No Comment — September 16, 2010, 4:06 pm

A Failing Grade for Contractor Oversight

Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated, (PDF) “We cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors.” But there is little evidence of material change on this issue from President Obama. Human Rights First grades Washington’s response, three years after the horrendous incidents at Nisoor Square, in which 17 unarmed civilians were killed and 24 wounded by Blackwater employees returning from a State Department security detail. There is shamefully little to report on the plus side.

The paper (PDF) notes:

Now, the United States’ reliance on private security contractors in zones of armed conflict is increasing as is the urgent need for effective contractor oversight and accountability. Private contractors continue to outnumber U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and both the surge in Afghanistan and the drawdown in Iraq require additional support from private security and other contractors. It is estimated that up to 50,000 contractors will be required to support the Afghan surge and, with the military drawdown in Iraq, the Department of State plans to more than double the number of private security contractors it employs from 2,700 to 7,000. As Iraq and eventually Afghanistan move from military to civilian control and private contractors replace military forces there, the so-called jurisdictional gap over non-Defense contractors widens. If we learned anything from Nisoor Square it is that oversight and accountability gaps must be filled prior to increasing our private contractor force in conflict zones.

It concludes that Washington has done little to bring the situation under control, and much of what it has done has been undermined by federal courts eager to find ways for contractors to avoid liability for violent acts, including torture and murder of innocent civilians. It presses for greater criminal law oversight and a clearer delineation of jurisdiction by passage of the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) of 2010.

Dan Froomkin offers a useful discussion of the report and its recommendations here.

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