[JURIST] The US Department of State [official website] has sheltered bodyguards working for private security firm Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] from prosecution related to a September shooting incident [JURIST report] in Baghdad, according to AP on Monday. The guards, who allegedly fired on civilians, killing 17 and prompting the Iraqi government to withdraw Blackwater's operating license [JURIST report], have received so-called "Garrity protections" from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security [official website], the branch of the State Department that oversees private security firms. Garrity protections prohibit statements made by public law enforcement officers from being used against them in criminal prosecutions. According to AP, the guards received the protections because they were working for the US government in a law enforcement capacity. The protections constitute a new hurdle for prosecutors, who will now have to show that any evidence used against the Blackwater guards in the future was obtained independently of statements made by them to the State Department.
The Blackwater allegations have caused domestic outrage in Iraq and have prompted legal controversy in the US. Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over an investigation [JURIST report] of the incident from the Department of Justice [official websites], and has been attempting to obtain evidence without using statements made by the guards who were granted protection. Iraqi government investigators probing the killings have concluded that the Blackwater security detail's actions were unprovoked, and amounted to "deliberate murder" [JURIST report]. AP has more.