Update on Contractor Violence

Two weeks ago, we heard about a "trophy video" capturing private contractors, employed by the U.S., allegedly shooting at innocent civilians. I noted that back in February,


four contract workers (all retired U.S. military veterans) left the company they were working for (Custer Battles) because they claimed they had witnessed coworkers firing on innocent civilians. The four came forward to NBC in an interview to explain what they had observed because, presumably, they didn't feel their claims were being taken seriously. When contacted, the Army CID claimed that they had passed the case on to the FBI. And there hasn't been a word about it since.
It turns out that the L.A. Times has been following this loophole in accountability. They point out what I learned from covering a whistleblower suit brought against Custer Battles by former employees: "Under an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq until June 2004, contractors suspected of wrongdoing are to be prosecuted in their home countries. The contractors have immunity from Iraqi courts and have so far not faced American prosecution."

These crimes are essentially falling through the cracks. Not only is this wrong for ethical reasons, but the lack of accountability also runs totally counter to the U.S. military's best interests. The Times reports that, in the case of one 19-year-old newlywed who was accidentally shot by contractors, his family thought he had been killed by U.S. soldiers until the L.A. newspaper told them otherwise. While the U.S. military has a formalized system of compensation for such incidents, private contractors only set up and participate in such programs voluntarily.

Because of the lack of appropriate enforceable regulations, there is no compulsion to report the incidents. Everything is voluntary, and it is hardly within the contractors' best interests to report killing innocent civilians. So, we have criminal behavior that has effectively been decriminalized thanks to a legal loophole (and a whole lot of U.S. complacency on the issue), and, a system (or lack thereof) that totally discourages accountability.

The only reason the L.A. Times was able to squeeze a story out of these little-reported contractor crimes was because of some of the details they obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA). Apparently, they didn't get much info, noting that "the reports…represent only a small portion of the serious incidents recorded by the Pentagon." But what they did get is worth quoting at length, if only because it points to how disturbing what has yet to be released will be.
In one case, a contractor forced a car with an Iraqi man, woman and child off the road. It slammed into a tree. Injuries were unknown. The convoy 'gave very little warning' to the car, said the report by a security contractor who saw the incident. It was 'an example of unprofessional operating standards.' Contractors who opened fire on Iraqi vehicles usually did so after the drivers failed to heed warning signs such as a clenched fist, the reports indicate. In February, a contractor reported opening fire on a black Opel after the driver did not respond to hand signals and a warning shot. The contractors fired twenty-three rounds from a Russian-made PKM machine gun and nine more shots from an AK-47 into the car. 'We had to open fire directly into that car,' wrote the contractor, adding with evident amazement: 'Driver of that black Opel survived.'

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