Just another “accountability moment”?

State Department granted immunity to Blackwater employees in shooting incident.

Topics: Iraq war, War Room, Blackwater,

Testifying before Congress last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there’s a hole in U.S. law — she kept calling it a “lacuna” — that prevents independent contractors like Blackwater from being prosecuted in the United States for crimes committed in Iraq. “We believe there is a lacuna and it needs to be filled,” she said.

What Rice didn’t say: State Department officials investigating the Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater employees allegedly shot 17 Iraqi civilians had already granted a form of immunity to the Blackwater employees involved.

In the 1967 case of Garrity v. New Jersey, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the government can’t extract a statement out of an employee — say, a police officer involved in a shooting — on the threat of losing his job, then turn around and use that statement against the employee in a criminal trial. In a subsequent decision, the court made it clear that Garrity’s protection applies to independent contractors working for the government. State Department investigators looking into the Sept. 16 incident apparently offered Garrity deals to Blackwater guards: Tell us everything you know about what happened, but rest assured that your statements won’t be used against you in court.

The grant of immunity itself does not preclude the prosecution of the guards — assuming, for a moment, that prosecution is possible at all — but it does make such a prosecution vastly more difficult. It’s not just that prosecutors couldn’t use the guards’ statements; they would also have to persuade a court that they obtained whatever evidence they did use entirely independently from the guards’ own statements. And if you don’t think that’s difficult, go ask Oliver North. Hint: You won’t find him in prison.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>