[JURIST] Bringing criminal charges against Blackwater [corporate website; JURIST news archive] employees for the September 16 killings of 14 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] in West Baghdad would require surmounting numerous legal hurdles, US Department of Justice officials told Congress during a private meeting in December, the New York Times reported Wednesday. The meeting, which was held after a US federal grand jury opened an investigation into the killings [JURIST report], noted legal issues that arose after the US State Department allegedly granted so-called "Garrity protections" [JURIST report] to Blackwater employees involved in the incident. Garrity protections prohibit statements made by public law enforcement officers from being used against them in criminal prosecutions. Given the protections, prosecutors would now have to show that any evidence used against the Blackwater guards in the future was obtained independently of their statements to the State Department. Additionally, the DOJ said it must determine whether federal law applies to Blackwater, but officials reiterated during the meeting that they are still considering filing criminal charges [JURIST report] and that the investigation continues despite the potential legal hurdles.
The Blackwater allegations have caused domestic outrage in Iraq and have prompted legal controversy in the US. In November, the New York Times and the Washington Post [texts] reported that an FBI investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified [JURIST report]. Advocacy group Human Rights First [advocacy website] issued a report [PDF text; press release] Wednesday asserting that existing federal law is sufficient to prosecute private contractors using excessive violence in their overseas capacities, and that the US government is to blame for failing to "develop a clear policy with respect to the accountability of private contractors for crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan." The report says that the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act [S 768 information], which allows criminal prosecution of Department of Defense contractors, could be extended to State Department contractors, but that the US has failed to do so. The New York Times has more.