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Estate of Himoud Saed Abtan et al. v. Prince et al.

Court United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, United States
Case number 1:09cv615, 1:09cv616, 1:09cv617, 1:09cv618, 1:09cv645, 1:09cv1017, 1:09cv1048
Decision title Order
Decision date 6 January 2010
  • Estate of Himoud Saed Abtan
  • Other plaintiffs
  • Erik Prince
  • Prince Group
  • Blackwater Worldwide
Categories Torture, War crimes
Keywords Illegal detention; murder; accountability (private contractors); Alien Tort Claims Act; enforced disappearance; rape/sexual violence; torture; war crimes
Other countries involved
  • Iraq
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The case was filed by 22 injured Iraqi nationals and the families of eight individuals who died in the Nisoor Square shooting in Bagdad on 16 September 2007. The complaint was brought against the private security contractor Blackwater (now known as “Academic LLC”) and its founder Erik Prince.

On 1 January 2010, the Iraqi nationals agreed to sign a settlement agreement with Blackwater and Erik Prince, and to withdraw their complaint. The details of the agreement were not made available to the public.

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Procedural history

On 16 September 2007 numerous Iraqi civilians were shot by employees of the private security contractor Blackwater (later known as Xe and now known as “Academic LLC”) at Nisoor Square in Bagdad. Injured survivors and family members of those who were killed in the shooting filed a civil case at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Court consolidated the case with four other cases against Blackwater for pre-trial discovery and briefing (see the CCR synopsis and overview).

The case was initially filed on behalf of Talib Mutlaq Deewan, an Iraqi civilian who was injured by Blackwater personnel during the incident, and the families of three deceased men – Himoud Saed Abtan, Usama Fadhil Abbass, and Oday Ismail Ibraheem. Subsequent amendments to the complaint joined the families of five Iraqi civilians who were killed and 21 additional Iraqis who were injured.

A settlement agreement was concluded on 6 January 2010. On the same day, the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued an order to dismiss the cases.

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Related developments

Following the dismissal of the case because of the settlement between the plaintiffs and Blackwater, several plaintiffs claimed that they were forced to accept the settlement.

In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reinstated the case. Four former Blackwater security guards were charged in October 2013 with 33 counts, including voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence. The trial of the four former guards standing trial for their role in the Nisoor Square shooting began on 11 June 2014.

On 22 October 2014, the four former Blackwater security guards were convicted for their roles in the 2007 shooting at Nisoor Square. A jury found three of the defendants guilty of a total of 13 charges of voluntary manslaughter and a total of 17 charges of attempted manslaughter. The fourth defendant, who was alleged to have been first to open fire, was found guilty of a separate charge of first-degree murder. 

On 13 April 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison while the other three guards were sentenced to 30 years in prison.

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Legally relevant facts

On 16 September 2007, employees of private security contractor Blackwater opened fire at a crowded Baghdad traffic circle known as Nisoor Square. At least 17 Iraqi nationals were killed and dozens were injured.

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Core legal questions

Can Blackwater employees be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute for the killing of 17 Iraqi nationals at Nisoor Square in Bagdad?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 1991, United States:

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Court's holding and analysis

The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia stated that the claims had been withdrawn by the plaintiffs. Their counsel said that the plaintiffs ‘knowingly and voluntarily’ entered into a settlement agreement with the defendant. The details of the settlement agreement remain confidential. The District Court dismissed the case.

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Further analysis

M. C. Dahl, ‘Soldiers of Fortune – Holding Private Security Contractors Accountable: The Alien Tort Claims Act and its Potential Application to Abtan v. Blackwater USA’, Berkeley Press web journal, June 2008, pp. 1-24.

J. Norys, ‘The New Faces of U.S. Armed Forces:The Constitution and Private Military Firms’, Vienna Online Journal on International Constitutional Law, 2010, Vol. 4(3), pp. 384-406.

V. Calderai, ‘The Privatization of Military and Security Services and the Limits of Contract: Lessons from the US’, EUI Working Papers MWP 2010/31, July 2011, pp. 1-33.

D. Kinley and O. Murray, ‘Corporations that Kill: Prosecuting Blackwater’, in S Bronitt and M Gani (eds), Oñati International Series on Law and Society – Shoot to Kill: The Law Governing the Use of Lethal Force in Context, Oxford: Hart Publishing 2011.

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Instruments cited

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 1991, United States

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Additional materials

'Guns for Hire in Iraq. The cases against Blackwater', Center for Constitutional Rights.

Abtan, et al. v. Prince, et al.’, Center for Constitutional Rights.

Blackwater USA’, Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

K. Fireman and R. Stringer, ‘Blackwater Denies Any Wrongdoing in Shooting Incident (Update1)’, Bloomberg, 17 September 2007.

J. Glanz and S. Tavernise, ‘Blackwater Shooting Scene Was Chaotic‘, The New York Times, 28 September 2007.

R. Salman and N. Parker, ‘Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling’, Los Angeles Times, 2 January 2010.

D. Zucchino, ‘Iraqis settle lawsuits over Blackwater shootings’, Los Angeles Times, 8 January 2010.

Most families in Nusoor Square killings join Blackwater settlement’, CNN, 10 January 2010.

L. Sly, ‘Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement’, Los Angeles Times, 11 January 2010.

M. Baker, ‘Blackwater Settles Series Of Civil Lawsuits’, The Huffington Post, 18 March 2010.

Blackwater settles Iraq killings legal case’, Aljazeera, 10 January 2012.

J. Vicini, ‘Supreme Court rejects Blackwater Iraq shooting appeal’, Reuters, 4 June 2012.

S. Horwitz, ‘New charges brought against former Blackwater guards in Baghdad shooting’, The Washington Post, 17 October 2013.

D. Ingram, ‘Blackwater guards face new U.S. charges for Iraq shooting deaths’, Reuters, 17 October 2013.

Case profile: Blackwater USA lawsuit (re 16 Sep 2007 Baghdad incident)’, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 18 February 2014.

‘Blackwater on trial over killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007’, The Guardian, 11 June 2014.

J. Risen, ‘Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater’, New York Times, 29 June 2014.

M. Apuzzo, ‘Jurors’ Note Hints at Conviction in Blackwater Case’, New York Times, 1 October 2014.

M. Apuzzo, ‘Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraq Killings’, New York Times, 22 October 2014.

D. Roberts, ‘US jury convicts Blackwater guards in 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians’, The Guardian, 22 October 2014.

D. Roberts, ‘Blackwater verdicts seen as watershed for accountability in war zones’, The Guardian, 22 October 2014.

M. Apuzzo, ‘Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis’, New York Times, 13 April 2015.

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Social media links

T. Roth, ‘Some Plaintiffs in Blackwater Nisour Square Civil Suit Settle’, Findlaw, 11 January 2010.

S. Brannon, ‘Facts About Blackwater USA’, After the war, 30 June 2011.

Blackwater Settles Iraq Killings in Two Separate Legal Cases’, Common Dreams, 7 January 2012.