Justice Department officials have told Congress that they face serious legal difficulties in pursuing criminal prosecutions of Blackwater security guards involved in a September shooting that left at least 17 Iraqis dead.
In a private briefing in mid-December, officials from the Justice and State Departments met with aides to the House Judiciary Committee and other Congressional staff members and warned them that there were major legal obstacles that might prevent any prosecution. Justice officials were careful not to say whether any decision had been made in the matter, according to two of the Congressional staff members who received the briefing.
The staff members, who asked not to be identified, disclosed details of the meeting in interviews this week.
The December briefing took place after a federal grand jury had been convened in the case, suggesting that prosecutors had decided to begin hearing testimony with potential prosecution problems still unresolved. [complete article]
Highly promising figures that the administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last fall, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.
The Iraqi government had been severely criticized for failing to spend billions of dollars of its oil revenues in 2006 to finance its own reconstruction, but last September the administration said Iraq had greatly accelerated such spending. By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year.
As Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, prepared in September to report to Congress on the state of the war, the economic figures were a rare sign of progress within Iraq’s often dysfunctional government.
But in its report on Tuesday, the accountability office said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year. [complete article]