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Letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Obama Calls on Gates to Clarify Contractor Role in Iraq

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) sent the following letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, calling on him to answer questions about the Blackwater incident and the role of private security contractors and the impact of their operations in Iraq.

In February, Obama introduced the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act (S. 674), which would require federal agencies to report to Congress on the number of security contractors, the military and security equipment they use, the number of contractors killed and wounded, and any disciplinary action taken against them. This legislation would also improve coordination between security contractors and the U.S. military, and require investigation of criminal misconduct engaged in by contractors.

Obama offered this legislation as an amendment to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill, which is currently before the Senate.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing with regard to an incident in Baghdad earlier this week involving the State Department's security escort, which is made up of armed private contractors from the Blackwater firm. During a firefight last weekend, Blackwater security contractors killed 8 people and wounded 14 others.

This incident, which is under investigation at the Department of State, raises larger questions about the role of private security contractors. An estimated 48,000 private security employees are operating in Iraq, and more than 1,000 contractors have died in Iraq since 2003. 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.

For that reason, in February, I introduced the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act (S. 674). The bill would require federal agencies to report to Congress on: the total number of security contractors; the total cost of the contractors; the number of contractors killed or wounded; information about the military and safety equipment provided to contractors; and a description of disciplinary action taken against contractors. The bill would improve coordination between security contractors and U.S. armed forces by requiring the issuance of rules of engagement, clarify the legal status of contractors, and require investigation of criminal misconduct engaged in by contractors.

In an effort to learn more about Blackwater's operations in Iraq, I am interested in getting your reaction to several issues under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense.

1) The press has reported several other instances involving Blackwater, including a reported shooting of the Iraqi Vice President's security guard, reported shootings of Interior Ministry employees, and reported armed standoffs between Blackwater employees and Iraqi police. Has the Pentagon investigated these or other incidents? If yes, what were the results of those investigations?

2) Last year, Congress enacted and the President signed into law a provision stating that contractors operating in contingency operations would potentially fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Is it your view that any illegal actions by private security contractors in Iraq would be punishable under the UCMJ? If not, under what legal process would they be held accountable?

3) More than 13,000 private security contractors have been reported wounded in Iraq and reports suggest that many suffer from the same challenges that many of our soldiers, including post-traumatic stress disorder, once they return home. What steps are their contracting firms taking to ensure long term care for employees that require it?

4) Lastly, I am concerned about the impact of this incident - and similar incidents - on our overall effort to end the war in Iraq. Has the Department of Defense conducted an analysis of the consequences of turning over such armed functions in a war zone to contractors outside the chain of command, and whether this outsourcing is actually hurting, rather than helping, our counter-insurgency efforts, especially in winning local hearts and minds?

I look forward to your prompt responses to these questions. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator


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