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Blackwater mercenaries get immunity

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October 30, 2007

A controversial immunity deal for Blackwater mercenaries involved in the murder of Iraqi civilians threatens a criminal investigation into the killings and has further angered the Iraqi government.

The immunity deal promised by the State Department is viewed by some as a cover up of Blackwater’s many illegal activities in the Iraq war and a blatant attempt by the Bush administration to whitewash the actions by a company whose owner is a major supporter of Republican political activities.

Iraqi government officials are furious at the immunity deal and increasing delays in prosecuting what they see as outright murder of citizens of their country.

A Pentagon senior official familiar with the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iraqi governments calls the immunity deal “a final nail in the coffin” of a doomed war.

Reports Lara Lakes Jordan of The Associated Press:

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 protection as investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security sought to find out what happened. The bureau is an arm of the State Department.

The law enforcement and State Department officials agreed to speak only if they could remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the inquiry into the incident.

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 spokesman 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.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., wrote a letter to Rice on Monday expressing his dismay over the immunity offers. The presidential candidate, who has introduced Senate legislation that would make private security contractors in Iraq subject to federal law, asked Rice if she was aware of the offers before they were made; if the FBI and Justice Department were consulted; and if Rice agreed with the decision. Obama’s spokeswoman said he intended to send the letter Tuesday.

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.

18 Responses to Blackwater mercenaries get immunity

  1. Sandra Price

    October 31, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Helen, I have been trying to figure out why any American would follow the Administration’s policies. I am a dedicated Republican and have been since Ike but what I found in 1999 prior to the election of Bush 43, shocked me into a near coma! I did not trust his father and went with Perot in 1992.

    The Constitution was made invalid with the NAFTA treaty that Bush 41 organized and he lost his bid for relection based on this step one for a One World Order. In 1999, it took the Christians to put Bush 43 in office and they fell in behind Bush 43 as if they were willed by God to do it.

    Since 2000, we have seen the start of a church- ruled nation that will bring back the police state of the inquisition. Nothing else matters! Blackwater murdered innocent Iraqis in the name of Jesus Christ! You can argue that this cannot be, but it is!!! Half the American People want Islam destroyed! We are in a religous war that comes from the bible, not from the Constitution and we are being led by a relgious extremist.

    I did not become a Republican to put Jesus Christ in office and I deeply resent this action that sacrifices our wonderful U.S. Army to bring this crusade about. There is no greater threat to America than the Bush Administration and if we elect another Christian to sit in the White House, we deserve to live in slavery to their plans.

    My grandparents were wonderful Christians and served their entire lives living for others. But these new Evangelicals are quite mad. We were warned by Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson that we must not stop until America is governed by the bible. Anyone who listened to the men running in 1999 heard all the threats made by Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer that they would not stop until the biblical prophesies were fulfilled.

    I can only hope that whoever is elected in 2008 will firm up the Separation of Church and State and set it in cement in the Constitution once and for all. Take the political power away from the Extremist Christians and let us get back to supporting and protecting the Constitution.

    Bush 43 destroyed the Republican Party! I have to live it! I did not work hard enough to expose this SOB back in 1999.

  2. neveringham

    October 30, 2007 at 4:09 am

    Its difficult to rationalize the thought that Blackwater is somehow different than the rest of the radical fundamentalists groups around the world who are killing people in the name of “God”. Is it because Blackwater is a christian militia or is it because they are funded by U.S. taxpayers? Does that makes what they are doing “OK”?

    Blackwater has been used around the world for a few years now. When the Government first started using Blackwater, U.S. officials went before the UN and flexed some muscle to protect them from prosecution from international courts and shortly thereafter introduced legislation to protect them from the U.S. justice system. This “news” isn’t news at all.

    If the bush admin cannot be held accountable for their unconstitutional-borderline treasonous behavior, how could Blackwater be held accountable when they were hired (indirectly or directly) by the whitehouse.

    What I don’t get is why were paying ONE Blackwater employee upwards of $120,000 to “protect diplomats” when we are already paying for our very own military to be over there. Our military is capable of ensuring security. Isn’t that what the white house has been saying our armed forces are doing over there? “bringing peace and security to Iraq”

  3. Steve Horn

    October 30, 2007 at 9:30 am

    “Its difficult to rationalize the thought that Blackwater is somehow different than the rest of the radical fundamentalists groups around the world who are killing people in the name of “God”. Is it because Blackwater is a christian militia or is it because they are funded by U.S. taxpayers? Does that makes what they are doing “OK”? ”

    A couple verses from “With God on our side” – Bob Dylan – 1963 – there are more verses but I felt these could best answer your question ….

