The Associated Press - Obama Says Government Must Hold Contractors Accountable
By AMY LORENTZEN
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Wednesday said the Bush administration should do more to crack down on lawbreaking American contractors working in Iraq.
Obama, who has been focusing on foreign policy and the war in Iraq during campaign events this week, said he wants to force contractors to follow federal regulations. He proposed a special FBI unit to enforce those laws.
"We cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors," he told about 900 people on the University of Iowa campus. "To add insult to injury, these contractors are charging taxpayers up to nine times more to do the same job as soldiers, a disparity that damages troop morale."
Obama said there is some progress, pointing to Senate approval last week of an amendment he authored, calling for the president to disclose the number of contractors used, their function and cost to taxpayers.
The Illinois senator said he's proposed the toughest reforms among any of the presidential candidates, adding that he first proposed his Security Contractor Accountability Plan in February. He said his plans would eliminate the "kind of no-bid contracts that this administration has given to companies such as Blackwater" USA.
The private security firm is under investigation for its role in a Sept. 16 shootout in Baghdad that left 11 Iraqi civilians dead. The confrontation has been the focus of congressional hearings and spurred outcry from war critics. Obama also talked of a Blackwater contractor who was drunk when he encountered and fatally shot a guard to an Iraqi vice president.
"What's made this abuse possible is the absence of leadership and oversight in Washington," he said.
When it comes to the Bush administration addressing the problems, Obama said, "there is no evidence they have raised any concerns about Blackwater's behavior."
"This is completely unacceptable, although unfortunately, it's typical," he said.
When a young child in the crowd cried out loudly as Obama accused the administration of failures, the senator joked: "He's outraged, too ... I know it's terrible."
Obama said that over time, his proposals would spur needed reforms.
"This isn't a cure-all. My proposal won't solve these (problems) overnight, but they're a start, and they've never been so urgently needed," he said.
Obama, who has been accused of pushing naive and irresponsible foreign policy by front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, has come out strong on the topic this week in addresses in Chicago and Iowa. He has reaffirmed his commitment that, as president, he would remove U.S. combat troops within 16 months, bringing home one or two brigades a month.
"The right person to end it is the person who had the judgment to oppose it from the beginning," said Obama, speaking at a podium bearing a sign that read "The Judgment to Lead."