Yesterday two remarkable events occurred surrounding the administration’s oversight of contractors in Iraq. The same day Defense Department officials testified before a Senate committee that they cannot manage the approximately 180,000 contractors currently in Iraq, the Bush administration sought to provide immunity for all Defense contractors from Iraqi law in any long term security agreement. This should not come as a complete surprise as administration officials controversially provided contractors with immunity in 2004. However, this current news is troubling given recent abuses by some private security contractors, such as the September shooting incident involving Blackwater USA. As Jack Bell, the deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness said. “Frankly, we were not adequately prepared to address” what he termed “this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors.” This news also further exemplifies why no long term security agreement should be negotiated without the involvement from Congress.
Yesterday, Administration Officials Said They Would Seek to Provide Immunity For American Contractors From Iraqi Law. The Bush administration said it would insist the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials. The administration sought to provide this immunity as part of a long term security agreement. The immunity would cover Defense Department contractors, which include 13,000 private security contractors. [New York Times, 1/25/08]
- The Same Day, Defense Department Officials Revealed They Cannot Manage Contractors Currently in Iraq. With even more American contractors now in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military personnel, government officials told Congress yesterday that the Bush administration is not prepared to manage the contractors’ critical involvement in the American war effort. At the end of last September, there were “over 196,000 contractor personnel working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness. “Frankly,” he continued, “we were not adequately prepared to address” what he termed “this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors.” [Washington Post, 1/25/08]
- When They First Entered Iraq, The Bush Administration Gave U.S. Contractors Immunity From Prosecution Under Iraqi Law. L. Paul Bremer, then the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the initial occupation government of Iraq, issued CPA Order 17 the day before the CPA ceased to exist. “Contractors,” it says, “shall not be subject to Iraqi laws or regulations in matters relating to the terms and conditions of their Contracts.” The Iraqi government has contested the continued application of this order, but because of restraints that inhibit the Iraqi government from changing or revoking CPA orders, Order 17 technically still has legal force in Iraq. According to Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute, in order for the Iraqi government to prosecute those contractors, the U.S. government would have to accede to it. [Salon, 9/18/07]
- In December, It Was Reported The Bush Administration Disregarded Numerous Warnings About to Risks of Using Private Security Firms Without Proper Regulation or Oversight. The administration disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight. The warnings were conveyed in letters and memorandums from defense and legal experts and in high-level discussions between U.S. and Iraqi officials. They reflected growing concern about the lack of control over the tens of thousands of private guards in Iraq, the largest private security force ever employed by the United States in wartime. [Washington Post, 12/24/07]
- One Leading International Human Rights Organization Issued a Report Last Week Seeking Accountability From Private Security Contractors. According to Human Rights First, an estimated 35,000 private security contractors work in Iraq for 181 companies, providing security for military bases, private businesses, foreign dignitaries and the U.S. State Department. There have been several allegations of abuses, the most recent by a group of Blackwater USA guards escorting a convoy through Baghdad on Sept. 16. Iraqi officials claim the guards killed 17 civilians and wounded 24 without provocation in Nisoor Square. Interestingly, the report points out that while 60 members of the U.S. military have faced courts-martial for suspected crimes during the war, only one private security contractor has faced prosecution. [McClatchy Newspapers, 1/16/08; Human Rights First: Private Security Contractors at War, Ending the Culture of Impunity, 2008]