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The Candidates' Positions on Private Security Contractors

Pro Publica (2008-07-18) Matthew Schwarzfeld

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More Info: Blackwater, Election2008

by Matthew Schwarzfeld - July 18, 2008 10:06 am EDT
Tags: Barack Obama, Blackwater, John Mc Cain, Military Contractor Abuse Scandal

Senators Barack Obama and John Mc Cain have both criticized private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, while they've also acknowledged that they don't see a way to guard government officials without the services of companies like Blackwater. Obama has long advocated for increased accountability of private security contractors. In February 2007 -- seven months before Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square -- he introduced legislation to clarify contractors' legal status and create an FBI unit to investigate contractor misconduct. The bill never came to a vote, but in the days after the Nisour Square shooting, Obama introduced a more modest amendment simply requiring closer tracking of contractors. Mc Cain also voted for the amendment, which passed unanimously in September 2007.

Though the candidates don't have kind words for security contractors, both have opposed calls to remove contractors from Iraq. "Here's the problem: we have 140,000 private contractors right there," Obama said in March. "So unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with U.S. troops, we can't draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops."

"I'd like it [the U.S. military to guard State Department officials in Iraq] but we don't have enough," Mc Cain said in October. "And I'd love to see pigs fly, but it ain't gonna happen."

The State Department has only 1,450 diplomatic security agents worldwide, with only a small portion of those in Iraq -- just 36, according to author Jeremy Scahill. Shortly after the Nisour Square shootings, Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, underscored this point: "There is simply no way at all that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts."

Neither of the candidates appears to have commented when the State Department renewed Blackwater's diplomatic security contract in Iraq for another year. Nor did the campaigns weigh in on the recent controversy regarding the question of contractors' immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Mc Cain has not directly addressed his ties to private security companies. BKSH & Associates, a lobbying firm headed until this spring by Mc Cain adviser Charles Black, advised Blackwater during congressional hearings following the Nisour Square shooting. The campaign's senior foreign policy adviser, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, served as a senior adviser for Veritas Capital from 2005 to 2007. Veritas owns Dyn Corp International, another major security contractor in Iraq. (We found no reports of anyone in Obama's campaign connected to security contractors.)

The Mc Cain campaign declined to comment for this article, and the Obama campaign didn't respond to our requests for an interview.

Special Feature : Read statements the candidates have made about contractors.

Obama Vs. Mc Cain on Military Contractors

Click through to read speeches in full.
Barack Obama John Mc Cain
What role should contractors play in the military?

7/7/08 -- Interview with Defense News

When it comes to private contractors, there is room for private contractors to work in the mess hall providing basic supplies and doing some logistical work that might have been done in-house in the past. I am troubled by the use of private contractors when it comes to potential armed engagements.

10/16/07 -- Interview with Army Times

We do whatever we can to reduce costs to the taxpayers. And if there are functions that can be outsourced, we ought to do them. If there are others that lend [themselves] only to military functions and duties that can only be performed by military personnel, then those should not be.

I remember the big flap when we took security from the base and did it through contracts. It was going to be the end of Western civilization as we know it. Somehow it's turned out OK.
The consequences of contracting with private security companies

7/7/2008 -- Interview with Defense News

I think it puts our troops in harm's way. I think it creates some difficult morale issues when you've got private contractors getting paid 10 times what an Army private's getting paid for work that carries similar risks.

When it comes to our special forces, what we've seen is that it's a potential drain of some of our best-trained special forces, and you can't blame them if they can make so much more working for Blackwater than they can working as a master sergeant. That, I think is a problem.

[I]f… you start making decisions on armed engagement based on the availability of private contractors to fill holes and gaps that over time you are, I believe, eroding the core of our military's relationship to the nation and how accountability is structured. I think you are privatizing something that is what essentially sets a nation-state apart, which is a monopoly on violence. And to set those kinds of precedents, I think, will lead us over the long term into some troubled waters.

10/12/07 -- Interview on Iowa Public Television

I share the concern [raised by Iraqi government officials] and I think it needs to be reviewed as to what their rules of engagement are, what their behavior is, who controls them, et cetera.

10/16/07 -- Interview with Army Times

I'm telling you, when you start out with false principles and false practices, you pay a heavy price for a long time…

[B]ecause we didn't have enough troops on the ground, we had to hire the contract guys, and when we had to hire the contract guys, then it became an attractive option for men and women who are incredibly talented, Special Forces, SEALS, etc. Problems lead to problems.
On reducing the government's dependence on private security companies

5/26/08 -- Forum in Las Cruces, N.M.

[W]e're not going to be able to immediately bring out all those private contractors because they have essentially served as a stopgap for the inadequate numbers of troops that were originally sent… And part of it also then means that we will have troops instead -- and U.S. military personnel as opposed to private contractors in these positions.

10/12/07 -- Interview on Iowa Public Television

We're not going to have more troops. I'd love to see -- I wish we had the size of Army and Marine Corps and Guard that we could send more troops… But I think that we have to now tighten up on the rules, regulations, accountability, et cetera.

You know, many of these "Blackwater" -- there are many contractors -- are guarding Iraqi government officials. If you want to remove them, who's going to provide for their security? But it's sad and it's tragic that these things are happening.

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Title The Candidates' Positions on Private Security Contractors
Publisher Pro Publica
Author Matthew Schwarzfeld
Pub Date 2008-07-18
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Keywords Blackwater, Election2008
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Topic revision: r1 - 22 Jul 2008, RaymondLutz
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