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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 30 Oct 2007

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 30, 2007

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 30 Oct 2007



Cannot Discuss Events of September 16 / Do Not Want to Jeopardize Investigation
State Department Cannot Grant Immunity From Federal Criminal Prosecution
Iraqi Legislation / Joint U.S.-Iraqi Commission on Personal Security Contractors


Assistant Secretary Dan Fried Will Visit Georgia Thursday on Bilateral Issues


Hamas And Gaza / President Abbas Is Leader of Palestinian All People
Efforts To Stop Flow of Weapons And Money Across Border From Egypt


Civil Nuclear Agreement / U.S. Supports Deal / Internal Debate in India


Jamal Badawi Behind Bars / Should Serve Remainder of Sentence In Prison


Reform Proposals / Reactions to High Representative Opposition


Pirate Attacks Off Somali Coast


12:55 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. We can get right into your questions, for whoever would like to start off.

QUESTION: Yeah. Recognizing your reluctance, or rather refusal, this morning to talk about the situation with the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I did the best I could. And I have talked to our lawyers about it, so --

QUESTION: Okay. So can you elaborate a little bit on, you know, what happened, what exactly these -- the people who were interviewed were given in terms of immunity?

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MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let me see what I can do. First of all, we have to draw a box around the specific events of September 16th and anything involved with that particular case. The reason why is that I don't want to say anything and the Secretary doesn't want us to say anything that would potentially jeopardize an ongoing investigation. And if the facts lead us -- lead the Department of Justice and the FBI -- to the point of a criminal prosecution, we don't want to do anything or say anything that would potentially jeopardize a successful prosecution. So that's the underlying basis for not talking about anything having to do with September 16th.

But there are a few general facts here that I think will be helpful to you and I think will be helpful to the public to understand the situation. First, we would not have asked the FBI and the Department of Justice to get involved in a case that we did not think that they could potentially prosecute. And I think if you ask the Department of Justice and the FBI if they would have taken on a case that they could not potentially successfully prosecute, they would say no, of course not, we wouldn't take on such a case. So that's one point.

The second point is that -- and I talked to our lawyers about this -- is that the Department of State cannot immunize an individual from federal prosecution, federal criminal prosecution. So the Department of State cannot immunize an individual from federal criminal prosecution.

And the third point is that the kinds of, quote, "immunity" that I've seen reported in the press would not preclude a successful criminal prosecution. So I know that those are some general statements and statements of principle or statements of fact that may not address some of your specific questions about September 16th, but I think they would provide a good context for you - you as well as readers and listeners -- to understand the situation.

QUESTION: Okay. So the -- when you say, "the kinds of immunity that I have seen reported would not preclude a successful criminal prosecution," --

MR. MCCORMACK: They provide -- right, provide limited protections that would not preclude a successful criminal prosecution.

QUESTION: As a standard operating procedure in any case, any incident involving the use of a gun, the firing of a gun, or use of force that potentially could be deadly, are such limited waivers of immunity routinely granted to people when they're making their statements?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is an area that I can't venture into. It's a good question. I understand the reasons for the question. But because it gets directly back to September 16th and possibly circumstances surrounding that case, I can't in any way, shape or form comment on any arrangements arranged -- arrived at with individuals concerning that case.

But I would refer you back to what I think is an important point and a central point for people to understand here when they -- in reading about this. And that is to go back to the idea that we can't immunize people here at the Department of State from federal prosecution. And even with limited protections that we've talked about -- that I've read about in the press -- those limited protections do not preclude a federal prosecution.

QUESTION: Well, in fact, there is, though, an exception to the rule. Federal special agents -- investigators -- from any executive branch of the government, the (inaudible) or even including the Post Office, can give immunity if the Inspector General has gotten approval from the Justice Department to offer that. So that's sort of the Kalkines warning. Is that your understanding?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I can't speak to the specifics of the September 16th case.

QUESTION: No, I'm --

MR. MCCORMACK: In general, you have exhausted my legal knowledge concerning this case.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you say that this -- that the questions involving immunity in this case or any other case revolve around a waiver of indemnification or a waiver that's signed by the witnesses before they give statements of their account of the events, the statements being contractually obligated to them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Matt, it -- that gets back to the case and I just can't offer any comments about it.

QUESTION: Sean, do you ever consult with the Justice Department before you offer these limited immunity waivers?

MR. MCCORMACK: The -- I am not aware that there's a requirement to do that.

