by William Fisher
NEW YORK, Jul 7 (IPS) – New charges filed against private security contractor Blackwater accuse the company of murder, destruction of audio and videotaped evidence, distribution of controlled substances, tax evasion, child prostitution, and weapons smuggling.
The new charges were filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO) by several of the Iraqi civilians who were injured or who lost family members when Blackwater personnel opened fire in Nisoor Square in Baghdad in September 2007.
The new allegations, which have been added to an ongoing civil lawsuit in Virginia federal court, charge that then Blackwater chairman Erik Prince “has created an enterprise that has engaged in a series of illegal acts that suffice as RICO predicate acts extending over a substantial period of time beginning at least in 2003.”
“The Prince RICO Enterprise continues to exist, continues to engage in repeated illegal acts, and poses a grave and special threat to the social well-being of the world,” say documents filed in the case.
The lawsuit alleged that 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.”
It seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.
Blackwater has changed its name and is now operating as Xe and other names under Prince’s control. Erik Prince has resigned as chairman of the company.
Katherine Gallagher of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a member of the legal team bringing the suit, told IPS, “Through this case, the victims of the most notorious – though far from the only – shooting of civilians on the streets of Baghdad seek to hold accountable those who have caused irreparable harm to them and their loved ones.”
“The plaintiffs are all Iraqis who were simply going about their daily lives when Blackwater opened fire in Nisoor Square,” she said. “They look forward to having their day in court against Blackwater and its founder, Erik Prince.”
The complaint alleges that Xe-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… and contrary to the interests of the U.S. military and State Department, and the nation of Iraq.”
The suit also seeks a court order requiring Erik Prince to “divest himself of any direct or indirect interest in the RICO Enterprise or dissolve the RICO Enterprise after making due provision for the rights of innocents, imposes reasonable restrictions on Prince’s future activities or investments, and prohibits Prince from engaging in any mercenary or private military business.”
This case, Abtan v Prince, was originally filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia in October 2007 following the shooting in Nisoor Square in September 2007.
The alleged victims voluntarily dismissed the case in the District of Columbia and filed in the Eastern District of Virginia last month. The amended RICO complaint was filed last week.
The underlying facts in this civil case form the basis for the criminal case filed by the Department of Justice against six Blackwater “shooters”. One pled guilty and the trial of the remaining five defendants is currently set for early 2010.
The defendants in both cases include Prince, Xe, various Prince-controlled entities such as Blackwater, The Prince Group, Falcon, Greystone Limited, Total Intelligence Solutions, EP Investments, and Raven Development Group.
Blackwater was operating in Iraq under a contract with the U.S. State Department, its mission being to protect State personnel.
In December 2008, the State Department’s inspector general warned that Blackwater might not be granted a license by the Iraqi government next year, forcing the Barack Obama administration to make new security arrangements.
The Iraqi government subsequently denied Blackwater a license and the State Department hired another private security firm.
The issue of private security contractors in Iraq was further complicated by the Status of Forces agreement negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq. Under that agreement, State Department contractors no longer have immunity from criminal prosecution under Iraqi law.
The IG report found that changes since the 2007 shooting “have resulted in a more professional security operation and the curtailment of overly aggressive actions” by contractors toward Iraqi civilians.
In response to its findings, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, urged the State Department to drop Blackwater as an Iraq contractor.
Blackwater founder Erik Prince is a former U.S. Navy Seal and a major contributor to Republican Party candidates. In resigning, he released a brief statement announcing he is stepping down to “focus his efforts on a private equity venture unrelated to the company”.
In a personal message sent to his employees and clients, Prince attempted to depict his departure as a natural evolution.
“As many of you know, because we focus on continually improving our business that Xe is in the process of a comprehensive restructuring,” he wrote. “It is with pride in our many accomplishments and confidence in Xe’s future that I announce my resignation as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.”
Blackwater’s new name and Prince’s resignation followed the State Department’s announcement that it would not be renewing Blackwater’s security contract in Iraq.
Blackwater still holds lucrative government contracts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and is reportedly marketing “CIA-type services” to Fortune 1000 companies through Prince’s Total Intelligence Solutions.
The complaint alleges that Xe-Blackwater, “in addition to hiring persons known (or should have been known) to use steroids and other judgment-altering drugs, has been hiring as mercenaries former military officials known to have been involved in human rights abuses in Chile.”
It contends that “Xe-Blackwater knows that the former Chilean commandos hired by Xe-Blackwater received amnesty from punishment for their wanton disregard of human rights in exchange for being forbidden from taking part in any military or security activities in Chile.”
The suit also charges that “Xe-Blackwater has been hiring mercenaries from the Philippines, Chile, Nepal, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Jordan and perhaps South Africa.”
“Blackwater hired foreign nationals without regard for the fact that they were forbidden by the laws of their country from serving as mercenaries,” the complaint says.
It also alleges that Xe-Blackwater employees “shredded an unknown number of documents that related to the company’s criminal and civil legal exposures”.
The suit says that Xe-Blackwater “failed to take the appropriate steps in hiring proper personnel to perform services. It failed to properly screen personnel before their hiring; to train personnel properly; to investigate allegations of wrongdoing; to reprimand for wrongful actions; to adequately monitor for and stop illegal substance abuse; and negligently permitted repeated lawlessness by employees.”
It also accuses the “Prince RICO Enterprise” of “willfully evading the payment of taxes during 2006 and 2007 by hiding the proceeds from its illegal racketeering acts in offshore accounts.