No Comment — August 12, 2007, 9:16 am

Unaccountable Contractors

Hollywood gives us James Bond as the man with a license to kill. However, the Bush Administration has fashioned a pretty broad exemption for security contractors in Iraq. As the Associated Press notes in a report today, contractors are routinely involved in shooting incidents resulting in fatalities and casualties, but there never seem to be any criminal investigations or prosecutions as a consequence. In large measure that’s because of CPA Order No. 17, which gives the contractors immunity from punishment under Iraqi law.

As a backup to the order there’s Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department, whose law-and-order credo apparently includes the view that there’s hardly ever been a case involving a contractor homicide, assault, rape, or torture incident in Iraq that was worth acting upon–or to be more precise, there’s been exactly one such incident that was worth acting upon, out of many hundreds reported.

— There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers _ and a large percentage of them are private security guards equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bullet-proof trucks. They operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to the firms employing them. And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.

Not one has faced charges or prosecution. There is great confusion among legal experts and military officials about what laws if any apply to Americans in this force of at least 48,000. They operate in a decidedly gray legal area. Unlike soldiers, they are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under a special provision secured by American-occupying forces, they are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there.

The security firms insist their employees are governed by internal conduct rules and by use-of-force protocols established by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupation government that ruled Iraq for 14 months following the invasion. But many soldiers on the ground _ who earn in a year what private guards can earn in just one month _ say their private counterparts should answer to a higher authority, just as they do. More than 60 U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been court-martialed on murder-related charges involving Iraqi citizens.

The AP account’s claim that the contractors are “not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice” is wrong. They may be court-martialed under a provision that was introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham in the last Congress, and was enacted. However, no court-martial has yet been undertaken.

Still, this is a question of allocation of Department of Justice resources. Why should valuable resources be dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of cases involving murder, assault, rape, and torture when there are far more pressing uses for the funds? Prosecuting grandmothers who registered in the wrong district and are under strong suspicion of voting for Democrats, for instance. Or prosecuting Democratic officeholders in a way designed to help the G.O.P. take their offices and consolidate its political control. For the Gonzales Justice Department, nothing quite trumps these two objectives, and certainly not something so pedestrian as murder, assault, rape and torture.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
 Jessica Bruder on the end of retirement, Mary Gordon on the new Vatican, Laura Kipnis on narcissism, and more
Article
The End of Retirement·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“For those riding the economy’s outermost edge, adaptation may now mean giving up what full-time RV dwellers call ‘stick houses’ to hit the road and seek work.”
Photograph (detail) © Max Whittaker
Post
God Lives on Lemon Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Bethel was Oz-like for me. I mean that with all the awe, utter hopefulness, and mythic fear with which Dorothy and her friends had approached that magical city.”
Photograph (detail) ©© Clemens v. Vogelson (Flickr)
Article
The Octopus and Its Grandchildren·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Stanford University’s origins and vision
“The pervasive fantasy that Silicon Valley doesn’t need the government obscures the role of that government in funding much of the research that built it.”
Photograph © Sallie Dean Shatz
Post
World Cup Boom and Bust·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m not giving a dime to FIFA. You know they’re not paying taxes on any of this?”
Photograph © The author

Chance that an American believes Ramadan is the Jewish day of atonement:

1 in 10

Mathematicians discovered the existence of a pseudoprime that is the sum of 10,333,229,505 known primes and contains roughly 295 billion digits but cannot be represented precisely because the mathematician who found it lacks sufficient RAM.

On the eve of Independence Day in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko delivered a speech in Belarusian instead of Russian for the first time in 20 years, disproving rumors that he can no longer speak the language.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today