A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit against Blackwater [JURIST news archive], now known as Xe Services [corporate website], can proceed in state court. The suit revolves around a 2007 shooting incident [JURIST news report] in the Nisour Square area of Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. A subsequent FBI [official website] investigation revealed that 14 of the deaths were unjustified acts of excessive force [NYT report]. The lawsuit, the last remaining in relation to the shooting incident, was filed by the families of six victims. In his ruling, Judge Terrence Boyle said that nonresidents lack the right to sue in federal court for injuries sustained outside of the country, but that federal courts are obligated to remand such cases to the state level, where North Carolina law permits such suits.
Foreign governments as well as US courts and agencies continue to scrutinize the role of private security contractors in conflicts abroad as incidents of violence and abuse have raised concerns that the firms operate largely outside of the law. In October, the Afghan government announced that it had disbanded eight private security companies [JURIST report] operating locally and confiscated their weapons pursuant to a decree from President Hamid Karzai [official profile]. In September, a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] declared a mistrial [JURIST report] in a murder case against two Blackwater defense contractors after the jury failed to reach a verdict following nine hours of deliberation. The defendants were charged with killing two unnamed men in Kabul and argued self-defense. In February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that it had launched an investigation [JURIST report] into Blackwater following allegations that the company bribed Iraqi officials with $1 million to allow them to continue operating in the country after the Nisour Square incident. Bribery of foreign officials is a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) [text, 15 USC § 78dd-1 text].