Democrats' New Bill Gives Blackwater, Contractors Six Months Notice In Iraq
Huffington Post (2007-11-09) Michael Rosten
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November 9, 2007 01:26 PM
By Michael Rosten
A group of House members and one Senator came together on Tuesday to introduce the "Stop Outsourcing Security Act," a bill that will give pink slips to private security guards employed by contractors like Blackwater USA in Iraq and other settings.
"Our bill would essentially put private security contractors out of business in Iraq, Afghanistan and in war zones around the world," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in a press release. "Private contracting companies have forfeited their right to represent the United States because their reckless actions have jeopardized our mission in Iraq, put our troops in harms way, and resulted in the unnecessary deaths of many innocent Iraqi civilians."
Schakowsky and nine Democratic colleagues introduced the bill, H.R. 4102, on Tuesday. Staff for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) confirmed to the Huffington Post on Thursday that the senator is currently seeking co-sponsors before introducing a companion measure in the Senate.
The bill has three main sections. First, it gives the State Department six months to replace all private security contractors it employs in Iraq with federal employees. Second, by mid-2008, the president must report on efforts to turn over all private security activities to federal employees by 2009 in places where Congress has authorized the use of force. Finally, the bill requires government agencies to grant access to all contracts for private security activities worth more than $5 million.
The House measure was referred to three committees for further consideration: Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Intelligence. Staff for Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) said the bill would get a fair hearing, but that the congressman had no reaction to the legislation at this time.
Still, the bill could face fierce fights in the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. While an overwhelming number of Republicans voted to support recent legislation that would apply US criminal law to contractors operating overseas, thirty voted against it, including the ranking Republicans on those two committees: Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), respectively.
Staff in the Committee on Foreign Affairs also questioned whether provisions of the bill would already be carried out by the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill, which was just passed Thursday afternoon in the House of Representatives. For instance, the defense bill requires the Secretary of Defense to establish minimum standards for contracted security personnel.
But staff for Senator Sanders responded that the appropriations bill would not cover the State Department, and that the new legislation focuses on, "precluding contractors from doing security/military work in war zones."
Rep. Schakowsky also argued earlier in the week that it wasn't enough to regulate contractors.
"We are beyond the point of trying to hold these contractors accountable under the law; it is time to return vital military functions back to the government," she said.
This point seemed to be underscored by recent debates between senators and the Bush administration over legislation passed last month in the House to apply US criminal law to security contractors. Earlier this week, the Huffington Post reported on difficulties in producing a version of the legislation in the Senate that the White House and Justice Department would accept. While Democratic senators had hoped to introduce their version of the bill this week, senate staff Friday confirmed that sticking points in the negotiations continued to delay its timely completion.
While the fate of Schakowsky's legislation in the Congress remained unclear, it seems possible that the contractors themselves themselves might not put up a strong fight against the bill. While it remained unclear if companies like Blackwater, Dyn Corp
, and Triple Canopy that operate in Iraq for the State Department would lobby agianst Schakowsky's bill, an expert on security contractors suggested that these companies may be ready to move on to other business activities because of the pitfalls of their work in war zones.
"As to its business, Blackwater has shown an interest in other areas than the diplomatic security field," said Peter Singer, an expert on private security companies at the Brookings Institution, in an interview the previous week. "They are looking to shifting from services to manufacturing, like a mine resistant armed personnel vehicle, and they've also shown interest in border security services with the new training center they'd like to build on the west coast. Whether or not they lose this contract, it does not mean they'll disappear."