US Fails at Enforcing Prosecution of Contractors

The US government has the legal authority to prosecute private contractors for crimes they commit in Iraq but often declines to use it, according to a report released today by a leading human rights group. The findings by Human Rights First come amid renewed uncertainty about whether employees of the US security company Blackwater can be prosecuted for a September shooting in Baghdad that
left 17 Iraqis dead.

blackwater

The Bush administration has warned that inconsistency in federal law may allow the contractors to evade charges, the New York Times reported today.

“The main obstacle to ending the culture of impunity among private security contractors is not shortcomings in the law but rather the lack of will to enforce the law,” today’s report states.

A seven-year-old law called the Military extraterrestrial jurisdiction act, or MEJA, provides the main mechanism to prosecute contractors for crimes committed outside the US.

But many in the capital have questioned whether MEJA’s specific application to Pentagon employees would exempt Blackwater, which was operating under a US state department contract when the September shooting occurred.

The human rights report rejects that argument, citing a congressional expansion of MEJA passed after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in 2004. That measure allows for prosecution of non-Pentagon employees who were “supporting the mission of the department of defence”.

The behaviour of contractors for Blackwater and other security firms has sparked resentment among Iraqi officials as well as civilians, many of whom consider the private guards unnecessarily violent.

“These violent attacks have created a culture of impunity that angers the local population, undermines the military mission, and promotes more abuse by contractors over time,” the report states.

The report found that since the war in Iraq began, only one US contractor has been charged with a violent crime under MEJA: an employee of KBR, formerly owned by Halliburton, who was accused of
stabbing an Indian female colleague.

The House of Representatives already has approved a measure that would directly apply MEJA to Blackwater and its fellow contractors. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has introduced an expansion of MEJA in the Senate, but the bill has yet to see action.

Fallout from Blackwater’s legal and public relations troubles has hit British security companies in recent months.

The chief executive of ArmorGroup, the largest UK security firm operating in Iraq, left his post after reports of the September violence chilled the company’s profits and new contracts.

The human rights report singles out ArmorGroup and Aegis Defence Services, another UK-based contractor, for tracking incidents involving firearms use by their employees, in contrast with US
companies that do not routinely keep such records.

by: Elena Schorr

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1 Comment

  1. uohaa said,

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