The founder of Blackwater USA deliberately caused the deaths of innocent civilians in a series of shootings in Iraq, lawyers for Iraqis suing the security contractor told a federal judge Friday.
The lawyers singled out Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who is the N.C. company's owner, for blame in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqis between 2005 and 2007. Six former Blackwater guards were criminally charged in 14 of the shootings, and family members and victims' estates sued Prince, Blackwater (now called Xe Services) and a group of related companies.
“The person responsible for these deaths is Mr. Prince,” Susan Burke, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. “He had the intent, he provided the weapons, he provided the instructions, and they were done by his agents and they were war crimes.”
Judge T.S. Ellis expressed deep skepticism about the claims.
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Lawyers for the former Blackwater denied the allegations at the hearing. Ellis said he would issue a ruling “promptly.”
The hearing – combative in its words but respectful in tone – was the latest fallout from Blackwater's controversial actions in Iraq. The company, which has provided security under a lucrative State Department contract, has come under scrutiny for a string of incidents in which its heavily armed guards were accused of using excessive force.
The deadliest was a September 2007 shooting in central Baghdad in which Blackwater guards opened fire on Iraqis in a crowded street, killing 17 civilians. The company has said the guards' convoy came under fire. Five former Blackwater guards have been indicted on federal charges in 14 those shootings. A sixth guard pleaded guilty.