At least one in four Blackwater bodyguards in Iraq use steroids and other drugs, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of several Iraqis killed or wounded in a Baghdad shooting in September.
The lawsuit filed Monday in Washington also accuses the Blackwater guards of ignoring orders and abandoning their posts shortly before taking part in the shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, media reports said Wednesday.
The lawsuit has enraged the Iraqi government, and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether it can bring criminal charges in the case.
Attorney Susan Burke, the lead attorney in the case, said that current and former employees of Blackwater told her the firm has documentation to back up the suit's claim that 25 percent of Blackwater guards were known to have used steroids or other "judgment-altering substances."
"The reality is that Blackwater has indeed fired people for steroid use, so they're on clear notice that there's steroid use," Burke said.
The complaint also states that the guards involved in the Sept. 16 killings violated orders from their Baghdad supervisors by leaving a secure area where they had dropped off a State Department official under their protection.
The guards opened fire "without provocation," the suit states, and continued firing even after one of their comrades tried to stop them from shooting.
"I think there is a whole corporate culture there that essentially rewards the use of excessive force -- shooting first, asking questions later," said Burke.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell denies the steroid charges, saying Blackwater employees are tested for drug use before they are hired and later given random quarterly tests.
But she declined comment on whether the bodyguards ignored their orders and abandoned their posts, or on other details outlined in the lawsuit.