State Department Treads in Blackwater

What in the world is the State Department doing granting immunity to Blackwater employees who may have something to say about the killing of 17 Iraqis last month? Can it really be that the folks at State did not consult with their brothers and sisters at the Justice Department before offering the guards a deal? Is that any way to run an investigation?

The State Department's "potentially serious investigative misstep" (as the Times understated it) surely heightens the perception that the government is more concerned with covering for Blackwater than it is with holding the contractor to account. From the White House and State Department this week, you'll hear the chestnut that getting to the truth of the matter (by granting immunity) was more important than ensuring a proper criminal investigation into the deadly affair. But it's hard not to suspect that State deliberately sabotaged the case because of what it might have revealed. It's shoddy business, in any event, and I don't blame the folks at the Justice Department for fuming over their loss of investigative options.

To be fair, it's likely that the Blackwater employees would have exercised their 5th Amendment right to remain silent anyway and refused to cooperate with Justice Department lawyers. But then at least those prosecutors might have been able to dangle immunity to some in order to perhaps form a case against others. That may not longer be possible, however, thanks to the State Department's unilateral move.

Also, it's true that federal law protects contractors from being forced to offer testimony in a criminal investigation under threat of disciplinary action. But that doesn't mean that State had to go as far as to offer immunity.

So what happens next? Maybe the Justice Department goes to court to try to nullify the immunity grant on the grounds that it was beyond the scope of the State Department's authority? Maybe federal prosecutors can make a criminal case against Blackwater employees (if indeed there is one to be made) without their testimony -- after all, it happens all the time in the real world.

The State Department's stunning overreach may not mean the end of the search for answers about the incident or the quest to hold accountable those responsible for the killings. But it does mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with the lines of communication and authority within the executive branch. Never mind Blackwater employees. The State Department now has some explaining to do.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 30, 2007; 8:18 AM ET
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Andrew -

What a complete cluster-----. Where's the accountability in the State Department? Isn't Ms. Rice the Secretary of State? Shouldn't the buck stop there? Doubtless she will pawn off responsibility on her mid-level staffer underlings who granted the immunity.

If my presumption is correct, this is just another example of this administration's malfeasance or incompetence that is conveniently hidden from public scrutiny. Using RNC email accounts to conduct public business to circumvent the PResidential Records Act? Oops, we didn't back up White House or RNC emails. We need to investigate the killing of civilians by the State Department's contractors who are immune from prosecution in Iraq? Sorry, we granted them immunity so their testimony can't be used in an investigation that might hold them accountable under US law. One gets tired of the dodging and weaving performed by this Administration. When the history of this administrationis is revealed, future generations of Americans will shudder . . . .

Posted by: Buster | October 30, 2007 10:15 AM

Well, let's see. We have American laws. We have Iraqi laws, and we have the American corporations in Iraq. Who's in charge in Iraq? Duh!

Posted by: Awake | October 30, 2007 10:29 AM


Has STATE ever before offered immunity? In spy cases, perhaps? I just do not recall immunity being offered by STATE. Where does the authority for STATE to offer immunity originate? A statute?

Or is this part of the theory of the unitary executive?

I am confused.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 30, 2007 10:58 AM

I certainly hope that the doctrine of "learning the truth" trumps any criminal charges I may face in my lifetime.
I will gladly confess to any and all crimes if the DA will grant me full immunity. After all, its the truth, not punishment that matters.

Posted by: DemoChristian | October 30, 2007 02:40 PM

As a first time contributor from across the pond it is encouraging to see that there are some American cousins who do not condone apparent war crimes and brutality to salve the consciences of your beleaguered adminsitration. You have Bush and unfortunately we had Blair. The world will continue to pay a heavy price for their buffonery which has stretched the Anglo-American relationship to breaking point. A question however, why do you pay hard earned dollars to listen to a man who is recognised as an accomplished liar by the majority of Brits?

Posted by: Hamish47 | October 30, 2007 07:37 PM

To which "accomplished liar" do you refer, Hamish? There is no antecedent on this thread.

