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Blackwater suit remains in arbitration

NORFOLK, Va., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- A U.S. appeals court has refused to move suits by the families of four Blackwater contractors killed in Iraq to court, shielding the company from exposure.

Judges on the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Friday, The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reported. The families had petitioned to allow lawsuits to proceed instead of being heard in private by an arbitration panel.

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Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said that company employees sign contracts that require all disputes to go to arbitration.

"The federal courts have honored these written agreements," she said.

Stephen Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona were ambushed and killed near Fallujah, a Sunni stronghold, in March 2004. Pictures of two mutilated bodies hanging from a bridge became a symbol of U.S. loss of control in Iraq.

The panel consists of former FBI and CIA Director William Webster, Edward Dreyfus, a patent lawyer in New Jersey, and Jean Kalicki, a lawyer working in international arbitration in Washington.

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