ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Blackwater Worldwide is the target of a civil lawsuit that was filed in a federal court this week on behalf of the families of Iraqis who were killed and injured in the September 16th shooting in Baghdad. The plaintiffs say the Blackwater guards who were assigned to protect a State Department official may have disobeyed a direct order and may have been on steroids.
NPR's FBI correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is here to talk about the story. And Dina, first, who's suing in this case?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, actually, this is a lawsuit that's being filed on behalf of five Iraqis who were actually killed in that September 16th shootout and two who were injured. And an American lawyer out of Philadelphia is the one who's the lead attorney in this case. Her name is Susan Burke. And you may have heard her name before. She also filed a civil lawsuit against contractors involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
BLOCK: I've been reading through the criminal complaint that was filed. And it seems like some of what they're using as documentation is directly from news accounts of what happened and then there's more. Where are they getting their information for their complaint?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they've actually been talking to witnesses. And one detail in particular that was confirmed by a high-ranking law enforcement official to me was that there's a possibility that the Blackwater guards were not supposed to be in that traffic circle where the shootout actually happened. The lead attorney in the case told NPR that there was a dispatcher who was actually directing the tactical teams on where to position themselves and specifically told these teams to stay with the State Department official that they were supposed to be protecting. And this lawyer says that they disobeyed a direct order and ended up in that traffic circle where the shootout occurred. You know, I called Blackwater about this. And they declined to comment on that part of the case.
BLOCK: There's another new detail in this lawsuit as well. And that's the charge that we referred to earlier that Blackwater guards have been using steroids and, in fact, that the guards involved in this shooting may have been using steroids.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the lawsuit claims that the Blackwater guards are tested regularly for steroids and that guards who worked for Blackwater were - in Iraq were actually using them. Now, on this part of the new suit, interestingly, Blackwater did want to comment. I called their spokesman, Anne Tyrrell, this afternoon, and she said that all Blackwater employees are tested quarterly. In fact, she said she was even tested. She's in rural Virginia. And there are also random drug tests that are done on all the Blackwater employees. And she said there was absolutely zero tolerance for steroids or any sort of drugs. And that could be cause enough for immediate termination at Blackwater. She was very emphatic about this.
BLOCK: This is a civil lawsuit, as you mentioned, filed in federal district court. At the same time, there is a federal grand jury investigating whether there should be a criminal action brought as well. What's the status of that?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they started looking into this case last month. It was referred by the Justice Department after the FBI conducted its own investigation in Iraq. And it was a very, very detailed investigation.
In fact, you know, those cars that you saw around the square that were all burned out that we saw on television, the FBI actually bought those cars and shipped them back to the United States to do forensics on them. And what they concluded was that 14 of the 17 Iraqis who were killed around the square were killed without justification under State Department rules for the use of force.
Now, having concluded that and having brought this to the grand jury, they will have had to determine that the Blackwater guards undoubtedly committed some crime. What's still unclear is which U.S. laws apply in this particular case. Some former Justice Department official said it was possible that they could be charged under war crime statutes, but that's still unclear. And the Justice Department said it could be months before they decide whether to prosecute the guards involved in the shooting.
BLOCK: And that grand jury is still meeting?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Very much so. In fact, the Justice Department has said sort of off the record, but in talking to people that it's going to be months before they know if they can actually prosecute these Blackwater guards.
BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, thanks very much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: My pleasure.