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Derrick Crowe: Tell Congress to Hold Blackwater/Xe Accountable

By Huffington Post
November 18, 2010

Last week, Brave New Foundation’s Robert Greenwald wrote about the damage done to U.S. interests around the world by for-profit security contractors like Blackwater / Xe:

“Drunken shootouts and debauchery, meaningless death and mayhem…Thanks in part to the rapacious greed injected into war-fighting by the liberal use of for-profit armed “security” companies, a brutal, unaccountable and unreliable swagger is increasingly the face of the U.S. in conflict zones around the world.  …The use of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a few people very, very rich, but it’s making the rest of us — Americans and local civilians alike — much less safe.”

During this Congress, progressive congresspeople like U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, John Conyers, Maurice Hinchey, James Moran and David Price focused on this issue and came up with some pretty common-sense ideas about private security contracting:

  • We need more and better oversight, especially when contractors discharge their weapons, kill civilians or damage property.
  • We need to make sure the rules that apply to contractors in places like Iraq and Afghanistan will also apply in other zones of conflict like Yemen.
  • Oh, and Blackwater/Xe shouldn’t be able to cheat the U.S. government out of tax money anymore through, shall we say, creative hiring practices.

These progressive legislators did good work this year and got these ideas included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Unfortunately, these gains may be erased over the next several days in negotiations with the Senate over the final language of the bill.  While the House version of the bill includes important accountability provisions for private contractors, these provisions will simply disappear if congressional negotiators fail to include them in the final version of the bill.

Call your Member of Congress today at 202.224.3121 and insist that they tell conferees on the National Defense Authorization Act to keep the strong security contractor accountability provisions included in the House version of bill.

See below for more details.


Lack of Oversight

One of the most infuriating threads of the story of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (and there are many) is the lack of accountability for out-of-control private contractors like Blackwater/Xe. Every time employees of one of these companies kills a civilian, gets in a drunken shootout or pays off insurgents for safe passage, we all become less safe due to increased anti-American sentiment and seeming validation of al-Qaida propaganda.  When our government then fails to hold these cowboys and war profiteers accountable–as it failed to hold accountable the ex-Blackwater employee who shot the bodyguard of the Iraqi vice president and the contractors who gunned down civilians in Nisour Square–we send the message that these modern-day Praetorians can get away with anything, including murder.

That’s why the House-passed version of the NDAA called for the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to provide Congress a report on contractor oversight and on contractor involvement in civilian killings. Under these provisions, SIGAR must also recommend improvements to contractor oversight and guidelines on how the U.S. can avoid doing business with companies that have records of waste, fraud, abuse and dangerous behavior. These reports will help Congress and the administration get a handle on the contracting process and institute stronger accountability measures.

Mission Creep

News reports indicate the U.S. is moving material to Yemen to attack the al-Qaida presence there and is debating whether to help the Yemeni government establish forward operating bases and/or execute many more drone strikes in remote regions. Whatever the final shape of the ramped-up U.S. activity, it seems clear that it will be a military-centric approach, and that probably means more private contractors working in the area. But, many of the existing oversight requirements for private military contractors are region-specific, i.e. there are currently more stringent rules for those working in Iraq and Afghanistan than would be the case in Yemen (and that’s already an unacceptably low bar).

Now, let me be clear: ramping up military operations in Yemen is a bad idea, period. We’ve got quite enough on our plate without being backed into another decade-long counterinsurgency fiasco, thank you very much. But ramping up military operations in Yemen while failing to extend contractor oversight rules there is a really, really bad idea. But unless Congress retains the House-passed provisions of the NDAA, that’s exactly what will happen. The House-passed version of the NDAA extends the stricter operating rules for contractors found in Afghanistan and Iraq to Yemen and other areas.

They Cheat on Their Taxes, Too

To add insult to injury, private security firms like Blackwater/Xe also exploit tax loopholes to further pad their profits. Even though it gets 90 percent of its profits from the U.S. government, Blackwater hires Americans as independent contractors rather than as direct employees, thus avoiding a substantial amount of taxes they’d otherwise owe. So not only are they besmirching the honor of the U.S. around the world with their crimes and other antics, but they actively try to cheat their largest customer–us–out of as much money as possible.

The House-passed version of the NDAA will close this loophole by requiring security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to hire U.S. citizen personnel as direct employees, rather than as independent contractors.

What You Can Do

With negotiators working to hammer out a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, there’s a chance that we can get strong accountability provisions from the House version into the law. Doing this will extend the more stringent accountability regime contractors operate under in Iraq and Afghanistan to any possible future actions in Yemen and other regions; require the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to report to Congress on how to improve contractor oversight, as well as contractor involvement in civilian deaths; and close the tax loophole Blackwater/Xe uses to cheat the U.S. taxpayer.

This is where you come in.

We need you to call your Member of Congress at 202.224.3121 and insist that they sign the Schakowsky-Conyers-Hinchey-Moran-Price letter which tells Chairman Skelton and Ranking Member McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee to keep the strong security contractor accountability provisions included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Tell them you want private contractors held accountable, and will hold them accountable for making it happen.

From The Huffington Post