SEATTLE – Somewhere in Western Washington resides a former Blackwater contractor who might under normal circumstances be on trial for the high-profile killing of an Iraqi in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
But federal officials say he’s not in custody. They barely acknowledge his existence, let alone release his name or discuss the status of the investigation.
The shadowy case highlights the murky legal issues surrounding the controversial security firm’s Iraq-based employees, who may be exempt from both U.S. and Iraqi law.
“What normally would be a major option would be to have him prosecuted in Iraq,” said Ron Slye, director of the international comparative law program at Seattle University Law School. “The problem is of course, under Iraqi law as put into place by the U.S., there’s no jurisdiction over these people.”
The Blackwater worker, 26, was wandering drunk around the Green Zone after a party last Christmas Eve when he encountered – and fatally shot – a 32-year-old guard to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, according to a congressional report released this week. Blackwater immediately arranged to have the State Department fly him back to the United States, fired him and fined him, and paid the slain guard’s family $15,000.
Amid an outcry from Iraqis who questioned how an American could kill someone in those circumstances and return to the U.S. a free man, the Justice Department announced it would investigate.
The case has been turned over to the U.S. attorney’s office for Western Washington, where the man lives, Bush administration officials told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Mark Bartlett, the first assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, said Tuesday he had no comment.