Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers Endorsed in Geneva

On Tuesday, November 9, 58 private security companies signed an International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers. The signatories included major U.S. based firms, such as Triple Canopy, DynCorp, EODT, and even Xe (formerly known as Blackwater). The Code seeks to address the human rights impact of security providers and among its standards are rules for the use of force, prohibitions on child and forced labor, human trafficking, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and commitments regarding the vetting and training of personnel and the reporting of incidents of the use of force.

The participants reflect a multi-stakeholder group representing governments, companies and their trade associations, civil society groups, and experts and academics, many of whom were involved in the 14 month process to develop the Code facilitated by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. This Code initiative is distinguishable from other voluntary efforts to date to create standards for companies in that its goal is to have the clients of private security providers – both governments and non-state clients like humanitarian aid organizations and other companies – include requirements to adhere to the Code in their contract vehicles.

The British government has already committed to making this a requirement for its contracted security, and the U.S. government is currently contemplating doing the same according to U.S. Department of State legal advisor Harold Koh. This would lend these voluntary standards some real teeth, as the human rights commitments made by the signatory firms could be upheld in courts of law. Furthermore, it represents an important advancement in the recognition by a global industry of the obligations of firms to uphold human rights wherever they operate.

However, the credibility of this initiative will hinge on the nature of the external independent mechanisms for effective governance and oversight. OMB Watch and some non-governmental organizations have warned of the shortcomings of any mechanism of reporting the incidents of the use of force that relies on self-reporting. Humans rights groups, such as Human Rights Advocates, Right Respect, and other human rights groups have endorsed the Code, but warn that the Code not be viewed as a substitute for the development of binding legal instruments to ensure that private security firms are held accountable for their actions.

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Failed accountability, WikiLeaks show true cost of war

The release by WikiLeaks late last week of 391,832 secret documents on the Iraq War has been said to be “…the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.” The revelations emerging from these documents showcase the culture of impunity that has plagued this war effort, including the U.S. government’s failure to adequately address rights violations linked to the corporations and contractors used to fight our wars.

As an August 22, 2006 report released by WikiLeaks stated

AFTER THE IED STRIKE A WITNESS REPORTS THE BLACKWATER EMPLOYEES FIRED INDISCRIMINATELY AT THE SCENE.

More than one year later, on September 16, 2007, Blackwater (now renamed Xe) guards, still benefiting from huge government contracts, shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad. This is just one example of many that can be found in the leaked documents.

It is clear that the record of unjustified killings and violence by PSCs is far beyond what had previously been released to the public. As it stands, none of these incidents has resulted in prosecution, and even those cases that have moved forward have resulted in dismissal or failure to indict.  Recently, a case against Andrew J. Moonen, a former Blackwater guard who was accused of killing a guard assigned to an Iraqi VP while wandering drunk in the Green Zone, was dropped by the Justice Department, citing difficulties in obtaining evidence in war zones, and the granting of immunities to the defendant by American officials at the scene.

Even the most public of cases, including that against Blackwater guards for the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, have resulted in dismissals in US courts.  This culture of impunity extends across PSC activities.  On September 11th, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a 2 to 1 ruling dismissed a lawsuit brought against CACI International that alleged CACI personnel participated in torture and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

By creating complex legal hurdles, issuing on the scene immunities, and failing to ensure an environment of transparency, oversight and accountability, we are shielding the true costs of our wars, not only financially but in human terms as well.  The release of these documents showcases just how terrible that cost is.

Let’s continue to call for accountability in conflict zones. Tell President Obama and Congress to respect human rights and counter terror with justice.

DoD Risks Hiring Unscrupulous Arms Brokers with Foreign Arms Purchases

The Washington Post’s Saturday front page article “U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps” once again raised concerns about the Pentagon’s purchase of foreign-sourced arms.  While the Post highlighted opposition of the helicopter deal by U.S. Senators such as Richard Shelby for “massive waste, cost overruns, schedule delays, safety concerns and major delivery problems”, it failed to mention the serious risk of DoD hiring unscrupulous or problematic arms brokers in such deals.  As DoD continues to purchase foreign-sourced arms, including 10 new Russian helicopters for Afghanistan, additional controls are urgently needed.

