Thursday, February 5, 2009

Blackwater Guards Immune Under Law, Pentagon Says

Blackwater Guards Immune Under Law, Pentagon Says

By Ken Fireman

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The U.S. Defense Department concluded in 2007 that Blackwater Worldwide contractors can’t be prosecuted under federal law for a shooting incident in Iraq that left 17 civilians dead.

In a letter to North Carolina Representative David Price, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said contractors are subject to prosecution under federal law for alleged misconduct committed overseas only when they are working for the Pentagon or supporting its mission.

Blackwater was working for the State Department when the September 2007 incident took place in Baghdad. The company was “not engaged in employment that was in support of the DoD mission,” England said in a letter to Price on Dec. 14, 2007.

The Democratic congressman’s office released a copy of the letter today. It was reported earlier by the Associated Press.

A spokesman for Price, Paul Cox, said in an e-mailed statement: “Regardless of the views expressed in this letter, it’s up to the courts alone to determine whether these security contractors fall under federal criminal jurisdiction.”

Five Blackwater employees were charged in December with manslaughter and weapons violations in connection with the shooting incident. A sixth employee pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The Moyock, North Carolina-based company wasn’t charged in the case.

The Justice Department on Jan. 27 filed a legal brief arguing that the law governing the criminal actions of Pentagon contractors should apply to the Blackwater employees. Government lawyers argued that both the State and Defense Departments had a common mission to stabilize Iraq.

“Both departments fulfill mutually supporting responsibilities and work hand-in-hand to achieve that single, common objective,” the brief said.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said today that the government’s prosecution of the Blackwater employees will continue. “We’re going forward,” he said.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined to comment on the letter.

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