Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reports of Blackwater immunity deal embarrass Rice

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Reports that State Department investigators offered immunity deals to security guards accused of shooting dead 17 Iraqis dealt an embarrassing blow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

According to the Washington Post, FBI agents now investigating the Baghdad shootings involving the Blackwater security firm are barred from using any of the information obtained during an earlier State Department probe.

One law enforcement official told the Post that some of the Blackwater guards had refused interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation which took over the investigation this month, citing the earlier immunity promises.

The deals "make things a lot more complicated and difficult," the official told the Post.

The move is set to reignite the controversy over the shootings in the Iraqi capital on September 16 and the role of private security firms such as Blackwater USA in the war-torn country.

If confirmed, the deals could complicate efforts to prosecute the guards, especially as the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not have the authority to grant immunity, unnamed officials told The New York Times.

Most of the guards involved in the shooting were promised they would not be prosecuted for anything they said in their interviews as long as their statements were truthful, the Times reported.

US Justice Department prosecutors who do have the authority to grant immunity had no advance knowledge of the arrangement, the officials told the Times.

State Department official Sean McCormack refused to confirm the reports on Tuesday, but sought to distance Rice from the scandal.

"Secretary Rice's attitude is that if there are individuals who broke rules, laws or regulations, they must be held to account," he said.

"The reaction that she has taken during the course of the aftermath of this incident has been consistent with that approach.".........

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