QUESTION: So it's possible --

MR. MCCORMACK: Limited -- limited protections -- when we talk about these limited protections, I'm not aware that there's a requirement for us to talk to the Department of Justice about it.

QUESTION: And how do you define limited protections?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the -- I'm just going on the press reports that I've seen out there. There have been a lot of press reports that Matt mentioned: Kalkines; there's, I think, Garrity. So when I'm talking about limited protections, I'm responding to a lot of those press reports and in talking to the lawyers about the limits of those protections I've -- we've managed to come up with this statement for you so you can maybe understand a bit better the context in which we're talking about the September 16th incident.

QUESTION: So Sean, then, these limited protections, what do they do? They said they don't preclude prosecution. What do they do, then?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I'm not going to try to play lawyer beyond what I've already done here from the podium. I think there are a lot of experts out there that can talk to you about that. There are all sorts of various terms that get thrown around by lawyers, you know, transactional immunity, use immunity, that sort of thing. I am not going to try to get into the definitions of those from the podium here. But there are plenty of people who I think can explain the limits of those kinds of immunities, or, quote, "immunities," to protect -- limits of those protections.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, I know that you cannot just talk about the case as we -- right, I don't -- I know that you don't want to talk about the case, but can you tell us that whatever was done was done properly?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Can you tell us that whatever was done in this case was done properly?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm just not going to have anything to say about the September 16th case.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Just a very basic question and I'm sorry if you've already answered this, but did Diplomatic Security provide these sort of limited waivers or whatever you might like to call them? I mean, what actually sort of happened with Diplomatic Security? Did they go in and say to them, "Okay, we're going to give you this if you help us out a bit here?"

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, this --

QUESTION: I know -- I'm not asking you to comment on the September 16th. I'm just asking you, is this what Diplomatic Security did?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it sounds like that's what you're asking. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, how about (inaudible) talk about in routine investigations (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know, just the --

QUESTION: Is this what happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I know. Look, I understand these questions. They're good questions, they're legitimate questions. But inasmuch as they are getting back to the September 16th incident, I --

QUESTION: Well, not -- the box --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're in the box now. We're in the box, stay in the box.

QUESTION: Long box.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) I'm not going to do anything that's going to potentially harm the efforts of the Department of Justice or the FBI.

Charlie --

QUESTION: But does the Secretary -- does the --

QUESTION: I have a question. I have a question about routine cases and -- and you can take the September 16th out, if it'll make you -- if it'll help --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, thank you.

QUESTION: Didn't we hear at the beginning of all this and is it not the case that in every instance in which a private security detail fires a weapon, they have to make a report back through the RSO at the Embassy, and therefore be interviewed by the --

MR. MCCORMACK: They do talk to the teams involved anytime there is a -- I believe a discharge of weapon.

QUESTION: A report is filed, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's a -- I don't know of the exact form, Charlie. I don't know if it's oral or written, but the folks at the Embassy do talk to the teams involved any time there is a discharge of a weapon. That's my understanding.

QUESTION: And is this the Embassy or the RSO?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the RSO is within the Embassy.

QUESTION: Within that kind of scenario, is it just purely entire Embassy staff present or do you have -- can people that are giving these reports can they have any kind of legal counsel there or would it be Embassy legal counsel? Can you --

MR. MCCORMACK: You mean --

QUESTION: -- talk about the chain of events these things happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. I understand what you're getting to. You know, look, I don't know if there's a law and order moment and say -- people say, you know, I want my lawyer. I'm not going to say anything more. I don't know. I don't know the circumstances there. I'm happy to try to get with our lawyers to ask that question and sort of dig a little more deeply.

QUESTION: Yes. Say what the routine is, when these things happen -- standards.

MR. MCCORMACK: I will ask about that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do investigators on the ground need protection to -- not protection, do they need authority from the State Department headquarters itself, like the head of Diplomatic Security, or even higher than that, to offer limited protections while they're going through this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you. Let me just see if there's a standard procedure that I can talk about.

QUESTION: Just trying to determine if they, you know, in the room have that ability.

MR. MCCORMACK: I hear you.

QUESTION: And if there is, in fact, a standard procedure for all incidents like this, are there ever any deviations from it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Inasmuch as I can offer some answers to you guys, I'll talk to the lawyers and see what we can do. And I think we -- let us progress a little bit from this morning. We got a little bit -- I got a little bit more from the lawyers, a little bit more leeway.


