Skip to Main Content

Judge in Blackwater Prosecution Seeks Probe of State Dept.

A federal judge wants an explanation for the State Department’s conduct in the prosecution of Blackwater security guards accused of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, in September 2007. Four guards are scheduled to go to trial in June over the incident, which left 14 Iraqis dead and 20 wounded.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued an opinion denying a motion by the guards to dismiss the indictments. At the end of the opinion, Lamberth blasted the State Department and its Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) for granting legal immunity to the guards shortly after the incident in exchange for their written sworn statements. The statements were subsequently leaked to the media. In 2009, the court found the government had improperly used the immunized testimony and dismissed the indictments. An appeals court later reversed that decision.

Lamberth could barely contain his displeasure with the State Department and DSS:

If the Department of State and the Diplomatic Security Service had tried deliberately to sabotage this prosecution, they could hardly have done a better job. It is incredible the way these defendants were coerced into making statements to DSS agents. The impropriety of this was well settled law at the time. Even more egregious, though, was the leaking to the news media of all the statements given. Yet it appears there has been no investigation of these circumstances and no one has been held accountable. Nor is there any reason to think anyone learned a lesson from this fiasco or that any steps have been taken to avoid a repetition.

...

It is unclear to the Court whether the DSS or the State Department even had the authority to grant immunity to the defendants in exchange for their testimony absent approval from the Attorney General….Nor is the Court aware if the State Department or DSS sought any legal advice regarding the decision to grant immunity—a decision that was questionable at best. The injustice done to the alleged victims of this incident by the last seven years of litigation has been totally unwarranted.

Lamberth asked U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen to request a State Department Inspector General (IG) investigation into the decision to grant immunity. According to the Associated Press, Machen referred the matter to the IG.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki had this to say about Judge Lamberth’s ruling:

Regarding the judge’s recommendation that the State Department IG should look into why the contractors were granted immunity, this issue was looked at extensively in the aftermath of the incident and addressed any improved investigative policies and procedures….There has been since that time increased interagency cooperation. There’s been a standard procedure, operating procedure put in place, including forms developed in conjunction with the Department of Justice, and training on how to use these forms as it relates to contractors. These steps, as I’ve said, were taken immediately. They continue to be implemented.

Having failed to satisfy the media’s curiosity, Psaki decided to “expand a little bit” at the next day’s briefing:

[W]e have worked to address immunity concerns that arose soon after Nisour Square, including by creating in conjunction with DOJ new warning forms for voluntary interviews and compelled interviews, and emphasizing procedures to follow when using the forms through improved training and notices to overseas posts. So certainly that was part of, among other, issues that we work to address in conjunction with the Department of Justice.

The four guards, who were escorting State Department personnel at the time, claim they were fighting off armed insurgents. Another guard involved in the shooting, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty in 2008 to voluntary manslaughter and attempted voluntary manslaughter. In 2010, Blackwater (which is now called Academi) settled a slew of civil lawsuits filed by Iraqis for the September 2007 shooting and other instances of Blackwater violence in Iraq.

By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO

Neil Gordon, Investigator Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Contractor Accountability, State Department, Federal Contractor Misconduct

Authors: Neil Gordon

Submitted by BK at: April 20, 2014
Forgot to thank you. This site is incredible and very valuable.
Submitted by BK at: April 20, 2014
This points back to the authoritarian government of Cheney. Torture, hired thugs, incredibly condemned Americans in the international court of opinion. We are still not getting it. We are the pariah nation. Also points to how "contractors" equals corruption in our government , and our politician's "pay to play" mentality.
Submitted by TiredOfGovernmentWaste at: April 14, 2014
"They continue to be implemented." Standard empty response. I bet she can't produce whatever she refers to as "they".
Submitted by AngryVeteran at: April 14, 2014
Another sad statement about the U.S. Government.
Submitted by barbL at: April 14, 2014
Why does it seem Blackwater and Haliburton are one and the same?
Submitted by ivanczar at: April 13, 2014
A black day " when the private army Blackwater " was contracted out to take over American military missions.
Submitted by Ron Couples at: April 12, 2014
The State Department's encouragement of excessive behavior in order to protect State Department personnel was a well known issue to most soldiers and civilians in Iraq. By allowing excessive behavior on the part of Blackwater protection personnel, State Department personnel were clearly playing the role of foolish, uncaring cowards.
Submitted by Inmytime at: April 12, 2014
Hillary can kiss her can goodbye. Instead of doing the right thing she became a puppet for more government failure and cover up. These contractors were acting more like mercenaries. No matter what Blackwater or State claims. The Bush bug must have bit Hillary.
Submitted by Lothar at: April 12, 2014
And.....like torture....the far right gun totin' folks are now too numerous in our voter bases to ever do anything about this!

Leave A Comment

Nickname
Comment
Enter this word: Change

Related Posts

Browse POGOBlog by Topic

POGO on Facebook

Latest Podcast

Podcast; Social Media, Internet Provides Opportunities, Challenges for Lawmakers

The Congressional Management Foundation offers the Gold Mouse Awards annually to members of Congress who make the most of the opportunity the digital world offers them. POGO spoke with members of Rep. Mike Honda's communications team about their award.