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:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

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

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today