    “My name it means nothing
    my age it means less
    the country I come from
    is called the midwest
    I was taught and brought up here
    the laws to abide
    and the land that I live in
    has God on its side

    But now we got weapons
    Of the chemical dust
    If fire them we’re forced to
    Then fire them we must
    One push of the button
    And a shot the world wide
    And you never ask questions
    When God’s on your side

    So now that I’m leavin’
    I’m weary as hell
    the confusion I’m feelin’
    ain’t no tounge can tell
    the words fill my head
    and fall to the floor
    if Gods on our side
    he’ll stop the next war”

  4. Steve Horn

    October 30, 2007 at 8:18 am

    So the promise of immunity, made by someone without the authority to grant immunity, is going to keep these guys safe from prosecution? How the hell does that work?

    Pardon me, but this sounds like it was a pre-emptive “mis-step” to ensure that these folks couldn’t be prosecuted – a researched and contrived deal rather than a mistake.

    Send ‘em back to Iraq to face prosecution – and while you’re at it – send Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove and the rest of the band of merry men over there to get a taste of justice.

    Peace

    Steve

  5. old_curmudgeon

    October 30, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Many have labeled this administration as inept and incompetent. While there have been many instances where that label is appropriate I think (my opinion) that they are not as inept and incompetent as they want us to think. It’s a nice cover, eh? “These guys couldn’t govern their way out of a paper bag!!” Well, perhaps there are more instances like this one above where “incompetence” is convenient to accomplish what they want. If a “mistake” just happens to facilitate a loophole thru which the perpetrators slip thru then the damage to the bushco reputation, such as it is, is OK. I think that more of these incidents of incompetence when looked at closely will show that the “unintended consequences” were not necessarily unintended. For instance, you haven’t heard whether those “lost” enhanced cruise missiles ever made it back to their proper secure repository in South Dakota, have you? But then, this is just this old curmudgeon’s opinion. Have a nice day.

  6. old_curmudgeon

    October 30, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I always thought that if someone was not authorized to grant something then that something that was granted was rescinded. If someone not authorized to perform a marriage performs a marriage the marriage is normally considered null and void.

  7. neveringham

    October 30, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    Not with this administration. Either you agree with them and do as they say or they fire you and replace you with someone who will. Check out
    pbs.org

    and watch the frontline on Cheney. It’s jaw dropping, and disturbing use of social psychology.

  8. Sandra Price

    October 30, 2007 at 10:16 am

    old curmudgeon. You are dealing with the ethics and integrity found in the U.S. Constitution. That is the past…..welcome to the future of a free for all of authority coming from the American Empire.

    On many other internet sites, the Bush Administration can do no wrong. I read a post this morning of a man who wrote to President Bush and thanked him for his quick actions in New Orleans after Katrina. I’m not putting you on, this man is a right-wing Christian who will go down to the end praising Bush. I thought about bringing his post here but decided not to as that is unethical.

    There are many Bush supporters who will lie, cheat and steal for their Commander in Chief.

  9. Helen Rainier

    October 30, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Sandra,

    Your comments are thought provoking and I still just can’ figure out why anyone would be so willing to put their honor and integrity aside to support a person or a cause that is so blatantly and egregiously ethically and morally depraved.

    I just don’t understand it. I have never been able to compromise my principles in sucha manner and still fail to comprehend how anyone can do so.

    They impeach their own credibility with this kind of behavior and their continuing support for such dark machinations.

  10. neveringham

    October 31, 2007 at 5:24 am

    I’m not sure common Bush supporters are that smart. I prefer to view the second term Pro-Bush voters as the 50% of this country who are delusional conformists, too stupid to think for themselves, relying way too much on the views of mainstream media, and have been molded by the views and suggestions of those reporting bias “news”.

    For example: when 70% of us are in favor of immediate troop withdrawal, Shortly after this fact was publicized Bush was seen on tv saying the majority of Americans support the war and want to see us win. Of course he was saying this at a military base, since that is the only place where he can say these things without the repercussion of an honest reaction. I firmly believe when he goes on tv to talk about this warped sense of reality, the diarrhea that come out of his mouth in the form of propaganda and lies, is primarily focused at the international community and those I have previously mentioned.

