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The U.S. government has increasingly been outsourcing functions previously carried out by government employees or members of the military to for-profit private corporations. These contracts are worth billions of dollars and range from providing personal security for American officials, protecting oil facilities and providing armed escorts for “reconstruction” businesses, to participating directly in intelligence gathering and analysis, and armed military operations.
Private contractors far outnumber the U.S. military in Afghanistan, making it the most contracted out war in U.S. history. In Pakistan, Blackwater/Xe Services has been employed by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for work related to targeted killings and the operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or “drones.” The extent of the relationship between Blackwater/Xe Services, the CIA and JSOC is not completely known. According to The New York Times, Blackwater/Xe has also been involved in a covert CIA assassination program.
In the summer of 2009, the Senate included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 which bars private military contractors from participating in interrogations. Despite campaign statements that he favored a strictly non-combat logistical support role for military contractors, President Obama opposed this provision in the bill.
Poor oversight of contracts has led to billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted in what Congress’s own Commission on Wartime Contracting has called “fiscal hemorrhaging.” The lack of effective accountability for contractors has encouraged a culture of abuse and misconduct. Across the globe, military contractors have been accused of serious crimes including: shooting unarmed civilians; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; war crimes; crimes against humanity; rape and sexual assault; negligent hiring, training and supervision; arms trafficking; child prostitution; and fraud.
Incredibly, contractors often argue that they should be granted immunity from accountability for these abuses, or that lawsuits brought against them are somehow improper. If we allow these contractors to function in a legal black hole, we create the real possibility that contractors who commit serious crimes while serving the United States government overseas cannot be held accountable for their actions.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has been representing Iraqi plaintiffs in litigation against U.S. contractors since 2004, with a series of lawsuits charging U.S. military contractors with participating in a torture conspiracy at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq (Al Shimari v. CACI , Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3 and Saleh v. Titan) and two cases against Blackwater Worldwide (recently renamed Xe Services) and its founder Erik Prince for firing on civilians in Baghdad on at least two occasions, killing at least twenty Iraqi civilians (Abtan v. Prince and Albazzaz v. Prince). The companies claim they are entitled to immunity from prosecution because they are government contractors and these violations arise out of their contracted work in Iraq.
Hiring private contractors must not be a route to impunity for illegal acts. President Obama must end the reliance on private military contractors perform government functions in the context of war and hold these corporations and those who run them accountable for human rights violations.
You can take action now by urging your representatives to support the “Stop Outsourcing Security” legislation recently introduced in the House by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) and the companion Senate bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT). More information on CCR's campaign to end human rights abuses by military contractors and to hold these corporations accountable is available on the Stand Down webpage.