In September 2009, Amnesty International USA published a policy briefing that highlighted six cases in which Pentagon funds were used to contract arms brokers that had been either connected to breaches of international arms embargoes, named in reliable UN reports as being involved in illegal arms trafficking, listed on the U.S. Department of State’s Watch List, or whose agent had been indicted for breaches of U.S. arms control laws.  All of these contracts were for foreign-sourced assault rifles or ammunition.  As a result, millions of U.S. dollars were given to these individuals and in at least one case the U.S. government received tons of faulty ammunition, putting Afghan and U.S. forces at risk.

One of the key reason’s DoD funds were funneled to these arms brokers is a significant lack of controls on foreign-sourced arms purchases compared to controls on U.S. arms exports.  For example, in some cases DoD officials are not aware of or do not screen all of the subcontractors involved in a contract to procure or transfer foreign-sourced arms.  There are also no contract clauses that specifically prohibit prime contractors from subcontracting with entities that have been accused of transferring arms in contravention of U.S. national laws or convicted of arms trafficking in foreign courts.

Although some may think purchasing larger arms such as helicopters diminishes the risk of hiring problematic arms brokers, look no further than the Army’s past purchase of Russian helicopters for Afghanistan.  According to a blog in early 2009 on Wired, the U.S. Army reportedly hired an unknown Slovak ambulance company to supply three of the Russian Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan, and the helicopters had to be returned.

Six years on Abu Ghraib victims still fighting for justice

By Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt

Abu Ghraib will live on in collective memory as one of the biggest stains on the reputation of the United States as a supposed human rights leader. Who can forget the images that, despite their horrific nature, did not even begin to capture the full extent of the alleged abuse – including rape, sexual assault, beatings, prolonged stress positions, the use of dogs in interrogations and other forms of torture? Yet, six years on the victims of these human rights violations are still struggling to have their day in court, while the private military contractors involved – employees of CACI, Inc. and L-3 Communications (formerly Titan) – appear to be immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits and continue to win multi-million dollar government contracts.

While a few of the soldiers implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal have been held accountable, not a single contractor has seen the inside of a court room, despite the fact that several military-commissioned reports, including the Fay-Jones Report, confirmed that military contractors were responsible for the most serious abuses that occurred and recommended a civilian criminal probe and prosecutions. Instead, under the Bush administration, the cases of contractors implicated in detainee abuse were referred to a task force in the Eastern District of Virginia, where they were quietly dismissed or left interminably open. Existing U.S. law provides jurisdiction over contractor personnel for criminal offenses, such as torture. Some legal scholars have characterized the failure to prosecute as a willful decision to sweep contractors’ crimes under the rug.

With little hope for criminal prosecution of the perpetrators, hundreds of the victims of Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq, all of whom had been released without charge, have sought recourse to justice through civil litigation with the assistance of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a small team of attorneys. The case, Saleh et al v. Titan et al, has been making its way through the courts for the last six years and is currently at a critical juncture.  On September 11, 2009, in a 2-1 decision, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the dismissal of all claims against Titan/L-3, and, reversing a district court ruling, also dismissed all claims against CACI. The following January, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order denying plaintiffs’ petition for rehearing en banc, in other words by a full panel of judges. On Monday, April 26, CCR undertook the final available step; it filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to take up the case against Titan/L-3 and CACI and review the Appeals Court’s decision to dismiss the case.

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A real chance for accountability for private security contractors

At the end of December, the human rights movement had some disappointing news. Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the charges against the five Xe (Blackwater) guards accused in the shooting death of at least 14 innocent Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in September 2007.

