Obtained Emails Show FBI, DOJ Fought Over Charges In Blackwater Shooting Case

The DOJ and the FBI aren’t seeing eye-to-eye — and apparently haven’t for years. The FBI has been stiff-arming the DOJ’s Inspector General over the past several months, preventing him from doing his job of providing oversight for the DOJ’s many law enforcement agencies. The FBI appears to have gone rogue.

Maybe it isn’t the FBI deciding it’s above accountability. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t view the DOJ as a useful entity… or even a trustworthy ally — even as the FBI is technically a part of the DOJ. At its heart, the FBI is a law enforcement agency. It pursues bad guys and turns them over to be locked away. It firmly believes in the inherent “rightness” of its mission, even when its investigative activities have partially devolved into terrorism-related shots on unguarded goals.

Emails obtained by the New York Times provide some insight to the friction between the FBI and DOJ over the handling of the Blackwater case. In 2007, Blackwater — a private company hired by the State Department to provide security in Iraq — opened fire on civilians in Baghdad, injuring 20 and killing 17. The FBI’s investigation concluded that 14 of the 17 Iraqis were killed “without cause.” The FBI wanted to stack charges in order to assure the contractors felt the full consequences of their actions. The DOJ, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure.

The F.B.I. had wanted to charge the American contractors with the type of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons charges that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives for the shooting, which left more than a dozen Iraqis dead and many others wounded in September 2007.

But at the last minute, the Justice Department balked. In particular, senior officials were uncomfortable with bringing two machine-gun charges, each of which carried mandatory 30-year prison sentences.

The lead agent, John Patarini, felt that dropping this mandatory chunk of prison time would allow those involved to walk away from killing 17 civilians with five-to-seven year sentences. This outcome may have been more aligned with the DOJ’s sense of justice (after all, the contractors were required to carry weapons by the State Department) but it didn’t mesh with the FBI’s more law enforcement-oriented definition of justice. So, Patarini decided to play politics.

Mr. Patarini was incensed. “I would rather not present for a vote now and wait until the new administration takes office than to get an indictment that is an insult to the individual victims, the Iraqi people as a whole, and the American people who expect their Justice Department to act better than this,” he replied.

Playing politics only made sense. The charge itself is a political by-product — a relic from the Drug War’s decade-long obsession with crack. This charge was legislated into existence solely to stack charges against drug dealers to turn low-level possession charges into decades-long stints in federal prisons.

The DOJ’s reluctance to use a law it had wielded so willingly against drug dealers and gang members in the past against federal contractors who gunned down dozens of Iraqis is troubling. The FBI’s desire to see Blackwater’s employees face lengthy prison sentences is also troubling, considering it’s usually all too happy to do the same thing to people accused of far less heinous behavior.

The regime shift the FBI felt would keep the weapons charges alive also changed the DOJ’s stance. Nothing in the obtained emails states explicitly why the DOJ reconsidered its position, but its recent statements on the Blackwater case are closely aligned with Special Agent Patarini’s 2008 desire to see the contractors sentenced to decades in prison.

Echoing the emails from nearly seven years ago, the Justice Department said the sentences would “hold the defendants accountable for their callous, wanton and deadly conduct, and deter others wielding the awesome power over life or death from perpetrating similar atrocities in the future.

The only winners here are those who know how to game the political system. The FBI knew it needed a friendlier DOJ, which required a friendlier White House. But the FBI doesn’t play politics to the extent the DOJ does. No matter how inflamed its sense of injustice, there was little chance the DOJ would fight the previous administration to pursue gun charges against the employees of a major political donor. Seven years later, the DOJ finally feels comfortable using a bad law to put four killers in jail for an extra-long time. There’s no “right” here. There’s only the sickening interplay of political expedience.

The FBI fought the DOJ — not for the greater good — but for much smaller, much more temporary ends. The FBI wants to put bad guys away. The DOJ’s position isn’t as clear-cut. It’s quick to throw the book at certain defendants, but it’s just as likely to investigate allegations of police misconduct and civil rights violations. Although both are ostensibly aimed at the same goal — justice — the DOJ is the weaker of the two, more prone to cutting the accused some slack and far more willing to criticize the FBI’s colleagues and allies: the local law enforcement agencies it often partners with. Because of this, the FBI views the DOJ as unworthy of its respect — just as likely to sell it out as back it up. The DOJ may be the FBI’s parent agency, but it’s clear the FBI views it as ineffective and impotent.

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