QUESTION: So what does the Secretary think of all of this, because it gives the appearance that you're really trying to protect Blackwater and that you're doing everything you can so that action is not taken against them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I can't account for people's perceptions. They're going to decide what their going to decide. All I can do is try to, as best I can, put out the facts. And if you look at the record of what the Secretary has done in reaction to this incident, it's a record of wanting to establish the facts to the best of our ability and then ensuring that, inasmuch as we are able, that if people broke the rules or broke the law, that they're held to account. And also to ensure that if we've had to modify procedures, if there were not sufficient safeguards, oversight in place, that we fix that.

And I think that if you take a look at what the Secretary has done in that regard, that she has put in place robust procedures that will in the first place help to prevent any future such incidents. You can never have 100 percent guarantees that innocent life isn't going to be lost. It's an extremely complex security environment in which our people operate. But the kinds of protections that she has put in place, I think, adds an extra degree of protection against future such incidents.

And in the case that there are unfortunate incidents, or in the case that there are incidents involving discharges of weapons, that you have in place the forensic tools so that we can better establish what exactly happened -- cameras, recordings, et cetera. So these are important steps that she's taken and they all get to the central point of, we want to make sure that our people are protected but they're protected in such a way that we are not undermining what we're trying to achieve with our larger efforts in Iraq as well as elsewhere around the world.

QUESTION: And do you have any details of the Secretary's lunch today with Secretary Gates, what she's going to be discussing? And then, have they had lunch already?

MR. MCCORMACK: They went to lunch. I don't know if it's over. I think it's probably over by now. She's probably headed back here. I don't have the exact agenda and I wouldn't tell you everything that they're talking about. But it was expected that they would touch briefly on issues related to personal security contractors in Iraq.

We have a working group between the State Department and the Department of Defense on the issue. Deputy Secretary Negroponte, Deputy Secretary England launched that. And it's just -- it's an effort to take a look at strategically how we have good coordination between the State Department and the Department of Defense regarding the operation of personal security contractors in Iraq. We've taken a lot of steps to improve that tactical coordination between the organizations, and I think in the course of Pat Kennedy and George Joulwan and Stape Roy preparing their report, we also identified some ways that both organizations can improve their internal communications so that the exchange of information between the two departments is made all the more effective by efficient flows within each of the individual organizations.


QUESTION: I just wanted to go back. Had you or Secretary Rice -- had you known about these reports before? I mean, was the information in them a surprise to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: In -- speaking for me personally, the first I learned of these reports was when I read about them, I think it was in the AP.

QUESTION: What about the Secretary --

QUESTION: Hopefully, it was a little bit before you read about it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I haven't talked to her about it, Libby.

QUESTION: But do you have a general response to these front-page news stories accusing you of giving these people immunity? I mean, do you think that's too broad a term? Do you think it's inaccurate? Can you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's what I was trying to get at in talking a little bit more about this idea of, quote, "immunity". And I think it bears repeating that the State Department cannot grant immunity to individuals from federal criminal prosecution, and that the limited kinds of protections that I've read about in the newspapers wouldn't preclude a criminal prosecution. So that's an elliptical way, I think, of getting at the central points here that we can't immunize people against federal prosecution.

QUESTION: But those limited protections -- and it seems -- it seems that you have read about --


QUESTION: -- can make it more difficult for investigators or prosecutors to build a case, is that not correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, these kinds of issues are not new. They've been around for a while in terms of Kalkines and Garrity. So investigators, if they are aware of them beforehand, can take steps to work around those kinds of issues. But it's, again, up to the investigators and the prosecutors to determine what kind of case they have, what sort of investigative methods they employ, and ultimately whether or not to bring a prosecution.

QUESTION: So it is, in fact, possible that whatever was done in this case has made it more difficult or has made it -- has complicated efforts to investigate something with an eye towards prosecution?

MR. MCCORMACK: If DOJ or FBI want to comment on that, I'm going to let them do that.

QUESTION: All right. Can you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're in a better position to do that. They're the ones -- they're the professional investigators and prosecutors.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to look at this legislation that's now been passed by the Iraqis about -- that would lift the immunity and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I did ask about this.

QUESTION: Did the --

MR. MCCORMACK: And the -- here's the situation, as I understand it. There is some proposed legislation that the Council of Ministers has written up. It has now go to the Council of Representatives, which is their full legislative body for consideration. It hasn't gone to them as of now, as I understand it.