While his decision indicates the need to examine more closely the conduct of the Justice Department’s prosecutors as well as the State Department’s practice of immunizing contractors’ statements given in the course of investigations, there is now reason for hope. On Tuesday, Rep. David Price and Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced companion bills under the short title of the Contractor Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) of 2010 in the House (HR 4567) and Senate (S2979). The legislation closes gaps in U.S. law to ensure that contractors can be prosecuted for crimes committed overseas.

One of the single biggest hurdles to holding military and security contractors accountable for criminal acts committed overseas has been the duality of systems in place for Defense Department (DOD) contractors versus those working for other government agencies. DOD contractors implicated in crimes are subject, in theory, to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military’s judicial system, and the jurisdiction of federal courts by way of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). But what about Blackwater, which was fulfilling the State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) contract at the time of the Nisour Square shootings? Well, many feared that the Justice Department wouldn’t or wouldn’t be able to pull off a case against the shooters because of unsettled evidentiary and jurisdictional issues.

We – the human rights community, Congress, the President, the media, and othershave known about this inconsistent patchwork of laws for some time now. In fact, in 2007 Rep. Price and then-Senator Barrack Obama joined forces to try to amend MEJA to clarify that there would be no impunity for government contractors who commit crimes. While the House version of the bill passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 389 to 30, it fizzled on the Senate side.

Two years on, we don’t need any more evidence to indicate the importance of acting decisively to make CEJA law. The DOS is about to release the Request for Proposal for WPPS III. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be asking you to call on your members of Congress in the House and Senate to endorse CEJA and end impunity for rights violators. Let’s make sure that the framework is in place to hold military and security contractors accountable for human rights violations before we send out the next round of armed guards in the name of the U.S. government.

Blackwater accused of trying to buy its way out of accountability

On November 11th, 2009, the New York Times reported that in December 2007, top executives at Blackwater (currently known as Xe) authorized cash payments up to $1 million to Iraqi officials with the intent to buy silence and support from the Iraqi government over the Nisour Square shootings on September 16th, 2007, in which 17 Iraqis were shot and killed by Blackwater guards. The Times received this information from four anonymous former Blackwater executives. Two participated in talks about the payments and the other two had heard about the payments from other Blackwater officials. According to the executives, the payoffs were approved by then-company president, Gary Jackson. The money was sent to a top manager in Iraq and one executive stated that the intended recipients were officials in the Iraqi Interior Ministry in charge of operating licenses.

After the Nisour Square shootings, Blackwater came under plenty of heat from media and the Iraqi government, which wanted the contractor out of Iraq. For Blackwater, getting booted from Iraq meant potentially losing lucrative Department of State (DOS) contracts.

The four executives do not know if the bribes ever reached their intended recipients and it is unclear if a federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating the matter. If it is found that Blackwater bribed Iraqi officials, those responsible could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice and violation of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits bribes to foreign officials.

Blackwater seems to be synonymous with “bad news” but perhaps the worst news is that the company – despite a growing list of human rights violations and various misdeeds – is not being held to account but rather is still winning new contracts with the U.S. Government. Perhaps what makes Blackwater and other private military and security companies (PMSCs) so bold and reckless is the culture of impunity in which they operate. The U.S. Government did not create mechanisms of accountability and regulation to keep up with the booming industry. But this is one area of corporate accountability with a clear record – the FCPA is a proven tool leaving no excuse for prosecutors to turn the other cheek. All that needs to be done is for the relevant U.S. attorneys to investigate.

U.S. appeals court sets dangerous precedent against victims of torture

by Lillian Tan, Corporate Action Network Intern

On September 11th, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. District ruled 2 to 1 to dismiss Saleh v. Titan, a lawsuit brought against CACI International, a private military and security company (PMSC), which alleged that CACI personnel participated in torture and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. CACI was awarded a Department of Interior (DOI) contract to provide translation services at Abu Ghraib.

