WASHINGTON - May 23 - Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today highlighted the role of private military contractors in the U.S. government's current system for outsourcing key military detention, security and intelligence operations. Such outsourcing fuels serious human rights violations and undermines accountability, the organization stated at the release of its 2006 Annual Report on the status of human rights in 150 countries.
"The United States has become a world leader in avoiding human rights accountability; a case in point is the reliance of the United States government on private military contractors, which has helped create virtually rules-free zones sanctioned with the American flag and fire power," said Larry Cox, who became AIUSA's executive director May 1. "Business outsourcing may increase efficiency, but war outsourcing may be facilitating impunity. Contractors' illegal behavior and the reluctance of the U.S. government to bring them to justice are further tarnishing the United States' reputation abroad, hurting the image of American troops and contributing to anti-American sentiment. These results are a distressing return on the U.S. taxpayers' billion-dollar- plus investment and undermine what remains of U.S. moral authority abroad."
In the rush to war and with little notice, the U.S. government has outsourced billions of dollars in contracts to private military contractors, leaving to civilians some of the most essential and sensitive functions in the war, including protecting supply convoys, translating during interrogations and conducting interrogations. Despite the weak requirements for reporting crimes, allegations have surfaced implicating civilians working for the U.S. government in mistreatment of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, including hundreds of incidents of shootings at Iraqi civilians, several deaths in custody and involvement in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.
Major General George Fay's report on detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib detailed the involvement of two private military companies -- Arlington, Va.-based CACI (NYSE: CAI) and BTG, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Titan Corporation (NYSE: TTN) -- at that notorious prison facility. Titan, under an INSCOM contract with a current ceiling of approximately $650 million, has provided hundreds of linguists. CACI provided interrogators and other intelligence-related personnel under a contract with the National Business Center of the Interior beginning in September 2003. An Army Inspector General's report found that 35 percent of CACI's Iraqi interrogators had no "formal training in military interrogation policies and techniques," let alone training in the standards of international law.
Currently the contractors operate in a virtually rules-free zone; they are exempt from Iraqi law per a Coalition Provisional Authority order and they fall outside the military chain of command. Of the 20 known cases of alleged misconduct by civilians in the war on terror that were forwarded by the Pentagon and CIA to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation, DOJ has dismissed two, brought one indictment, while the remaining 17 are classified as open.
AI places responsibility jointly on private military companies and the Bush administration to overhaul the contracting system from top to bottom to ensure safety of suspects and civilians and investigation and prosecution when rights are violated. Private military companies should, among other things, implement a comprehensive human rights policy; monitor and periodically issue public reports on its implementation; screen employees and train them on international human rights standards; make public the results of investigations the company may conduct into alleged human rights abuses by employees; and disclose the terms of U.S. government contracts with respect to human rights. Every contractor involved in detentions or who might use force against civilians must undergo a background check and receive human rights and humanitarian law training.
In addition, the U.S. government should create and enforce unambiguous, transparent and consistent mechanisms for reporting on, investigating and, when necessary, prosecuting contractors involved in detainee abuse and/or excessive use of force against civilians.
"Private military companies have tried to abandon negative labels like 'mercenaries,'" said Mila Rosenthal, Business and Human Rights Program Director for Amnesty International USA. "They want to be considered respectable firms doing a respectable job. If they don't want to be viewed as the scruffiest dogs of war, they must take their human rights responsibilities seriously. They have to understand the human rights implications of deploying often armed personnel into war zones and ensure that they have company-level policies to prevent and redress abuses."
In recent weeks, AIUSA has contacted 14 private military companies to urge that they improve their human rights practices. Three companies have issued written replies, and one has met with AIUSA in person. AIUSA has concluded that no major private military companies currently implement adequate human rights policies.
AIUSA noted that lawmakers have also begun to call for greater accountability in war outsourcing. Legislation sponsored by Rep. David Price (D-NC), passed by the House last month, demands greater transparency on the part of the intelligence community regarding its use of private military contractors.
AIUSA's criticism of private military contractors came at the launch of an Annual Report that detailed the ways in which governments worldwide, in the name of fighting terror, are committing gross violations of human rights: mistreating suspects, harming civilians and thereby undermining their ability to solve some of the world's most urgent problems.
For more information, visit http://www.amnestyusa.org