What we are going to do is we are going to talk to the Iraqis. I don't think we have a full read of what is in the legislation. We want to take a look at it. We want to examine it. We do have various mechanisms to deal with these kinds of issues. There's the U.S.-Iraqi Joint Commission specifically on personal security contractors. That's one forum where we can talk about this and any issues that it may raise for us. I don't know that there are any at this point. We want to get a good look at the proposed legislation first.

But obviously, in our bilateral contacts we're going to talk to them about it. So at this point, I can't offer assessments -- an assessment to you.

QUESTION: They did not use this avenue to talk to you about it before -- to talk to U.S. officials about it before they went ahead and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that they have. And I can't tell you the extent to which our Embassy was aware that --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- they were discussing this. Chances are that the Embassy was aware that they were discussing this, but I can't tell you that as a fact.

QUESTION: Would you expect that the Secretary might raise this with Iraqi officials when she sees them in Turkey?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure the issue of personal security contractors is one that the Iraqis might bring up.

QUESTION: That they might bring up, you wouldn't bring up?

MR. MCCORMACK: If we have something new to offer, I'm sure that we will talk to them about it. It's not as if there has been a deficit of conversation about this between us and the Iraqis over the past several weeks since the incident happened. There has been quite a bit of conversation because it's a very sensitive topic. Iraqi lives were lost. We understand that and we are very sensitive to that.

We're there to try to help the Iraqis build a better state and to help improve security conditions, and the last thing we want to do is try to undermine those efforts. So we want to do everything we can working with them to make sure we have the best possible conditions for our people as well as the Iraqi people.

So there's been a lot of conversation. I expect that there's going to be a lot more about it. And certainly, if the Secretary feels the moment is right to bring something up, she's going to do it. If we have something new to brief them on, absolutely we're going to do it.

QUESTION: Sean, does the Iraqi parliament have the authority to undo provisions of the order that Paul Bremer signed before he left?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's their law, as I understand it -- unless I'm wrong here and that has sometimes been known to happen.


QUESTION: I hope not on all the stuff you told us in the beginning.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. No, not trying to undermine confidence. But as I understand it, they have the ability to change their laws. Now, let's take a look at exactly what has been proposed and has yet to be debated in their legislature. But once we have a look at it and have a chance to analyze it, perhaps we'll have more to say about it.

QUESTION: Sean, on the joint commission, have you been able to get an update on the last time they met or how many times they've met or whether it's --

MR. MCCORMACK: They've met two or three times. I wasn't able to get an exact read on it. I don't think they've met this past week. I don't have a date for the last time they met.

Okay, anything else on this?

QUESTION: The same issue.

MR. MCCORMACK: The same issue, oh, okay. Good.

QUESTION: The State Department has also own security person in addition to Blackwater, so my question is about that. Do not have same rules, obligations or rights, or are there any differences between that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Between rules in Iraq and elsewhere?

QUESTION: No, the State Department has own security person, in addition to Blackwater.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: So their obligations or rules --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, you mean, our Diplomatic Security agents?


MR. MCCORMACK: What rules of engagement do they operate under? I assume they operate under the same rules of engagement as contractor personnel.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary of State Mr. Daniel Fried is going to visit Georgia on Thursday. Do you have any more details about this trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: He wanted to touch base with Georgian officials about a number of different issues in our bilateral relationship. He'll be ready to talk about anything that is on President Saakashvili's mind. There are a lot of -- there's a lot of activity in the neighborhood concerning Russia, concerning Europe, and it's just a visit designed to touch base on all of those issues.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.


QUESTION: Can I ask about Gaza, please?


QUESTION: Israeli sources are telling us that the Olmert government has kind of given up on the area and it resigned that Hamas would be in control for a few years yet. What's your take on this? What's the -- do you think that Hamas will be controlling Gaza for a few years yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to put an estimate on it. One thing I can tell you, though, is the United States is not ready to forsake the people of Gaza to the clutches of Hamas. Certainly, we are prepared and are doing quite a bit on the humanitarian front along with others, and that we view President Abbas as the legitimately elected leader of all the Palestinian people, including those people in Gaza.

Now, it so happens that Hamas took a number of different steps to change the situation on the ground and they are effectively in control on the ground. But we are not of the view that that is a permanent situation.

QUESTION: And can I ask you about Egypt's role in this? They have a very porous border. It seems that the flow of weapons and terrorists across the border is on the increase. Are you exerting any pressure on Egypt? What's your opinion on what they --

MR. MCCORMACK: We've talked to the Egyptians. This is something the Secretary has raised on a few occasions with the Egyptian Government. They assure us that they are doing everything they possibly can to prevent any of those -- any of that smuggling or cross-border infiltrations from Egypt into the Gaza, where people might be bringing in money or arms or individuals who are seeking to commit acts of terror.

Since it does appear that there is still some flow from Egypt into Gaza -- and the Egyptians acknowledge that -- we've talked to them about how we can ensure that that border is, in fact, a good, solid border that's sealed and controlled. We're working toward that point. There's more to be done. The Egyptians have done -- taken some steps and some good steps, but we're working on ways that they might improve their efforts. But it's going to have to be them that works on this issue.


QUESTION: The Secretary said in her testimony last week that a senior-level delegation from the U.S., and I think also Egypt and the Palestinian territories, were going to go to the border area to see what could be done. Who's going to be on the U.S. side? When's it going to happen? Do you have any more details?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you, Sue. I know that they're putting together a group, but let me check to see what we can say about that and who's involved in it.


QUESTION: Can you tell us where is David Welch today and if he's going -- if he plans to go to Paris for talks on Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know where he is at this exact moment. I did see him this morning here in the building. And I'm not sure what his travel plans are other than we are going to meet him in the Middle East. So he's not going to be traveling with us to Istanbul and Ankara. We're going to meet him in Jerusalem.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Indian nuclear deal? India's Prime Minister today said that, you know, it was delayed but not yet dead, which I'm sure is music to your ears. But I just wondered whether you had any --

MR. MCCORMACK: Same answer --

QUESTION: -- comment on the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Same answer as (inaudible). We continue to support the deal, continue to support moving forward with it. We have encouraged the Indian Government to move forward with it. But they are working through an intense domestic political debate. That is going to play out on the terms defined by the Indian people and their elected representatives. But we continue to support the deal.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any more contact between -- the Secretary spoke to the Foreign Minister yesterday --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yesterday.

QUESTION: Have you had any high-level contact?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. I'm sure that Ambassador Mulford is in frequent contact with the Indian Government about it, but in terms of the State Department, the phone call from the Secretary yesterday is the most recent high-level contact that I can report.

QUESTION: New subject, on Yemen. Can you tell us what the Embassy people who went to see Jamal Badawi yesterday -- what they saw, what they learned? Were they satisfied that he's indeed under arrest and not house arrest?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a lot of details other than to say they saw somebody who was behind bars, which is the right answer. And I can't tell you exactly the sequence of events, where he was prior to that. But they were in the prison, they saw him in the prison, and we very much hope that that is where he stays for the remainder of his term.

QUESTION: Did they speak to him at all or just saw him?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: And were they given an explanation of the possibility that he might have been let out for a day or hours or --

MR. MCCORMACK: We talked to the Yemeni Government about that. I'm not going to get into the details of it. What's important is that he's now behind bars.

QUESTION: So at this point, you're satisfied with where he is and where he (inaudible) that he will be for the rest of his --

MR. MCCORMACK: At this very moment, I'll let the Yemenis speak about their side, but it is our deep desire that he remain in jail, serve out the remainder of his term.

QUESTION: Just one last one on this, Sean. That visit had taken place hours before we talked about the issue yesterday and I wonder if this falls into the category of things you don't want to know or was this just a lack of communication from the Embassy to the Department, that it happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: What, the visit?

QUESTION: The visit, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, some -- you'll be shocked to learn that sometimes information flow within a large bureaucracy is not the most efficient thing. I was conveying to you the most up-to-date information that I had and I'm always looking for ways to improve the information flow in the building.


QUESTION: Yes, Sean, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The international High Representative from Bosnia has outlined a list of proposals to try to improve the federal structure there. The Bosnian-Serb parliament, however, is pulling out all the stops to try to block this. They passed a measure today that would -- against these reform proposals, which the High Representative is apparently legally entitled to impose and it's quite a crisis over there and I wonder if you have any reflections on it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, this doesn't help you very much with a radio piece, but we'll try to get you an answer on paper.


QUESTION: There's been an increased -- an increasing number of pirate attacks off the Somali coast. I'm just wondering what the U.S. is --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're watching it very closely. We understand that there's an increase in activity along the coast there and as we have before, we are prepared to do what we can to prevent piracy in that region.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)

DPB # 191

Released on October 30, 2007


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