The independent Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan issued its second interim report to Congress concluding that the U.S. government has wasted tens of billions of dollars associated with the government’s overreliance on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among its 32 recommendations, the Commission urges Congress to “clarify U.S. criminal jurisdiction over civilian-agency contractors operating overseas,” a call long echoed by Human Rights First.
“In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where winning the hearts and minds of the local population is paramount to our mission, it is imperative that the United States hold contractors accountable for serious abuses,” said Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo, who authored the organization’s most recent report on private security and other contractors, State of Affairs: Three Years After Nisoor Square. “Our uniformed personnel are held to account and contractors fielded abroad by the United States should be held to the same standards.”
In today’s report, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan noted that the “U.S. government’s limited jurisdiction over criminal behavior and limited access to records, have contributed to an environment where contractors misbehave with limited accountability.” This finding is consistent with Human Rights First’s existing research. Milazzo notes that the current lack of oversight and accountability is particularly troubling because the U.S. has a responsibility – and a national security interest – to ensure that these mechanisms are in place before it expands its private contractor presence overseas. The U.S. already fields a contractor force equal to the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In order to address this problem, Human Rights First supports passage of the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA), legislation that was introduced in the 111th Congress and is anticipated to be reintroduced this year. The bill would clarify and expand U.S. criminal jurisdiction over U.S. contractors fielded abroad. In addition, another piece of legislation the group supports was introduced in the Senate this year by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri). Her Rocky Baragona Justice for American Heroes Harmed by Contractors Act (S.235) would address the Commission’s recommendation to “make consent to U.S. civil jurisdiction a condition of contract award.”
Milazzo concluded, “Congress and the Obama Administration should work together to immediately pass Senator McCaskill’s proposed bill and should also re-introduce and pass CEJA. It is imperative that accountability and oversight mechanisms be set in place as soon as possible to protect U.S. interests and the contractors tasked with advancing them.”
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