It was reported in the media last week that security contractors in Iraq recently shot and killed nearly a dozen innocent Iraqis in an incident occurring in downtown Baghdad. The private security firm handling protection for a U.S. Embassy convoy — Blackwater USA — has come under fire for their actions. Yet, because of a decree delivered by former Ambassador to Iraq Paul Bremer — on his last day on the job — these contractors cannot be prosecuted under Iraqi law and have not faced any charges upon returning to the U.S. because of confusion over who has the authority to investigate their actions.
I continue to be greatly concerned that in Iraq there are as many contractors as there are U.S. military personnel. The amount we've spent on contractors is in the hundreds of billions. In some cases, such as with the construction of, or better put the failure to construct health clinics by firms such as Parsons, Inc. (which won a contact to build 142 health centers but completed less than 25) we've received little or nothing for our taxpayer dollars.
In even more troubling circumstances, such as the case with Blackwater, our resources are funding activities that are both detrimental to our international credibility and undermine our efforts in Iraq. Since January 2006, Blackwater, a North Carolina based firm, has reaped over $110 million from U.S. contracts.
It raises red flags that we have so many private, non-active duty security forces in a combat zone, especially when it appears they have been operating in an immoral manner under the auspices of a coalition led by the U.S. This is a further example why our mission is failing in Iraq and the time has come to end our occupation and bring the troops home.
Congress will consider legislation this week, introduced by Rep. David Price (D-NC), that would make contractors’ actions — while working on a U.S. government contract in a foreign country — subject to U.S. law. It also directs the FBI to be the lead investigative authority on these matters.
As Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, “It's very important that we do everything in our power to make sure that people who are under contract to us are not only abiding by our rules but are conducting themselves in a way that makes them an asset in this war in Iraq and not a liability.” I couldn’t agree more.
Whatever your feelings about the war in Iraq, ensuring that our contractors — operating under the American flag — are acting in our broader interests and not above the law is something I think we can all agree on.