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Schakowsky Prepares Legislation to Ban Blackwater

Schakowsky says Blackwater has “severely damaged the credibility and security of our military and harmed our relationship with other governments”

by Jeremy Scahill

As multiple scandals involving Blackwater continue to emerge almost daily, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is preparing to introduce legislation aimed at ending the US government’s relationship with Blackwater and other armed contracting companies. “In 2009, the U.S. government employed well over 20,000 armed private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is every indication that these figures will continue to rise in 2010,” Schakowsky wrote in a “Dear Colleage” letter asking for support for her Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act. “These men and women are not part of the U.S. military or government.  They do not wear the uniform of the United States, though their behavior has, on numerous occasions, severely damaged the credibility and security of our military and harmed our relationship with other governments.”

In this Feb. 20, 2004 file photo, signs welcome visitors to the private North Carolina-based security company Blackwater USA's headquartered near Moyock, N.C. (AP Photo/Karen Tam, File) Schakowsky originally introduced the bill in 2007, but it only won two co-sponsors in the Senate: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Ironically, Clinton—now Secretary of State— is currently the US official responsible for most of Blackwater’s contracts. “The legislation would prohibit the use of private contractors for military, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and armed rescue functions unless the President tells Congress why the military is unable to perform those functions,” according to Schakowsky. “It would also increase transparency over any remaining security contracts by increasing reporting requirements and giving Congress access to details about large contracts.”

Meanwhile, a national coalition of groups opposed to Blackwater have issued an open letter to Congress urging support for Schakowsky’s SOS Act and have called on Congress to investigate the US Justice Department’s handling of the criminal case against the Blackwater operatives alleged to have been responsible for the 2007 Nisour Square massacre. On New Year’s Eve, federal Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out the case alleging prosecutorial misconduct. “Considering all of the millions of tax payer dollars that have gone into funding Blackwater, as well as paying for all of the various investigations into their illegal and unethical activities, the citizens of the United States deserve to know the truth,” said Dan Kenney, co-coordinator of “No Private Armies.” Their letter to Congress and an accompanying petition can be found here.

Here is the full text of Schakowsky’s letter:

        • January 07, 2010

PHASE OUT PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS

Become an Original Cosponsor of a Bill to Return

Security Functions to Government Personnel

Dear Colleague:

I invite you to join me in cosponsoring a bill which would responsibly phase out the use of private security contractors for functions that should be reserved for U.S. military forces and government personnel.

In 2009, the U.S. government employed well over 20,000 armed private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is every indication that these figures will continue to rise in 2010.  These men and women are not part of the U.S. military or government.  They do not wear the uniform of the United States, though their behavior has, on numerous occasions, severely damaged the credibility and security of our military and harmed our relationship with other governments.

In addition, legal jurisdiction over civilian contractors remains murky, leaving the very real possibility that we cannot punish contractors who commit serious crimes while serving the United States government overseas.  As illustrated by the recent dismissal of the case against the Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, prosecution of private security contractors who commit severe abuses remains exceedingly difficult.

It has been recently reported that at least two of the men killed by the New Year’s Eve suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan was a contractor employed by Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater.  If true, this confirms the extent to which private companies have become integrated into not just our military and State Department, but also our intelligence services.

My bill recognizes that our armed forces and security personnel have been so overtaxed that it is not possible to immediately eliminate the use of private contractors for functions that should be reserved for U.S. military personnel.   However, it puts us on the path of restoring military functions to the military.  The legislation would prohibit the use of private contractors for military, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and armed rescue functions unless the President tells Congress why the military is unable to perform those functions.  It would also increase transparency over any remaining security contracts by increasing reporting requirements and giving Congress access to details about large contracts.

To join me as an original cosponsor or for more information, please contact my staff.

Sincerely, 

Jan Schakowsky

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