Monday, October 29, 2007

Blackwater Let Off the Hook

Blackwater apparently can do whatever the hell it wants to. Just wait 'til they are sent into a neighborhood near you.

Immunity Deal Hampers Blackwater Inquiry

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

"Once you give immunity, you can't take it away," said a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

State Department officials declined to confirm or deny that immunity had been granted. One official — who refused to be quoted by name_ said: "If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington."

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd and FBI spokesman Rich Kolko declined comment.

FBI agents were returning to Washington late Monday from Baghdad, where they have been trying to collect evidence in the Sept. 16 embassy convoy shooting without using statements from Blackwater employees who were given immunity.

Three senior law enforcement officials said all the Blackwater bodyguards involved — both in the vehicle convoy and in at least two helicopters above — were given the legal protections as investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security sought to find out what happened. The bureau is an arm of the State Department.

The investigative misstep comes in the wake of already-strained relations between the United States and Iraq, which is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined comment about the U.S. investigation. Based in Moyock, N.C., Blackwater USA is the largest private security firm protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

The company has said its Sept. 16 convoy was under attack before it opened fire in west Baghdad's Nisoor Square, killing 17 Iraqis. A follow-up investigation by the Iraqi government, however, concluded that Blackwater's men were unprovoked. No witnesses have been found to contradict that finding.

An initial incident report by U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq, also indicated "no enemy activity involved" in the Sept. 16 incident. The report says Blackwater guards were traveling against the flow of traffic through a traffic circle when they "engaged five civilian vehicles with small arms fire" at a distance of 50 meters.

The FBI took over the case early this month, officials said, after prosecutors in the Justice Department's criminal division realized it could not bring charges against Blackwater guards based on their statements to the Diplomatic Security investigators.

Officials said the Blackwater bodyguards spoke only after receiving so-called "Garrity" protections, requiring that their statements only be used internally — and not for criminal prosecutions.

At that point, the Justice Department shifted the investigation to prosecutors in its national security division, sealing the guards' statements and attempting to build a case based on other evidence from a crime scene that was then already two weeks old.

The FBI has re-interviewed some of the Blackwater employees, and one official said Monday that at least several of them have refused to answer questions, citing their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. Any statements that the guards give to the FBI could be used to bring criminal charges.

A second official, however, said that not all the guards have cited their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — leaving open the possibility for future charges. The official declined to elaborate.

Prosecutors will have to prove that any evidence they use in bringing charges against Blackwater employees was uncovered without using the guards' statements to State Department investigators. They "have to show we got the information independently," one official said.

Garrity protections generally are given to police or other public law enforcement officers, and were extended to the Blackwater guards because they were working on behalf of the U.S. government, one official said. Experts said it's rare for them to be given to all or even most witnesses — particularly before a suspect is identified.

"You have to be careful," said Michael Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and senior Justice Department official. "You have to understand early on who your serious subjects are in the investigation, and avoid giving these people the protections."

It's not clear why the Diplomatic Security investigators agreed to give immunity to the bodyguards, or who authorized doing so.

Bureau of Diplomatic Security chief Richard Griffin last week announced his resignation, effective Thursday. Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said his departure was directly related to his oversight of Blackwater contractors.

Tyrrell, the Blackwater spokeswoman, said the company was alerted Oct. 2 that FBI would be taking over the investigation from the State Department. She declined further comment.

On Oct. 3, State Department Sean McCormack said the FBI had been called in to assist Diplomatic Security investigators. A day later, he said the FBI had taken over the probe.

"We, internally and in talking with the FBI, had been thinking about the idea of the FBI leading the investigation for a number of different reasons," McCormack told reporters during an Oct. 4 briefing.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq. They include increased monitoring and explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force.

Blackwater's contract with the State Department expires in May and there are questions whether it will remain as the primary contractor for diplomatic bodyguards. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said his Cabinet is drafting legislation that would force the State Department to replace Blackwater with another security company.

Congress also is expected to investigate the shootings, but a House watchdog committee said it has so far held off based on a Justice Department request that lawmakers wait until the FBI concludes its inquiry.

3 comments:

OrderlyRoom said...

"One official — who refused to be quoted by name_ said: "If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington."" Isn't it pretty typical that when an anonymous 'official' says something so factual that the exact opposite is true? Given the kind of international attention this move will stir up, would you think that Blackwater will inevitably be at least tried?

Asheville_Activist said...

I would hope they will still be tried. It will not help relations in the Mid East if they let them off the hook.

Stewart said...

Blackwater = Cover up!! Cover Up!! Cover Up!!

George Bush gave Condasleeza Ripe the task of extending diplomatic immunity to the Blackwater SS agents who killed 17 innocent people in Iraq last month. Washington wants to sweep this unprovoked shooting incident in Iraq under the table and protect Blackwater from any fall out. I say, kill this terrorist organization called Blackwater NOW! Smash their ability to hurt another soul on this planet and seize their assets and suspend their permits to carry guns.

Bush wants to keep his Secret Security called Blackwater free from prosecution and have extended government protection and immunity to a bunch of thugs and criminals. If the American Congress allows this to be swept under the table, then all the people of the World will see your country as an untrustworthy EVIL empire capable of the worst horrors.

Trust is the basis of any friendship, and the USA has betrayed every nation on the Planet by stating that Blackwater operatives are above the law. The Blackwater terrorists are running amok and are out of control. Its time to shut them down!!!

My outrage was further sparked when the Washington Post removed commenting from their article of “Immunity Jeopardizes Iraq Probe” Obviously, someone in Washington has a friend who owns the paper and used his pull to shut down any comments that might draw attention to the truth. The columnist, “Karen De Young” also choose words like, “Potential prosecution”, “ALLEGED Shootings” to cast doubt in peoples minds and these words should not have been used.

Can YOU claim diplomatic immunity for shooting and killing people?

Washington Post Article: Immunity Jeopardizes Iraq Probe
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/29/AR2007102901266.html?wpisrc=newsletter

Stewart
http://worldunited-stewart.blogspot.com/