By MIKE BAKER
The Associated Press
Friday, January 19, 2007; 9:42 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Private security contractor Blackwater USA is seeking $10 million from the attorney representing the estates of four employees killed and mutilated in Iraq, arguing their families breached the security guards' contracts by suing the company for wrongful death.
Blackwater also has asked a federal court to move the dispute into arbitration, having failed so far in its ongoing efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Arbitration is necessary "in order to safeguard both (Blackwater's) own confidential information as well as sensitive information implicating the interest of the United States at war," attorneys for Blackwater Security Consulting, a unit of Moyock-based Blackwater USA, wrote in a petition filed December 20.
Dan Callahan, a California-based attorney representing the families, called the claim "appalling."
"This is a shock-and-awe tactic," Callahan said Friday. Blackwater's attorneys declined to comment.
The four families, represented by estates administrator Richard Nordan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater in January 2005 in state court. Family members argue Blackwater broke contractual obligations and used cost-saving measures that ultimately led to the deaths of the four men.
Blackwater's counterclaim for $10 million specifically names Nordan and not the estates or the men's families.
"The $10 million is a scare tactic," said Katy Helvenston, mother of Scott Helvenston, one of the dead Blackwater employees. "I'm not concerned about that at all because the whole thing's a farce. It's just another excuse to delay."
A frenzied mob of insurgents ambushed Helvenston, Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, Wesley J.K. Batalona, and Michael R. Teague in March 2004 as they escorted a supply convoy through Fallujah, Iraq. The insurgents burned and mutilated the guards and strung two of the bodies from a bridge.
The gruesome scene, caught on camera and broadcast worldwide, prompted the U.S. military to launch a three-week siege of Fallujah.