Today, the AP provides further evidence of the administration’s efforts to shield the firm, reporting that the State Department “promised” legal immunity to Blackwater guards after the shooting incident:
The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month’s deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians. […]
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 administration’s efforts to protect Blackwater are hampering the investigations into the shootings. Earlier this month, the FBI took over the case after DoJ prosecutors realized they “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.
Prosecutors now “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.”
The revelations occur as the Iraqi government “is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards.” Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki revoked CPA Order 17, which granted security contractors “immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.”
While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress last week she “regrets” the lack of oversight of Blackwater, she neglected to mention that she granted the Blackwater guards prosecutorial immunity after the shootings.
UPDATE: Kagro X observes “The Immunity Presidency.”