Firestorm over immunity deal

The US State Department faced tough questions Tuesday over reports that it offered immunity to Blackwater security firm employees in the wake of a Baghdad shooting that left 17 civilians dead.

Top Democratic lawmakers sent letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding answers over reports that Blackwater, which protects US diplomats in Baghdad, had been offered protection from prosecution when the State Department investigated the September 16 shooting.

According to The Washington Post, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who took over the investigation into the shootings are barred from using any information obtained in the State Department probe.

“This rash grant of immunity was an egregious misjudgment,” Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Committee, wrote to Rice.

“It raises serious questions about who conferred the immunity, who approved it at the State Department, and what their motives were,” Waxman said, urging that the department answer his questions and provide any documents related to the reported immunity deal by Friday.

Joseph Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sent Rice a letter asking her to confirm whether the reports are accurate.

“If so, who authorized these grants of immunity? Was there consultation with the Department of Justice prior to such grants of immunity?” Biden asked.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the department did not have the authority to give someone immunity from federal criminal prosecution.

“The kinds of, quote, ‘immunity’ that I’ve seen reported in the press would not preclude a successful criminal prosecution,” he said.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd Tuesday called the reports “inaccurate” but gave no details.

“The Justice Department and the FBI cannot discuss the facts of the Blackwater case, which is under active investigation. However, any suggestion that the Blackwater employees in question have been given immunity from federal criminal prosecution is inaccurate,” Boyd said in a statement.

If the reports of the immunity offer are accurate, though, it could reignite the controversy in the Iraqi capital over the role of private security firms such as Blackwater USA in the war-torn country, which a recent Defense Department report characterized as out of control.

The New York Times said officials in the State Department’s investigative unit, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, made the immunity offer though they lacked authority to do so.

Most of the guards involved in the shooting were promised they would not be prosecuted for anything they said in interviews as long as their statements were truthful, the Times reported.

And one law enforcement official told the Washington Post that some Blackwater guards cited the immunity promises in refusing to be interviewed by the FBI, which took over the investigation this month.

McCormack sought to distance Rice from the scandal, emphasizing that her attitude is that “if there are individuals who broke rules, laws or regulations, they must be held to account.”

It was Rice who had asked the FBI to take over the investigation, he added.

Blackwater guards protecting a State Department convoy opened fire in a crowded Baghdad square on September 16, killing 17 civilians.

Although Blackwater guards had claimed they were fired on first, most accounts from the scene insisted that no one ever fired on the US convoy.

Blackwater boss Erik Prince has rejected an official Iraqi report calling the killings unprovoked, insisting his men were fired upon.

The Iraqi government has called for Blackwater to be barred from operating in the country.

On Tuesday the Iraqi cabinet backed a law revoking immunity granted in 2004 to private security firms operating in the country by then US administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer.

“These companies will not get immunity and will be subject to Iraqi law,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told AFP.

13 Responses to "Firestorm over immunity deal"

  1. Sandra Price  October 31, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Only Democrat Lawmakers have questioned Rice over this issue. It would be a good idea for the Republican candidates to make a statement that this is not ethical or show how they can justify the Blackwater actions.

    All the GOP can do is run and hide from actions like this that make them look like they are aiding and abetting the criminals.

    Anybody seen any integrity in a Republican lately?

  2. Siannan  October 31, 2007 at 11:31 am

    Sandy,

    Republicans are hoping if they ignore it, it will all go away, and everything will be forgotten, just like other things they don’t like to talk about.

  3. JudyB  October 31, 2007 at 11:39 am

    In reply to Sandras question “Anybody seen any integrity in a Republican lately?” I can answer with a resounding NO! The old Republican party no longer exists and those currently flying under the Republican party flag, are basically cowards belonging to the “Bush” party!

  4. ekaton  October 31, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    I totally agree. Let me add this:

    Anybody seen any integrity in a Democrat lately? I can answer with a resounding NO! The old Democratic party no longer exists and those currently flying under the Democratic party flag, are basically cowards belonging to the “Bush” party!

    The “two party system”, nowhere endorsed within the Constitution is broken. 99% are wholly owned by corporate lobbyists. If you like George Bush you are going to LOVE Hilary Clinton.

    – Kent Shaw

  5. Sandra Price  October 31, 2007 at 11:48 am

    How can one man destroy a complete political party in less than 3 years? How can integrity in government disappear when faced with murderous mercenaries? The Democrats knew all about Blackwater and the horrendous expense they added to the war debt. Is fiscal responsiblity completely overlooked by our entire Congress? This is not simply Bush or Republican lack of integrity as it is all over the damn government. Where the hell was Rangle who heads up Ways and Means when the added costs of the private army was submitting their costs? Do we simply elect eunuchs?

  6. ekaton  October 31, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    AMEN!

    – Kent Shaw

  7. adamrussell  October 31, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    If Iraq is not allowed to prosecute them then the US should. Surely murder is still illegal even if the victim is iraqi. And there is plenty of precedent for prosecuting crimes committed outside our borders. Remember we sent the army to arrest Manuel Noriega on drug charges. We should arrest the blackwater thugs on murder charges.

  8. SEAL  October 31, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    That’s a pretty good parallel, Adam. We (the CIA) set Noriega up in the drug business and then we busted him for it. (BTW: I was involved in that) We set Blackwater up in the murder business so, it logically follows we should bust them for that.

  9. Carl Nemo  November 1, 2007 at 1:10 am

    What’s most astonishing about this era of rabid partisanship is that it demonstrates how few, if any, honest men and women we have as national legislators. Btw this follows at the local and state levels too.

    The Executive Branch, Congress and even the Judicial is corrupt to the core. We are witnessing the total and absolute destruction of our once great system of government.

    In the past, I posted duty links about contacting our elected leaders; but from my personal involvement with elected reps, I realize the situation is now terminal. They are all patronizing us while engaged in their collective rip-off of the U.S. Treasury; financial consequences be damned.

    America is headed for a great fall. My research indicates it will be triggered by great financial strife followed by a governmental response that is less than friendly to it’s citizens; i.e, martial law, internment camps, rationing, property/asset confiscation with anarchy being the order of the day.

    Our elected disappointments have “sown the wind and “we the people” shall reap the whirlwind”…!

    Carl Nemo **==

  10. SEAL  November 1, 2007 at 3:20 am

    Carl: (nice to see you posting again) They’re going to be in for a big surprise when the shit hits the fan. There is a younger generation out here that is going to go to war with them. They are armed to the teeth & ready for it. Have been for some time. They saw it coming before most of us. Yasee, they didn’t have to give up hope first. They never had any. They were born into a FUBAR.

    Most of them are not the college students, they’re the rejects. The 35-40% of two generations that were told by the educational system they were not acceptable. At least a third of them belong to organized gangs while the rest are just coasting through life waiting for the day. In fact, they’re looking forward to it. They will finally be able to unload the anger. It will be bloody.

  11. Carl Nemo  November 1, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks SEAL for the welcome back… :) Your comments about alot of disenfranchised, angry people, taking their revenge is spot-on…!

    Nemo **==

  12. Sandra Price  November 1, 2007 at 5:05 am

    We have an election coming up and it might be a good time to use the power of the votes to knock down our lawmakers in the Primary and then in the November Election. Throw the bastards out. I plan to do just that!

  13. Klaus Hergeschimmer  November 2, 2007 at 12:32 am

    Nice to see you back Mr.Nemo, your presence was missed.

Comments are closed.