The Blackwater Iran-Contra Link

2009 ended with a bang for Eric Prince and Blackwater as a federal judge dismissed all charges stemming from the Nisour Square massacre.  The decision marked a fitting end to a decade marked by the flagrant disregard and deliberate manipulation of the Constitution by the neoconservatives in power.

Blackwater, the security contracting group, is most often described as a shadow army in Iraq sometimes operating alongside American forces has been the focus of increasing scrutiny for incidents such as the Nisour Square massacre.  In September 2007 five Blackwater employees open fire in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing seventeen innocent Iraqis and wounding more than twenty more.  The Blackwater employees claim they were fired on first.  The overwhelming evidence from the scene, and later statements from the employees themselves, suggested otherwise. 

Immediately after the massacre the Blackwater employees made statements to the Department of State as State conducted its own investigation into the incident.  In exchange for those statements the employees believed that they were receiving immunity from prosecution should the investigation reveal any incidents of criminal wrongdoing.  Those statements formed the basis on the indictment issued by the Department of Justice against those employees, despite previous assurances from Departments of State and Defense that no charges would follow. 

Had the Blackwater employees not complied with the Department of State’s investigation they would have lost their jobs.  With their jobs on the line, why offer them immunity from prosecution they were compelled, under contract, to cooperate with?  Immunity was offered, allegedly, as a carrot to get the employees to provide details they might otherwise not in order for State to run its investigation.  So, they were essentially offered protection for any admissions of guilt or wrongdoing in exchange for cooperating in an investigation they were already legally compelled to cooperate with.  Sounds like a pretty good deal from Blackwater’s perspective.

Turns out it was.  Because those statements were in some sense not voluntary, that is, they were provided during the course of an investigation and refusal would have terminated Blackwater’s contract, Judge Ricardo Urbina concluded that the federal government violated the fair trial rights of the Blackwater employees by using these “compelled” statements as the basis  of the indictment.  Put more simply, Blackwater’s contractual obligations made prosecution of crimes impossible.  Iraqis, human rights and civil rights activists were stunned by the decision.  

What’s most remarkable about Judge Urbina’s decision is the fact that the rationale defending the dismissal relies on and calls on the dismissal of charges against Iran/Contra conspirator Oliver North.  A case very familiar to former Vice-President Dick Cheney.

It’s apparent that Cheney learned a lot from the Iran-Contra scandal, most notably how to extend the shield of governmental immunity to private actors with no governmental accountability.  The legal principle–derivative use immunity–stands for the proposition that the government cannot compel a statement in one context and then use it against an accused in another.  It is actually a pretty sound check on governmental power.  But like all principles of immunity it is designed to be used as a shield, not a sword.  And like all principles of executive power, the previous administration did otherwise.

So a cynic might conclude that the previous administration gamed the system–create contractual obligations that would produce arguably compelled statements but offer additional promised of immunity in the event that a court found those statements were, in fact, not compelled.  Or that the immunity promises and the mishandling of the prosecution illustrates the depths of the jurisprudential incompetence of the previous administration.  Either way men with blood on their hands walk while Iraqis continue to wait for justice.

photo courtesy of merci via Flickr


Michael C.
Michael C8 years ago

A ridiculous argument from the judge, considering how many Americans are in prison due to statements taken by police under duress. Once again, it's one rule for the powerful, and another for the rest of us.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W8 years ago


Dave Tohunga
Dave te tohunga8 years ago

This is the price other's pay
to shore up the American Way.
Ask what a native american has to say,
nothing has changed since their day.
As children you're raised on lies
as can be seen by any who are wise.
Torturing, mass murdering thieves are no surprise
you have but to open your eyes.
The national security cloak's a disguise.
And it's not just the good ol' USA
All nation/state Beasts act this way.
So if you get my drift
here's to a paradigm shift
What more do i need to say?

James W.
James W8 years ago

Yes it is looking like Obama has his war to fight just like everyone before him. Then i heard about George W.'s grandfather, Prescott. Unbelieveable, i sugguest everyone google Prescott Bush and comment on how we ever got where we are and where are we going:( This cuts to bottom line of it all.

Ray P.
Mary P8 years ago

Kris J "Its amazing how many ignorant people don't know why we are hated in so many parts of the world. So much for the golden rule. I guess when you spend all your time in church beggin for money and preaching hate, you forget to cover the basics. Funny how we all turn a blind eye to innocent Iraqis getting slaughtered. As if any of us have any idea what it is like to have our home become a war zone."

So true Kris, they are busy safe and sound in their own little cocoons not caring what is happening to those innocent men, women and children who are surrounded by unasked, unfair unreasonable WARS in their own countries. Wars taking place simply because the perpetrators wants to prove to the world that they have the POWER to do so. Well one day THE HIGHER POWER. i.e. GOD ALMIGHTY will take them to task and show them WHO the REAL POWER is INSHALLAH( If GOD wills)

Gene W.
Gene W8 years ago

Ken, why bring Bush up, Clinton refused to sign also and there are more than 4 countries that are not signed on to this "Treaty". How about we decide within our own gov. what we want as far as weapons and not allow the UN to decide for us. If it was up to the UN we in the US would be a third world country.

Ken B.
Ken Bachtold B8 years ago

Along these same lines, I understand that Obama refused to sign the Land Mine Treaty that ALL but FOUR nations have signed. We are now in a group including China and Russia. The rationale - something about it being "necesary to United States security that we keep the Bush policy in place." Obama = Bush Light anybody? ( And I was once an enthusiastic supporter!)

Dominic C.
Dominic C8 years ago

Money, favoritism, nepotism and corruption perhaps. Always the case...nothing to do with conservatives, centrists and liberals. If you look at the number of politicians that are embroiled in scandals in 2009, you will not be surprised.

Frank M.
Frank M.8 years ago

An article from "The Daily Evergreen" dated 02/12/2009, said: "Blackwater Worldwide's days of roaming Iraqi streets with impunity are over. The State Department decided against renewing the government's contract with the notoriously trigger-happy mercenary force last month after the Iraqi government announced its revocation of Blackwater's operating license."

Does anyone know otherwise??

I agree with those suggesting Scahill's updated book on Blackwater. You might also want to read "The Assassins' Gate" by George Packer, detailing the people involved in getting America into this war.

Jane L8 years ago

...just another example of how far down America has sunk.