updated 6/4/2008 4:35:51 PM ET 2008-06-04T20:35:51

A federal judge Wednesday ordered the city of San Diego to allow military contractor Blackwater Worldwide to begin using a new counterterrorism training facility in a warehouse outfitted with an indoor firing range.

District Court Judge Marilyn Huff ruled that the company would suffer irreparable harm if it could not begin holding classes for Navy sailors at the facility.

Blackwater sued last month to force the city to issue final occupancy permits after the required inspections were already approved. The city responded that the company misled officials about the nature of the facility, which includes a ship bulkhead built out of cargo containers.

Classes for Navy sailors were originally set to begin there Monday.

"I am officially ecstatic," said Brian Bonfiglio, who is overseeing the facility for Blackwater.

Blackwater under scrutiny
Blackwater, the largest private security company in Iraq, has been under scrutiny as a federal grand jury in Washington investigates the company's involvement in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians. The company is also under investigation for possible weapons smuggling. Blackwater denies the allegations.

Blackwater applied for routine inspection permits as Raven Development Group, a name its lawyers said the company had used for other projects. Blackwater never explicitly sought permission to convert a warehouse into a school, in part because it is in an industrial area near the border already zoned for vocational facilities.

Blackwater lawyers said in court May 30 that they had been honest in their dealings with city inspection agencies. They argued it was too late for the city to demand they go to the planning commission because inspectors had already approved the required permits.

Attorneys for Blackwater said the company risked losing part of a $400 million Navy contract if it could not begin training sailors in counterterrorist defense tactics by next week. The program is part of a firearms training initiative started after the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni port by terrorists in a small boat.

The company has argued that elected officials moved to block the project for political reasons ahead of Tuesday's citywide primary election.

The company has been targeted by local anti-war activists since 2006, when the North Carolina company bought a defunct chicken ranch in the mountains about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of San Diego with plans for converting it into a training camp for local and federal law enforcement, including the Border Patrol.

The company dropped those plans in March. The same month, city inspectors approved permit applications for a 61,000-square-foot indoor facility in San Diego's Otay Mesa warehouse district along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments