Immunity Deal Hampers Blackwater Inquiry

An apparent misstep by the State

Department in investigating last month's deadly shooting of a 17

Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA bodyguards.

The Associated Press has learned that all the Blackwater guards

involved, both in vehicles and in at least two helicopters, have

been granted immunity.

Officials say the bodyguards spoke only after receiving

so-called "Garrity" protections, requiring that their statements

only be used internally, and not for criminal prosecutions. The

immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry and could undermine

any prosecution efforts.

State Department officials refuse to confirm or deny the

immunity grant. But one official who refused to be quoted by name

said if the immunity was granted, it was was done without any input

or authorization from any senior State Department official in

Washington.