Pentagon Letter Complicates Blackwater Case

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Pentagon wrote in 2007 that Blackwater Worldwide contractors in Iraq are not subject to U.S. civilian criminal laws, a position that undercuts the Justice Department's effort to prosecute five Blackwater security guards on manslaughter charges.

Defense contractors can be prosecuted in U.S. courts for crimes committed overseas, but because of a legal loophole, contractors for other agencies can face charges only if their work assignments supported the Defense Department.

Blackwater, the largest security contractor in Iraq, works for the State Department. Five of its guards face manslaughter charges for a 2007 shooting that killed 17 Iraqis.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England wrote late that year to Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) that the contractors "were not engaged in employment in support of the DoD mission" and that therefore federal prosecutors lack jurisdiction to charge the Blackwater guards.

Pentagon spokesman Chris Isleib said Monday that England's view remains that of the department.

Federal prosecutors in Washington say the Pentagon's mission and State's are essentially the same: creating a stable, self-governing Iraq.

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