Today the Democratic Policy Committee conducted a hearing investigating the use of private security contractors in Iraq, in light of the shooting incident in Baghdad involving Blackwater USA. The hearing also investigated waste, fraud and abuse in wartime contracting.
In discussing Blackwater, Senator Dick Durbin said:
“Blackwater has enjoyed a charmed existence with the Bush administration from the start.
“This is another example of a firm that has been given millions of taxpayers’ dollars to do a job in Iraq without accountability, without the kind of disclosure, basic disclosure, which American taxpayers deserve and demand.
Here are some key points on private security contractors including Blackwater USA in Iraq:
Bush Administration Officials Granted Private Security Contractors Full Immunity under Iraqi Law. In 2004, U.S. officials in Iraq granted private security contractors full immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. According to the Congressional Research Service, “It is possible that some contractors may remain outside the jurisdiction if U.S. courts, civil or military, for improper conduct in Iraq.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/20/07; Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues, 7/11/07]
The Cost To Taxpayers for Private Security Companies Like Blackwater Is Higher Than Would Be Incurred By the Military. According to the Congressional Research Service, which cited recent analysis of records submitted by Blackwater, the total cost of private security personnel was “significantly higher than the direct costs that would be incurred by the [U.S.] military” because of markups and other costs charged the U.S. government. [Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues, 7/11/07]
The Iraq War Is the First Time the U.S. Has Depended on Private Contractors for Security. According to one news report, “The Iraq conflict represents the first time the US has depended on private contractors to provide widespread security services in a hostile environment.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/20/07]
- Blackwater Was Involved in a Lethal Shooting on September 16, Which Ended in a Number of Iraqi Fatalities. Blackwater was involved in a lethal shooting that involved an American diplomatic convoy and left at least eight Iraqis dead. Iraqi authorities revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in the country and threatened to evict the company, which provides security for most senior American diplomats. Days later, the U.S. Embassy said all trips outside the Green Zone had been suspended. [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/19/07; New York Times, 9/20/07]
- Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior Claimed Blackwater was ‘100 Percent’ Complicit in the Incident. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, Blackwater employees fired on Iraqi civilians, unprovoked, which resulted in the death of at least eight Iraqis. “The Blackwater company is considered 100 percent guilty through this investigation,” a Ministry of Interior report concluded. [New York Times, 9/21/07]
- Iraq’s Prime Minister Claimed Blackwater Guards Have Been Involved in Numerous Shootings of Iraqi Civilians. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claimed his government had registered a total of seven cases in which Blackwater’s guards had killed Iraqis. [New York Times, 9/20/07]
Democrats are investigating contractor waste, fraud and abuse:
Senate Democrats Seek to Create an Independent Commission to Oversee Wartime Contracting. Democrat Senators, led by Senator Jim Webb, have authored legislation strengthening congressional oversight over contractors in Iraq. Specifically, the measure would establish an independent Commission on Wartime Contracting to study and investigate: 1) federal agency contracting for the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan; 2) federal agency contracting for the logistical support of coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom; and 3) federal agency contracting for the performance of security and intelligence functions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. [S. 1825, 2007]
Senate Democrats Seeking Accountability from Private Security Contractors. Democratic Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill have offered an amendment to the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which directs the Department of Defense to promulgate regulations regarding private security contractors. The amendment calls for, among other items, 1) a process for keeping records of private security personnel; 2) requiring private security companies to register the equipment they use; and 3) a process for keeping records on incidents where persons are killed or injured, or property is destroyed. [Amdnt 2127 to H.R. 1585]