By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 15, 2009
BAGHDAD, June 14 -- Two Americans arrested this month during an Iraqi investigation into the killing of an American contractor were transferred to a U.S. military facility at the request of Iraqi officials, the U.S. Embassy said Sunday.
The embassy declined to elaborate on why the two men were relocated, although a spokesman said that, technically, they remain in Iraqi custody. He said their transfer conforms to a U.S.-Iraqi agreement that went into effect this year under which crimes committed by contractors would be covered by Iraqi law.
Two Iraqi officials said they were unaware of the decision. A third, in the Interior Ministry, said a U.S.-Iraqi committee was still interrogating the two and had made the decision "for the safety of the investigation and the safety of the men."
Jason Jones and Micah Milligan were arrested June 3 with three others, Don Feeney III, Mark Bridges and Don Feeney Jr., all of Corporate Training Unlimited, a Fayetteville, N.C., security firm operating here. Iraqi forces detained them in the investigation into the killing of Jim Kitterman last month in Baghdad's Green Zone.
Don Feeney Jr., the founder of the company, was released Wednesday, and his son and Bridges were released the following day.
Since the arrests, American and Iraqi officials have offered a series of contradictory and inaccurate statements, a sign that both sides were fumbling over how to deal with the first case of Americans facing justice under the agreement, which was laboriously negotiated for months last year.
Iraqi officials insisted that the men were arrested in connection with the killing of Kitterman, a 60-year-old contractor from Houston. Kitterman's body was found in a lot less than a mile from the contractors' residence, investigators said. U.S. officials maintained that a search of the men's house had turned up "possible evidence on an unrelated matter," without disclosing details.
Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, also said on more than one occasion in the past week that all five had been released for lack of evidence.
Until this year, all U.S. contractors had immunity from the Iraqi legal process under an order signed by L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, in June 2004. U.S. officials said the relocation of the men was permitted under a clause in the new agreement that says Iraqi authorities may request assistance from U.S. forces in detaining or arresting individuals.
"The Iraqis are still in charge of the investigation," said Wael Abdel Latif, an Iraqi lawmaker and former judge. "So the transfer does not violate the agreement, nor is it a breach of Iraqi sovereignty."
Special correspondent Qais Mizher contributed to this report.