Today, United States Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) sent the following letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding answers on reports that State Department officials offered Blackwater guards immunity from prosecution, which may hinder a criminal investigation into the September shooting that killed at least 17 Iraqis.
Obama has introduced legislation in the Senate to make private security contractors in Iraq subject to federal criminal law; this bill has already passed the House. Obama has also called for the head of Blackwater to testify before the Senate. In February, Obama introduced comprehensive legislation to increase oversight on private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan; part of his legislation requiring reporting to Congress on the role of contractors passed the Senate last month.
Below is a copy of the letter:
Dear Secretary Rice:
I am deeply troubled by news reports that the State Department promised guards employed by Blackwater USA immunity from prosecution as part of the Department's initial investigation into the September 16 shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians.
The seriousness of this incident - and its effect on the American military's reputation in Iraq - necessitates the prosecution of the appropriate Blackwater personnel if they are found to have committed crimes. However, a full investigation and prosecution will be difficult when all of the Blackwater guards - both in the vehicle convoy involved in the shooting and the helicopters above - were apparently given immunity by investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, an arm of the State Department. According to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said, "Once you give immunity, you can't take it away."
Although this matter has now been turned over from the State Department to the FBI, prosecutors will have to prove that any evidence they use in bringing charges against Blackwater guards was uncovered independently without using the guards' statements to Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigators. As any prosecutor knows, this is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult.
Because the decision to give immunity to Blackwater guards was a serious one and may potentially jeopardize any prosecution of those involved, I ask that you respond to the following questions:
1) Were you aware of the decision to provide immunity to Blackwater guards? If not, who made this decision?
2) Was the FBI or the Justice Department consulted before immunity was provided to Blackwater guards?
3) Do you agree with the decision to provide immunity to Blackwater guards?
I ask you to provide responses to these questions by November 6, 2007. Thank you.
United States Senator