Obama Calls On Bush to Release Information on Private Security Contractors in Iraq
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent President Bush the following letter, calling on him to immediately compile and release information on the total number of security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total cost of the contracts, and the number of contractors killed or wounded. With an estimated 48,000 private security employees operating in Iraq, and more than 1,000 contractors killed since 2003, little is known about what functions these security contractors are performing, how much their services are costing, and what rules of engagement they are following.
Last week, Obama filed an amendment to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill, which requires federal agencies to compile and report information on security contractors to Congress. Obama originally offered the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act (S. 674) in February.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to express my concern about the lack of transparency and accountability in the U.S. government's use of private security contractors in Iraq. I was disturbed by recent press accounts describing a firefight in which Blackwater USA security contractors killed at least 9 people and wounded many others. This recent incident, which is under investigation by the Department of State, raises larger questions about the role of private security contractors and the impact their use has on our military efforts in Iraq.
Little is known about what functions these security contractors are performing, how much their services are costing, and what rules of engagement they are following. Moreover, according to press accounts, Blackwater has been exempt from military regulations governing other security companies, such as restrictions on the use of offensive weapons, requirements to report shooting incidents, and compliance with a central tracking system that allows commanders to monitor the movements of security companies on the battlefield.
In February, I introduced the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act (S. 674). This legislation would require federal agencies to report to Congress on: the total number of security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan; 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 also 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 committed by contractors.
I have offered an amendment that includes several provisions drawn from S. 674 to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill, which is currently before the Senate, and similar provisions have been included in the House version of the bill.
With tens of thousands of private security employees operating in Iraq, and more than 1,000 contractors killed since 2003, the U.S. government should immediately compile and release this critical information required by my legislation. The American people deserve to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent abroad, whether American civilian contractors are adequately protected, and whether these contractors are abiding by American law.
Accordingly, I request that you direct the appropriate federal agencies to compile the following information about private security contracts and provide it to Congress in a timely fashion:
(1) The number of persons performing private security work in Iraq and Afghanistan under contracts entered into by federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of the Interior, the United States Agency for International Development, and the elements of the intelligence community, respectively;
(2) The companies awarded such contracts and subcontracts;
(3) The total cost of such contracts;
(4) The total number of persons who have been killed or wounded performing work under such contracts;
(5) A description of the military equipment and safety equipment provided for the protection of contractors under such contracts, and an assessment of the adequacy of such equipment;
(6) The policies and procedures through which federal departments and agencies instruct and inform contractors of the applicability of the laws of the United States, Iraq, and Afghanistan to their activities;
(7) The policies and procedures through which federal departments and agencies monitor contractors on their adherence to the laws of the United States, Iraq, and Afghanistan;
(8) The laws, if any, determined to have been broken in the performance of such contracts, including laws of the United States, Iraq, and Afghanistan; and
(9) A description of the disciplinary actions that have been taken against persons performing work under such contracts by either the contractor concerned or the governments of the United States, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
It is our government's obligation to ensure that security contractors in Iraq are subject to adequate and transparent oversight and that their actions do not have a negative impact on our military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Please let me know by October 1, 2007, whether you will agree to provide this information. Thank you.
United States Senator