Friday, September 21, 2007

Senate to step into Blackwater controversy?

From Congressional Quarterly:

The recent Iraqi civilian deaths in a shootout involving guards employed by Blackwater USA has spurred renewed interest among Senate Democrats in pushing tougher rules for overseas security contractors...

Democrats have offered varied amendments to the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill (HR 1585) that would address the role of security contractors.

The most comprehensive amendment is based on a bill (S 674) by Barack Obama, D-Ill. Democratic aides said Thursday they were working to get Obama’s measure included in the bill...

Obama’s amendment would largely bring the Senate bill into line with the House version of the defense authorization bill (HR 1585), passed Aug. 5, which includes several provisions that would define the role of civilian security contractors in Iraq, mandate basic screening and establish rules of engagement for their ­operations.

In a Sept. 19 letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Obama complained of a lack of transparency regarding security contractors and demanded to know what the Pentagon is doing to investigate the Baghdad shootings.

“As last weekend’s incident illustrates, little is known about what functions these security contractors are performing, how much their services are costing, what military and safety equipment they are provided and what rules of engagement they are following,” he wrote.

Obama’s language would extend the jurisdiction of U.S. law to cover contractors in Iraq and would place the FBI in charge of investigating their crimes.

The amendment also would require the Defense Department to reveal the size and makeup of its security contractor force and define the boundaries of its activities.

Democrats Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have an amendment that would require contractors to report incidents resulting in death, injury, or property damage and would require that they be briefed on their obligations to comply with applicable U.S., Iraqi and international laws.

Webb also offered an amendment (S 1825) that would establish a wartime commission on contracting.

The commission would be required to investigate the extent of the federal government’s reliance on contractors and define what activities should be kept to government-employed personnel.

Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Kerry, D-Mass., introduced an amendment Thursday that would direct the Defense Department to clarify implementation of a provision in the fiscal 2007 defense authorization law (PL 109-364) that places security contractors under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Contractors might actually prefer that some of these amendments pass given this sentiment:

Many members said that until Congress acts to rein in the contractor workforce, they were content to let the Iraqi government prosecute crimes by civilian security contractors, such as the Blackwater shooters. “I think they are probably open to prosecution in Iraq,” said Senate Armed Services Committee member Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who was protected by Blackwater guards on his recent trip to Iraq.

I'd almost be content with that.

No comments: