Blackwater under the bridge

The State Department’s immunity grant to Blackwater is an insult to Iraqi sovereignty.

It appears that another Iraq pairing has given Scooter Libby and Judith Miller, Dick Cheney and Ahmed Chalabi and Donald Rumsfeld and his ego a run for their money as the most dangerous and unwelcome association our fiasco there has created: Blackwater U.S.A. and the State Department. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the State Department had granted immunity to Blackwater for its actions on the day that the private security contractor shot 17 people to death in indiscriminant gunfire and wounded another 24 in an incident last September.

The State Department granted those involved in the shooting immunity even though they had no authority to do so. They didn’t consult with the Justice Department, who has the authority, or the Iraqi government, which has come together in a rare moment of unity to denounce Blackwater’s actions following their own investigation.

If a crime was committed on that day – and the shooting of unarmed civilians certainly qualifies – then it ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.Under the immunity grant, prosecution becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. Any information the Blackwater guards gave to the initial State Department investigators can’t be used, and some of the guards are now refusing to speak with the FBI – which took over the investigation – because of the State Department’s promises.

Blackwater contractors operate in a legal limbo. Neither Iraqi law, nor American civilian nor military law can be applied to them. A bill passed by the House of Representatives last month would correct this by making State Department contractors adhere to the same laws as Defense Department contractors do.

It would be generous to call this investigation a bungling, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder why the State Department would be so quick to grant immunity and essentially prevent the prosecution of their bodyguards. These actions are an insult to Iraqi sovereignty and our uniformed military, who are working hard to win the support of the Iraqi people.