Blackwater says lawsuit "politically motivated"

WASHINGTON Mon Oct 15, 2007 5:01am EDT

File photo shows Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 2, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

File photo shows Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 2, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince on Sunday dismissed as "politically motivated" a lawsuit filed against his security company by a wounded survivor and relatives of three Iraqis killed in Baghdad on September 16.

In an interview with CNN's "Late Edition," Prince defended the work of the private company which has faced intense scrutiny after 17 people were killed when Blackwater employees opened fire on civilians.

The incident has created friction between Iraq and United States and prompted calls for tighter controls on private contractors working for the United States, who are immune from prosecution in Iraq.

U.S. military reports from the scene of the shooting indicated Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force. The Iraqi government has accused Blackwater of deliberately killing the 17, and wants Blackwater to pay $8 million in compensation to each victim's family.

The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, charged that Blackwater violated U.S. law by committing "extrajudicial killings and war crimes."

The legal advocacy group charges that Blackwater "created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees," and seeks unspecified compensatory damages for death, physical, mental and economic injuries, and punitive damages.

Prince said Blackwater guards responded lawfully after a State Department convoy they were protecting came under small arms fire and there was no "deliberate murder."

"The lawyers, the trial lawyers that filed this lawsuit are the same guys that defended the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, the blind sheikh, and defended a bunch of killers of FBI agents and other cops," Prince told CNN. "So this is very much a politically motivated lawsuit, for media attention."

Vincent Warren, executive director of Center for Constitutional Rights, said Prince was trying to divert attention from the killings.

"This reckless mercenary corporation has run amok in Iraq, further destroying our reputation in the world, further destabilizing the area, and making it less safe for U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians alike," he told Reuters. "The time for Blackwater's accountability has come."

Warren said the center did not defend Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack U.S. targets in a plot that prosecutors said included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It was not immediately clear if lawyers working on the lawsuit were involved in the earlier case.

Prince said his company and its employees were cooperating with the FBI.

"We support accountability," he said, stressing that Blackwater was simply doing what the U.S. government ordered. "They dictate the missions, they dictate the vehicles, they provide the weapons, they tell us where to go and what to do."

Blackwater has about 1,000 employees in Iraq to protect U.S. missions and diplomats. It has won U.S. government contracts worth more than $1 billion since 2001.

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