Saturday, May 08, 2004

What's with all the mercenaries?

Not only are private contractors difficult to prosecute and/or supervise, but...the cost for their services to tax payers is enormous.

If the average American would be aware of the way his/her dollars are being spent by Shrubites, I suspect that a mutiny would ensue clamoring for "regime change."

Not to mention the fact that MERCENARIES are now playing a major role in wars conducted by Americans. So much for the obsession of Shrubites with "privatization:"

Wash Post - Sunday, May 9, 2004

A Sorry State
What Are Those Contractors Doing in Iraq? By Deborah Avant

The alleged U.S. abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, and the suggestion that contract employees may have been among those responsible, has cast a spotlight on the military's extraordinary reliance on civilian contractors to perform even the most sensitive jobs. Consider this: During the first Gulf War, U.S. forces employed one civilian contractor in Iraq for every 60 active-duty personnel. At the start of the current Iraq war, that figure was about one in 10.

Contractors, in Iraq and elsewhere, are doing a lot more than building and maintaining camps, preparing food and doing laundry for troops. They support M1 tanks and Apache helicopters on the battlefield; they train American forces, Army ROTC units and even foreign militaries under contract to the United States. And they have flooded into Iraq to provide the military with security and crime prevention services. Having closely followed this explosion of military contracting since the end of the Cold War, I thought I knew the extent of it. But I have to admit that I did not know the government was also outsourcing the interrogation of military prisoners.

The information was far from secret. Indeed CACI International, a defense firm based in Arlington whose employees were implicated in an Army investigation in February and in a subsequent report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, had advertised on its Web site for interrogators in Iraq. Thousands of such contracts are issued by a long list of offices within the Pentagon, and even by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad, to a wide range of companies for innocuous-sounding services. (The prisoner interrogators were hired under an "intelligence services" category.) This illustrates some of the difficulties in tracking what has become a vast web of military contracting.

When America deploys its military forces, the process is easily understood: Active or reserve officers, who report up the chain of command to the president according to rules set by Congress and governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, go overseas. The media cover deployments and the public is informed. But there are no standard procedures for deploying private security workers under military contracts, which makes it far more difficult to gather information about who they are, what they're doing and for whom. They are not part of the military command; they are not covered by the code of military justice.

The events of the last few days illustrate those differences well. When reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib surfaced, it was clear that the 800th Military Police Brigade (which includes the 372nd Military Police Company, home to many of the accused) was in charge of the prison; prisoner interrogations were run by the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. But Taguba's report also mentions four civilian contractors, all of whom were assigned to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Two of those civilians, Steven Stephanowicz and John Israel, were "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses" at Abu Ghraib, it says. A third contractor, Adel Nakhla, is named as a translator -- and a suspect. A fourth, Torin Nelson, was said to be a witness. Both Nakhla and Nelson are listed as employees of Titan Corp., a security contractor based in San Diego.

The report identified Stephanowicz as an interrogator working for CACI; Israel, an interpreter, was also said to be working for CACI, although the company has denied that. Some news reports have identified Israel as an employee of Titan, which in turn has said he works for one of its subcontractors.

So, we are not even sure for whom these contractors work or worked. Nor do we know how many other contract employees were -- and may still be -- working at the prison. (In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld put the number of contract interrogators and linguists at Abu Ghraib at about 40; later witnesses cited other figures.) We do not know precisely what their roles were at the prison or to which group or agency they were accountable. To trace that, we would need to know the contracting agent -- someone representing a group within the Army, probably, but which one? Military Intelligence? The Iraqi Survey Group (a Defense Intelligence Agency unit responsible for investigating weapons of mass destruction and reportedly in charge of the most serious Iraqi prisoners)?

And how would civilians such as Stephanowicz and Israel have become such a dominant force at a military facility? To whom did they answer on a daily basis? We cannot simply consider where they sat in the chain of command (as we can with military forces). We need to know who issued their contract and what it said. And that is not easy information to obtain.

A General Accounting Office review of contracted military services last year cited problems stemming from this lack of information. The agency's report, which focused on services delivered in the Balkans and Southwest Asia, found that Department of Defense management of contractors varied widely. Smooth operations require that commanders in the field be able to oversee contractors, but in fact the officer who is expected to ensure that a company meets the terms of its contract may be back in the United States. Field commanders have no easy way to find out what exactly a contractor has been sent to do. All of this makes oversight difficult even among the executive agencies that hire private security.

These problems with oversight in Iraq are not limited to Abu Ghraib prison. While we know how many military forces are in the country, even the federal government doesn't seem to know how many contractors are there. In an April 2 letter to Rumsfeld, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) requested information about the number of private security personnel and their role in Iraq. In a May 4 letter in response, L. Paul Bremer, head of the CPA, put that number at "approximately 20,000," most of whom, he said, were under contract to Iraqi companies or foreign private companies -- not to American forces. His list of the private security companies working in Iraq, though, included neither CACI nor Titan, which suggests that the real number may be far higher.

The uncertainties extend to the handling of suspected crimes. In the wake of allegations of abuse at the prison, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th MP Brigade, was admonished and suspended; six others have been reprimanded; one has been admonished; and six additional soldiers face more serious criminal charges. We can argue about whether this is an adequate response, but at least we know what the response is.

Months after Taguba issued his report to the Pentagon's central command, we still don't know what legal action, if any, the civilian contractors may face. CACI claims that it has not been contacted formally by the Army on this matter, and its employees are still working in Iraq. The Pentagon now says that it began an investigation of the Military Intelligence Brigade, civilian contractors and the Iraqi Survey Group -- but not until April 24. What accounts for the delay? And where are these civilian contractors in the meantime? Are they still working in the prison?

It is also hard to gauge how individuals employed by contracting companies might be prosecuted. (See sidebar below.) The government could prosecute the company or companies that employed them under the Federal Acquisition Regulations for material breach, which includes criminal behavior by employees. The companies could also be prevented from bidding on future U.S. contracts.

Congress is justifiably concerned about the abuses that may have been committed by American forces. Congressional questions about the role of contractors, though, also illustrate the high hurdle Congress faces in overseeing contracts. While Congress has access to the ins and outs of the military -- indeed, it passes the laws under which the military is regulated -- its access to information about contracts (in Iraq and elsewhere) is more circumscribed.

For example, the United States often hires contractors to train foreign militaries, but the annual consolidated report on military assistance and sales, which informs Congress about foreign training efforts, does not include information on which companies are conducting the training or what precisely they are being paid to do. This is simply the nature of contracting. Indeed, while some critics say that Congress should increase its oversight, keeping track of contracts and subcontracts among many agencies and from countless companies would be a huge job and require a dramatic (and costly) change in congressional oversight.

Individual citizens have even less access to such information. Government reporting (and media coverage) on the war in Iraq focuses on military forces. The word "soldier" evokes a set of common understandings. It is harder to comprehend the structure of military contractors, their relationship with other contractors and their involvement in so many different military jobs. Even the language is confusing. When four private security contractors were brutally killed and mutilated in Fallujah, some Americans heard "contractors" and imagined that they were construction workers, not armed guards.

The alleged Abu Ghraib abuses raise central questions about the training of U.S. forces and the chain of command, questions that rightly dominate the current national discussion. Yet the role of military contractors adds an important new dimension that should encourage more searching questions about this march toward privatizing military services and its implications for what is knowable about how sensitive military jobs are being performed -- and whether adequate controls are in place for the innumerable private contractors who are now doing a soldier's job.

Author's e-mail:

Deborah Avant is an associate professor of political science and international relations at George Washington University. Her next book will examine the global market for military and security services.


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