," adds
Helvenston. "There's got to be accountability."

To read Jeremy Scahill's in-depth report on the lawsuit, "Blood is Thicker
Than Blackwater," click here: