While the Justice Department continues to review the shooting of an Iraqi bodyguard by former Blackwater security officer Andrew Moonen of Seattle (who "may soon face federal charges"), a federal judge last week ordered the re-opening of a lawsuit against Blackwater brought in part by the Spokane widow of Army Spc. Harley Miller.
Miller was killed in the crash of Blackwater 61 just after Thanksgiving 2004 in Afghanistan. The military contractor's transport plane -- piloted by a former Alaska bush pilot and co-piloted by a onetime tanker pilot who fought forest fires in Central Washington -- hit a mountainside in the Bamian Valley. Five died on impact but Miller amazingly survived, then died awaiting rescue.
Sarah Miller and the widows of two other military men killed in the crash - including a lieutenant colonel - sued Blackwater for negligence, citing its pilots for "failing to wear available oxygen masks, failing to properly plan and execute the flight, failing to maintain sufficient air speed and altitude above terrain, failing to maintain adequate terrain clearance appropriate for the route of flight, [and] failing to prevent a stall," for starters.
It's something of a landmark case in that Blackwater is relying on the standard defense that as a military contractor it can't be held liable, but a federal judge in Florida has held otherwise. Blackwater appealed last year, staying the case. Last week Judge John Antoon II of U.S. District Court in Orlando filed notice his ruling has been upheld by the Court of Appeals and issued an order to reopen the lawsuit.
There will be more appeals, of course, since at this point delay and cost, rather than litigating the facts, are strategic to Blackwater. According to case files, the corporation's attorneys have already submitted a motion to dismiss, claiming it's not American but Afghanistan law - what there is of it - that applies. Next stop, Kabul?