Washington, DC - Since the killings of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater security contractors in Baghdad's Nisoor Square last year, lack of accountability of contractors has been a central issue in negotiations over a status of forces agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraqi governments. While yesterday's signing in Baghdad of a SOFA agreement that reportedly expands the scope of Iraqi jurisdiction over U.S. government personnel and contractors is a step forward, much remains to be done by the U.S. government to hold its contractors to account. Today, a leading human rights organization unveiled a detailed, multi-phased blueprint for the next administration to effectively end private contractor impunity, in Iraq and elsewhere.
Along with the blueprint, the group released a report card grading the performance of key elements of the U.S. government - Congress, the Defense Department, the White House, the State Department, and the Justice Department - in acting, and in failing to act, to address contractor accountability since September 2007, when the Nisoor Square killings took place. Both Iraqi government and U.S. military officials concluded these killings were unprovoked. Human Rights First awarded "B"s to Congress and the Department of Defense for their work since Nisoor Square on contractor accountability. The Department of Justice earned an "F."
Human Rights First's blueprint - How to End Impunity for Private Security and Other Contractors - offers President-elect Obama a practical strategy for putting into place the key components of a comprehensive system of accountability for U.S. government contractors working abroad. Read the full blueprint here and read the report card here. In the course of the just-completed presidential campaign, President-elect Obama expressed his understanding that America's reputation, and its national security interests, have been damaged by contractor abuse.
"The U.S. government's systematic failure to hold contractors accountable for acts of violence and abuse has created a culture of impunity that threatens the safety of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, American troops and U.S. military missions, and the contractors themselves," said Elisa Massimino, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Human Rights First
There are now well over 200,000 U.S. government private contractors in Iraq, far greater than the number of U.S. military personnel. But as the U.S. government increasingly relies on contractors in its missions abroad, it has yet to make an effective commitment to accountability, to ensure that contractors can and will be held responsible when they commit violent crimes. Over the last several years, scores of well-documented reports of serious abuse by private contractors have gone uninvestigated and unprosecuted. Fourteen months after Nisoor Square none of the Blackwater security contractors there have yet been charged. Justice Department leaks over the last year suggest - at best - glacial progress in the investigation; while the investigation has dragged on, Blackwater