Feature

Iraqis sue Blackwater

Iraqis filed a U.S. lawsuit against Blackwater USA over a deadly shootout. It’s “unclear” whether a judge will let this lawsuit go anywhere, said Spencer Ackerman in TalkingPointsMemo’s Muckraker. Despite all the handwringing, said James Pinkerton in News

What happened
A lawyer for families of a survivor and three Iraqi civilians killed in a Sept. 16 Baghdad shootout filed a lawsuit against Blackwater USA on Thursday, saying the security firm has “fostered a cowboy culture” in Iraq. Blackwater has said its guards fired in self-defense, and a spokeswoman said the company would fight the lawsuit “vigorously.”

What the commentators said
It’s “unclear” whether a judge will let this lawsuit go anywhere, said Spencer Ackerman in TalkingPointsMemo’s Muckraker. There’s no precedent giving Iraqis standing to sue military contractors in U.S. courts. But the case could force Blackwater’s lawyers to disclose “documents substantiating all sorts of rumored misdeeds,” which would make the case significant even if it gets tossed out of court.

The only legal remedy for the plaintiffs might be in Iraq, said Allison J. Rubin and Paul von Zielbauer in The New York Times (free registration). There’s a “clear body of law” to indicate whether charges are appropriate when U.S. soldiers fire on civilians, but only “untested” legal theories about what to do when private security contractors do the shooting. But the State Department could give the families their day in court by waiving “immunity for contractors” and letting “the case be tried in the Iraqi courts.”

All the handwringing over Blackwater ignores an important point, said James P. Pinkerton in Newsday. This kind of gray area is exactly “what America wanted.” Most “voters have generally supported the decades-long bipartisan trend toward governmental downsizing, ‘reinvention’ and outright privatization.” Besides, when we trudge into “murky situations around the world,” we need to “deploy shadowy companies” so we don’t get “the Stars and Stripes” too dirty.

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