Posted by: Mark in Austin | October 30, 2007 08:26 PM

what a sad day for condileeza rice. just when you think that we may in fact have some hope in our executive leadership, along comes legalized genocide! didn't the nazi leadership walk their way up the stairs of the gallows at nuremburg for the same offenses? what is wrong in america when we turn our backs upon such obvious criminality? there was a time when i would back off from saying that our executive branch of government should be given some roap when dealing with terrorists and the situation in iraq. that time is now officially over!! we as americans cannot allow this type of genocidal behavior towards innocent human beings to continue! what is to stop americans overseas and later on at home to be arbitrarily gunned down in cold blood as an act of revenge for the atrocities that these state dept. thugs are getting away with? is this the type of leadership that we have sunk to? where has the pride of WWII gone? in all of our hedonistic rightousness we have sunk to the lowest level of morality since our own civil war and the genocide that we commited against our own native american indians. this is disgusting to any one who ever believed in human rights and justice in america and this is not the america our past veterans of foreign wars fought for. this is not democracy in any sense and it sure as hell isn't representative of the american people as a whole. or is it? it is up to us to decide. i, for one, would like to see our entire executive branch tried for war crimes in a international court. the differences between the white house and the likes of saddam hussein have become an ever graying area of absoluted morality. isay, arrest them!!

Posted by: lonewolf | October 30, 2007 09:08 PM

what a sad day for condileeza rice. just when you think that we may in fact have some hope in our executive leadership, along comes legalized genocide! didn't the nazi leadership walk their way up the stairs of the gallows at nuremburg for the same offenses? what is wrong in america when we turn our backs upon such obvious criminality? there was a time when i would back off from saying that our executive branch of government should be given some roap when dealing with terrorists and the situation in iraq. that time is now officially over!! we as americans cannot allow this type of genocidal behavior towards innocent human beings to continue! what is to stop americans overseas and later on at home to be arbitrarily gunned down in cold blood as an act of revenge for the atrocities that these state dept. thugs are getting away with? is this the type of leadership that we have sunk to? where has the pride of WWII gone? in all of our hedonistic rightousness we have sunk to the lowest level of morality since our own civil war and the genocide that we commited against our own native american indians. this is disgusting to any one who ever believed in human rights and justice in america and this is not the america our past veterans of foreign wars fought for. this is not democracy in any sense and it sure as hell isn't representative of the american people as a whole. or is it? it is up to us to decide. i, for one, would like to see our entire executive branch tried for war crimes in a international court. the differences between the white house and the likes of saddam hussein have become an ever graying area of absoluted morality. isay, arrest them!!

Posted by: lonewolf | October 30, 2007 09:08 PM

I think one word says it all: Impeach.

http://www.impeachbush.org

Posted by: Bert | October 31, 2007 12:33 AM

I'm with Bert. Long overdue. The record of incompetence and malfeasance is long and includes plenty that would justify removing the head of this mob of gangsters, cronies and fools.

But the most important reason to impeach is the future of America. I know it takes time to impeach, it creates more division among the Congress and citizens, but consider the damage to our moral standing, the perception of our legal system as just.

In short, it's the principle of the thing. If we do not impeach, the democratic principle of government being accountable to the citizens is completely lost.

Shall we decide to give up all pretense that our government is still a democracy, admitting it is a corpocracy, run FOR the corporations BY the corporations?

Posted by: lala | October 31, 2007 12:52 AM

Bush and Condoleeza are circumventing the judicial system because they do not want trials.

A well run trial would expose them to ignominy.

Self-interest is more important than belated justice for those innocents killed by Cowboys.

Bush wanted to subject Guantanamo Detainees to a corrupted trial process to ensure convictions so that he could claim that the CIA kidnappings of the detainees was legitimate.

Of course, if fair trials had been held that would have resulted in acquittals and Bush would have been subjected to ridicule.

The Detainees were held for five years or more, or secretly released without the press having an opportunity to interview the releasees because Bush does not believe in being exposed as a charlatan (ie fraud).

Bush had been advised that almost all detainees should be released. He kept them in prison because he did not care about their well-being or that of their families. He wanted to them locked up to support his claim that they were T-E-R-R-O-R-I-S-T-S and that he was protecting the US from these guys. When he invaded Iraq all of his reasons have turned out to be wrong. However, Bush did not take blame for his failure. He thinks short-term. He got his war and he did not care about being exposed because there are enough nutty Americans who think that he is protecting the US from 'nasties'.

Posted by: Robert James | October 31, 2007 03:27 AM

Excuse me, but has anyone realized that Iraq is a war zone?? Are we supposed to bring to trial every American who kills Iraqis? I must have missed the trials of those Iraqis who killed and mutilated the bodies of four Blackwater contractors a few years ago. We are at war, folks, and by right, civilians should not even be in Iraq. The Dept. of State evacuates employees from countries abroad when there is civil unrest or an act of nature. So, why are so many U.S. federal govt. employees in Iraq in the first place? And, the Dept. of State's Diplomatic Security Agents do have the right to invoke the Garrity Rule.

Posted by: Retired Dept. of State employee | November 1, 2007 08:17 AM

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