The debate begins.
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.
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.
Just last week Blackwater got word that their contract in Iraq was over, could the two developments be related? Only time will tell.
The State Department will not renew Blackwater Worldwide’s contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq when it expires in May, a senior U.S. official said Friday. The official told The Associated Press that the contract will expire because of the Iraqi government’s decision to deny Blackwater a license to operate.
The Iraqis informed the State Department last week of the cancellation, which was made amid lingering outrage over a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
The official said that renewing the contract was “basically a moot point because they were not going to be allowed to operate in Iraq anyway.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has yet to be announced.
The State Department said that it was still considering options on how to protect U.S. diplomats in the wake of the Iraqi denial of Blackwater’s operating license.
Officials have said one possibility would be to replace Blackwater with one or a combination of guards from two other U.S.-based security contractors that work for the State Department in Iraq, DynCorp and Triple Canopy. Both have licenses to operate in Iraq.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined to comment on the status of the contract, saying the company had been informed that the State Department would like to meet with its executives “to discuss the situation.” But she stressed that Blackwater had always known that its services in Iraq would be temporary. More