The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Krista Minteer (212) 845-5207

Blueprint for the Next President Provides Step-by-Step Guide to End Private Contractor Impunity


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.

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.

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's contract for providing security services in
Iraq was extended by the State Department another year.

"Anybody sent to war by the U.S.
government who commits a violent crime must be held accountable -
soldier, government civilian or contractor," Massimino added. "With
well over a quarter-million U.S. government contractors employed in Iraq and Afghanistan,
it's like having the adult population of an entire city of people, many
of them armed, without any laws in place, or resources committed, to
hold them accountable when they commit crimes."

"It's been over four years since Abu Ghraib and more than a year since Nisoor Square,
and we are still waiting for prosecutions of the contractors implicated
in these abuses. In the meantime, contractors continue to operate in a
culture of impunity. It's time for action," said Massimino.

Rights First's three-stage blueprint sets forth concrete
recommendations for action by President-elect Obama beginning on day
one and continuing through the first year of the next administration,

  • Expressly
    announcing that all contractors will be held accountable for serious
    crimes, and declaring a moratorium on U.S government civilian agencies
    sending more contractors abroad until adequate accountability
    mechanisms have been put in place;
  • Ensuring that existing laws are enforced, including criminal laws as well as bans on torture and cruel treatment;
  • Directing
    the Attorney General to make prosecution of contractor crime a
    priority, including by conducting appropriate judicial reviews and
    allocating necessary resources for pending and future investigations
    and prosecutions;
  • Supporting legislation that clarifies and expands criminal jurisdiction over contractors;
  • Strengthening
    government standards for procurement, contracting, and management of
    contractors, backed with an effective reporting mechanism;
  • Placing
    legal obligations on companies for vetting, training, controlling and
    managing their personnel, and charging the Department of Defense with
    establishing a robust certification or licensing program for all U.S.
    government security contractors; and
  • Working
    with Congress, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State to
    establish and mandate compensation mechanisms for victims of contractor

"The United States must take responsibility for the civilian contractors it fields on U.S.
government missions abroad. Contractors perform necessary and often
courageous service, but letting even a few act with impunity stains our
reputation and undermines the credibility of our efforts. At stake is
our integrity as a nation committed to the rule of law," Massimino

In January, Human Rights First released a comprehensive report, Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity,
that laid out the broad problem of contractor impunity, analyzed the
current legal framework, and set forth detailed recommendations to
establish accountability. The report found that although should be
strengthened, current laws provide an adequate basis for criminal
accountability for many contractors, and that government
inaction - particularly on the part of the Justice Department - has been
the main stumbling block. The new blueprint lays out concrete steps for
the next administration to reverse course and end impunity.

The blueprint, How to End Impunity for Private Security and Other Contractors: Blueprint for the Next Administration,
is the third in a series of strategy papers released by Human Rights
First to guide the next administration in restoring American leadership
in human rights in critical spheres. The first paper in the series, How to Close Guantanamo: A Blueprint for the Next Administration, was released in August 2008, and the second, How to End Torture and Cruel Treatment: Blueprint for the Next Administration, was released in October 2008.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.