- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

The families of four defense contractors lynched last year in Iraq are suing the employer, saying the company, in an effort to increase profits, did not provide the men with armored vehicles and other promised equipment.

The company’s “motivation was basically greed,” family attorney Dan Callahan said. “They saved $1.5 million by not buying those [armored] vehicles.”

The complaint — filed in a Raleigh, N.C., court last week — accuses Blackwater Security Consulting of sending the men into hostile territory in unarmored vehicles, with only light weapons and without a map.

Repeated telephone messages at the company’s Moyock, N.C., headquarters went unanswered.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death, and legal analysts warn that it could open the way for a flood of litigation against private military contractors, whose role in the Iraq conflict is opening unexplored legal territory.

Scott Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerry Zovko and Wesley Batalona were killed by terrorists on March 31, 2004, after a convoy they were escorting drove through the center of Fallujah, a hotbed of terrorist activity.

Their bodies were burned, and two of them were hung from a bridge in the town in scenes later broadcast on TV.

Estimates on the number of private military contractors in Iraq vary, depending on which groups of workers are included.

In a report on military contractors that he wrote last year, David Isenberg of the British American Security Information Council estimated that as few as 6,000 Westerners were doing armed security work similar to that done by the four men killed in Fallujah.

Yet, as many as 170 have been killed, said Larry Korb, a Reagan-era defense official now a scholar at the Center for American Progress.

The death toll, he adds, means that the lawsuit is a potential “Pandora’s box” for the industry. “There could be a slew of similar lawsuits,” he said.

Mr. Isenberg agrees.

“If these allegations are true, Blackwater is guilty of the most egregious conduct. But I’m sure they are not the worst security contractor operating in Iraq,” he said. “My intuition is there are a great many more stories like this out there, and there is a good likelihood more cases will follow if this one makes any progress.”

The suit says Blackwater promised the men that they would be working in six-man teams in armored vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns and that they would be allowed three weeks to orient themselves in the country before being sent out.

In addition, the suit says, the terms of the men’s contracts required that a risk assessment be conducted on every job before it was assigned.

None of the promises was kept, the suit says, accusing the company of creating such a document after the deaths of the men, in an effort to conceal their failure.

A lawsuit represents only one point of view.

The men’s families say they also want to make a larger point with their suit.

“We are doing this to win compensation for the families for their terrible loss … and to send a message to other companies working in Iraq not to treat their contractors in this disgraceful way,” Mr. Callahan said.

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