Legislation that would phase out the use of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan was unveiled Wednesday by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jan Schakowsky. The bill would restore vital military functions to the military, reducing the reliance on unaccountable private security contractors in the war zones. As many as 48,000 heavily armed guards are among the private security contractors now operating in Iraq, performing sensitive functions that should be undertaken by U.S. military personnel. These jobs include protecting diplomats, training military and police officers, repairing and maintaining weapons systems, conducting interrogations and gathering intelligence. "The Bush administration has made radical and dangerous changes in the structure of our military, and Congress needs to take a very hard look at that," Sanders said.
"To my mind, it is wrong and unacceptable for private companies to perform mission critical functions outside of the chain of command of the United States military and United States government in Iraq," Sanders said. Every time a Blackwater employee kills an Iraqi citizen, every time a security contractor assaults Iraqi nationals, America's standing with the people of Iraq dramatically worsens," Sanders said.
Military officers in the field have said military contractors operate like "cowboys," using unnecessary and excessive force uncharacteristic of our enlisted soldiers. High-profile killings of innocent Iraqis, like the September 16, 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqis and wounded 24, have severely damaged the U.S. mission in Iraq. Because many Iraqis do not differentiate between private security contractors and the U.S. armed forces, the behavior of private contractors has caused Iraqis to lose confidence in our military.
The Stop Outsourcing Security (S.O.S.) Act would:
- Restore vital military functions to the military and reduce the reliance on private security contractors in the theater of battle.
- Require that all diplomatic security in Iraq be undertaken by U.S. government personnel within six months of enactment. Existing security contracts would be phased out by January 1, 2009, in places where Congress has authorized the use of force. The White House could seek exceptions, but any contracts remaining in effect after that date would be subject to congressional oversight.
- Allow Congress to view any current security contract exceeding $5 million. Agencies with military contractors would have to report the number of contractors employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, disclose the total cost of the contracts, the numbers of contractors wounded or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and make public any disciplinary actions against employees of the private firms.
"The use of private security contractors in Iraq has undermined our presence there, weakening the valiant efforts that our soldiers are making to build strong and positive relations with the Iraqi people," Sanders said.
"Iraqis, understandably, are not able to distinguish between American soldiers, who operate under strict rules and careful regulations, and private contractors, who don't follow such rules and v regulations. Astonishingly, contract employees, unlike American soldiers, are not held responsible for what they do to Iraqi citizens.
I also find it troubling when personnel employed by private contractors are paid far more than soldiers in the U.S. military who are putting their lives on the line every day. This is wrong from a position of equity and it is also wrong in terms of the long term future of our military both in terms of lowering morale and in attracting the best people in our armed forces.
"Every day approximately 170,000 American soldiers risk their lives in Iraq. Meanwhile, while some of our soldiers qualify for food stamps and their families struggle to survive economically, some employees of such companies as Blackwater, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy earn as much as $1,000 a day. Not even four-star generals earn as much as Blackwater employees.
"It is time to let our capable American military do what they are supposed to do - train the military and police, guard convoys, repair weapons, administer military prisons, and perform military intelligence.
"It is time to end this two-tier pay system developed by the anti-government, pro-privatization agenda of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.
"The Stop Outsourcing Security Act will restore vital military functions to the military, reducing our reliance on unaccountable private security contractors in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It will require that all mission critical and emergency essential functions be carried out by American troops, not private operatives.
"It will ensure that State Department personnel will be guarded by American troops, not by private contractors from Blackwater and other security firms. If the President and Vice President of the United States can be protected by the federal employees of the U.S. Secret Service, so can the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.
"It will also give Congress oversight on the contracts with security contractors. And it will fix a major problem: no longer will any private contract employee accused of a crime be spirited out of
"This is good and needed legislation. I am glad Jan Schakowsky is introducing it today, and I am proud to be introducing it in the Senate."
To watch the senator's press conference, click here.