SEATTLE – The parents of a 23-year-old activist killed while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home have sued Caterpillar Inc. (search), the manufacturer of the bulldozer which ran over her.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court (search) here, alleges that Caterpillar violated international and state law by providing specially designed bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces, knowing the machines would be used to demolish homes and endanger people.
Rachel Corrie, a student at The Evergreen State College (search) in Olympia, Washington, was standing in front of a home in a refugee camp in Rafah, a Gaza Strip city near the Egyptian border, on March 16, 2003, when a bulldozer plowed over her.
"The brutal death of my daughter should never have happened," her mother, Cindy Corrie, said in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the law firms handling the case. "We believe Caterpillar and the (Israeli Defense Forces) must be held accountable for their role in the attack."
Cindy and Craig Corrie, who live in Olympia, are pursuing separate claims in Israel against the state of Israel, the Israeli Defense Ministry and the Israeli Defense Forces.
Israeli military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Caterpillar spokeswoman Linda Fairbanks said the company had no comment on the lawsuit.
However, the company released a general, written statement Tuesday that said: "Caterpillar shares the world's concern over unrest in the Middle East and we certainly have compassion for all those affected by political strife.
"However, more than 2 million Caterpillar machines and engines are at work in virtually every region of the world each day. We have neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment."
The statement made no mention of the lawsuit or Corrie's death.
An Israeli army investigation concluded that Corrie's death was accidental. Officials have said the driver of the machine could not see the woman — a claim activists have fiercely disputed.
In the past four years, Israel has used Caterpillar bulldozers to topple more than 4,000 Palestinian homes, killing and injuring people in the process, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
Human rights groups have condemned the demolition of Palestinian homes as a violation of international humanitarian law.
Israeli officials have said the military destroys only the homes of those with established links to terrorism. Israel has characterized the International Solidarity Movement, the group Rachel Corrie was working with when she was killed, as meddlers whose activism in some cases has amounted to abetting terrorism.
Last April, hundreds of protesters in Peoria, Illinois, used a wooden replica of a bulldozer to re-enact Rachel Corrie's death during a demonstration outside Caterpillar's headquarters.
That demonstration came a week after the Stop CAT Coalition organized a similar protest outside Caterpillar's annual meeting in Chicago, where shareholders rejected a resolution calling for a review of whether providing bulldozers to Israel violates the company's code of conduct.
Gwynne Skinner, a partner with the Public Interest Law Group and an adjunct professor in the Ronald J. Peterson Law Clinic at Seattle University's law school, is one of the lawyers on the Corries' legal team. She said they hope Caterpillar will admit it is partially responsible for their daughter's death and stop providing Israel with bulldozers.
"Caterpillar knew that its equipment was being used to commit human rights violations, knew that Rachel Corrie and other civilians were foreseeable victims of these human rights violations, and even with that knowledge ... they continued to supply that equipment," Skinner said.
The Corries are seeking unspecified damages.
In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Cindy Corrie said Caterpillar speaks "to being a good global citizen on their Web site and that there are things that need to be looked at other than profits, and we'd like to see them live up to that."