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Immunity Jeopardizes Iraq Probe

The immunity claim rests on what are called "Garrity warnings" and "Kalkines warnings," both named after federal court cases from the 1960s and '70s that recognized the special circumstances of government employees in criminal cases involving their jobs. "The government wears two hats" when it launches internal criminal investigations, one law enforcement official said. The rulings were intended to protect the rights of government employees.

The FBI investigators sent to Baghdad are due to return to Washington early this week and will then turn the information they gathered over to the Justice Department, which will decide whether prosecution is warranted. An earlier case, involving the shooting of a bodyguard of an Iraqi vice president by a Blackwater contractor last Christmas Eve, was referred to Justice months ago, but there has been no prosecution.

Law enforcement officials have said it is unclear whether the contractors, who are immune from Iraqi law under an order promulgated by the U.S. occupation government in 2004, are liable under any U.S. law. The administration has said it opposes a bill passed by the House last month that would place State Department contractors under laws that currently apply only to Pentagon contractors.

Administration officials have said that the Christmas Eve case has languished because of the legal uncertainties.

But in congressional testimony last week, Rice said that the holdup was "not the absence of law . . . it's a question of evidence."

Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

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