    But for those of us who are educated and have the tendency to think for ourselves, were not doing anything either. We know that what is going on is wrong and yet we fail to do anything about it. I’ve written my representatives on numerous occasions and (in short) said represent me, or I will not vote for you again. No more taxation without representation!

  11. Helen Rainier

    October 30, 2007 at 11:37 am

    OC,

    You are so astute in your observations. I think that the “stupidity and incompetence” mask that the Bushies wear is to conceal their machivellian deeds. This along makes them much more evil, twisted and perverted than what they want us to think they are.

    The red flags are the seeming inability to think issues through to their logical conclusions and disregarding their expertise and knowledge of the people who have dedicated their lives in various disciplines — be it military leaders, scientists, or whoever.

    This is what makes these neocons so damned dangerous and so damned scary. They are like a den of pit vipers just waiting to strike out at anyone.

  12. old_curmudgeon

    October 30, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Seems there has been a change of heart at State… WASHINGTON (CNN) — No immunity deal was offered to Blackwater USA guards for their statements regarding a shootout in Iraq last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, a senior State Department official told CNN Tuesday. The statement contradicts comments made Monday by a U.S. government official who said the guards were promised their statements would not be used against them in any prosecution resulting from the September 16 shootings in Baghdad. For those too busy to look it up themselves…

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/30/blackwater.immunity/index.html

  13. ekaton

    October 30, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    So 17 civilians were killed at point blank range by blackwater mercenaries. So what? What the hell do people think war IS anyway? There is no moral difference between the blackwater thug and the pilot who drops bombs from 10,000 feet killing civilians. This is war. People die. For no good reason people die, people get raped and abused. This is war. War is the ultimate obscenity and it is always wrong. Our delicate sensibilities are offended by the blackwater thug but not by the pilot. Why? War is hell. Its not just a cliche. What don’t people understand? Anyone who is pro war should just go join the battle.

    — Kent Shaw

  14. Jenifer D.

    October 30, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    “Burn, Baby, Burn!”

    That’s seems to be the ever increasing mantra of Mercs, Inc. these days.

    Any host country I was assigned to didn’t grant me any immunity from their laws in the event that I screwed the pooch and murdered somebody so what makes these thugs any different? Oh yeah, their boss gives money to the Gross Old Pervert party.

    Any organization that kills in the name of their ‘god’ needs to have their head examined. Common sense rules apply here: Killing another human is wrong, period. There is no justification unless you are defending yourself from another armed individual and you are certain your life is in danger. I’ve seen the videos of what Mercs Inc. does, and they treat this war like a sport; hence a certain VP’s favorite sport: Hunting humans. Sick, sick, sick!

  15. Steve Horn

    October 30, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Jenifer wrote “VP’s favorite sport: Hunting humans.” – telling, isn’t it, that neither he nor the coward in chief bothered to serve their country in a combat arms unit during the Vietnam war …. Cheney is only interested in killing when the other animals, winged, four legged or two, is unarmed … as for Bush’s interests … why can I picture him pulling the wings off of flies …..

  16. gene

    October 30, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    No one should be surprised at what is happening given that George W is still president. Add Cheney to the mix and you truely have a deceptive, criminal psycho group controlled by a global network of evil.

    Its going to get alot worse before it gets worse.

  17. JudyB

    October 31, 2007 at 2:31 am

    ..”So the promise of immunity, made by someone without the authority to grant immunity, is going to keep these guys safe from prosecution? How the hell does that work?” posted above by Old Curmudgeon….the answer is that it’s GWB “The Decider” calling the shots, and he does ANYTHING he wants WHEN EVER he wants and it is rarely IF EVER LEGAL,MORAL, OR ETHICAL!!!!
    And lest anyone has forgotten, there are millions of us tax payers still not sure he was EVER even elected in the first place!

  18. eliduc1

    October 31, 2007 at 3:14 am

    Eliduc
    Sandra and Jennifer
    Whatever the motive for murdering innocent civilians, it was not in the name of God and the killers were not Christians. Nor can anyone who supports the Bush lies, deceptions, disregard for the rule of law and human rights and life be called a Christian. It would be much more constructive to call them what they are, right wing, extremist, psycho terrorists instead of blaming Christians for their actions.