BBC News – 2007-10-30 08:55:54
Iraq to End Contractor Immunity
(October 30, 2007) — The Iraqi government has approved a draft law revoking the immunity from prosecution private security contractors enjoy under Iraqi law. The law, which has been referred to parliament, would revoke an order set up after the US-led invasion in 2003.
The move comes six weeks after the fatal shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad by US firm Blackwater.
Earlier, reports said the US state department might have offered partial immunity to the guards involved. The deals would protect the guards against prosecution for anything they might say in interviews as long as their statements were true. But the US Department of Justice said the bureau had no right to grant the deals.
The Baghdad shooting is currently being investigated by the FBI. Correspondents say that if the reports of immunity deals do turn out to be true, that could further complicate the issue of how the guards could be tried.
In Baghdad, however, Iraq’s government was adamant that contractors would have to obey its laws.
“The cabinet today approved a new draft law which puts all private security companies under the Iraqi law,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. “These companies will not get immunity and will be subject to Iraqi law.”
Foreign guards would also be subject to searches at Iraqi checkpoints and be required to carry licences for weapons, Mr Dabbagh said. The bill must now be approved by the Iraqi parliament.
It is intended to replace Order 17 of the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003.
That order granted private security contractors immunity from prosecution in Iraq but made them subject to the law of their “sending state”.
The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says there is widespread anger after the shootings involving Blackwater, and there are many calls for those responsible to be put on trial. But that is unlikely to happen in this particular case, our correspondent says, as the legislation would have to be applied retrospectively.
An Iraqi government investigation has concluded that Blackwater guards fired without provocation during the incident in Baghdad on 16 September and were “100% guilty”.
Blackwater has insisted its staff acted only in self defence after insurgents fired upon the US diplomatic convoy they were protecting.
Last Wednesday, the head of the state department’s diplomatic security division, Richard Griffin, resigned after a report said there should be far tighter supervision of private security personnel in Iraq.
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Blackwater Men ‘Given Immunity’
Private US security contractors accused of shooting dead 17 innocent Iraqis may have been offered partial immunity by the US state department, say reports.
Unnamed officials said the offer was unauthorised and could make it much more difficult to prosecute the guards employed by the Blackwater firm. If confirmed, the revelation may put further strain on US-Iraq relations.
The Iraqi government was furious at the 16 September deaths, and demanded the guards be handed over to face trial. Blackwater says its staff acted in self-defence.
The Associated Press news agency quotes three unnamed senior law enforcement officials as saying that all the guards involved in the case were given the legal protections as investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security looked into what had happened. The bureau is the investigative arm of the Department of State.
The guards were offered “limited-use immunity deals”, reported the New York Times, which protects them against prosecution for anything they might say in interviews with authorities as long as their statements are true.
The FBI took over the investigation earlier this month, after the justice department realised it would not be able to bring charges based on the guards’ statements to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, reported AP. But some of the Blackwater employees have now reportedly refused to answer further questions from FBI investigators.
Unnamed officials speaking to the New York Times questioned whether Bureau of Diplomatic Security officials had the authority to offer such deals – making the legal validity of the offers unclear. Nonetheless, if the reports do turn out to be true, they could further complicate the issue of how the guards could be tried.
The contractors are currently granted immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law by Order 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority – the now-defunct interim body set up by the US-led coalition in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Private firms working for the Department of Defence are subject to existing US legislation, but those private firms such as Blackwater working for the state department are not.
Last Wednesday, the head of the BDS Richard Griffin resigned following a state department report which identified an urgent need for tougher oversight of the private firms. The biggest and best-known of the companies is Blackwater.
The Iraqi government accuses Blackwater of the deaths of the 17 innocent civilians in Baghdad, and says it wants the firm out of the country. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, has described the shooting as a “criminal act” and an inquiry by the Iraqi interior ministry concluded the security guards were “100% guilty”.
The head of Blackwater denies the killings were unprovoked, insisting his men had been fired upon.
© BBC MMVII
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