Judge Silberman, in his majority opinion, concluded that the plaintiffs’ state law tort claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) were preempted by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). According to his interpretation of the FTCA, contractors operate under the same sovereign immunity as U.S. military forces since they share a “common mission” with the military. Susan Burke, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, stated in the September 12th, 2009 Washington Post article that the legal team will file for an en banc review of the decision by all nine judges of the Court.

If the Court’s ruling is not reversed, a dangerous precedent would be set in the U.S. judicial system that would make it extremely difficult for victims of human rights violations, like Saleh, to find relief. As things currently stand, federal criminal laws (18 U.S.C.) are not sufficient enough to hold contractors accountable for their actions.

The U.S. military greatly depends on PMSCs to support their operations in the “war on terror”, with the use of contractors in Afghanistan reaching a record high. In the Iraqi theater, contractors have been allegedly involved in a number of human rights violations, almost none of which have been prosecuted in Federal criminal courts. While there is a glimmer of hope now that the Department of Justice is finally spurring to action by appointing a special prosecutor to reexamine almost two dozen cases of detainee abuse that were transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia—some of which include abuses committed by contractors—this fact does not change that federal prosecutors would still have substantial hurdles to clear before obtaining a prosecution.

One of the hurdles is the paucity of legislation that would effectively allow for a criminal prosecution of contractors. Another is evidence; and yet another is the statute of limitations on cases of torture under federal criminal law, which are fast approaching expiration. Now with the decision from Saleh v. Titan, victims of torture and abuse are denied the option of civil litigation.

Judge Silberman writes that the plaintiffs will not be bereft of all remedies since under the Foreign Claims Act” (10 U.S.C. §2734) they can file claims to a commission composed of officers and employees of the U.S. Armed Forces.However, is that even an appropriate “remedy” for Saleh and the other plaintiffs who have brought grievous allegations of torture and abuse by contractors who “acted unlawfully and without military authorization”, as noted in the dissenting view of Judge Garland? Should such a precedent be set where plaintiffs such as Saleh are denied a civil law remedy, in effect barring them from a chance of vindicating their human rights with a speedy trial in U.S. courts of justice?

Private military and security companies wanted for hire by CIA as "hitmen"?

by Lillian Tan, Corporate Action Network Intern

September 16, 2009 will be the second anniversary of the Nisour Square shootings, in which six Blackwater (now Xe) personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians outside Baghdad’s green zone. The bad media which surrounded the incident galvanized the U.S. Government to take some steps towards ensuring that the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of State (DOS) better regulate PMSC operations in Iraq. But was it enough?

The six Blackwater guards who allegedly indiscriminately opened fire in Nisour Square on September 16, 2007 were finally indicted late last year. The trial hasn’t even started but Blackwater/XE personnel are already implicated in another incident. On May 5, 2009, four Blackwater/Xe personnel reportedly shot and killed two Afghan civilians in Kabul. So much for lessons learned in Iraq; so much for regulation, oversight, and accountability.

However, the U.S. government should not keep pushing aside the questions of how to effectively regulate and where to set the limits on using PMSCs — especially with the increased number of contractors flooding into Afghanistan in the wake of the planned surge in troops. The longer it takes for the U.S. government to finally take a position and answer these questions, the longer PMSCs operate in a legal limbo, in which they may commit human rights abuses with impunity.

Just recently, it has been reported that the CIA contracted Blackwater/Xe to assist in a secret assassination program of which the Congress was not even aware. According to the August 20, 2009 New York Times, “it is unclear if the CIA planned to use Blackwater/Xe to actually capture and kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program.”

The article also mentions that government officials are concerned about serious issues of accountability when contractors are brought into covert and lethal operations. Where there is no transparency, accountability will be near impossible if a crime were committed during those operations. The past administration has been quick to invoke several legal reasons to withhold sensitive information from the public — from the Glomar response to claiming that releasing detainee abuse photos would be against the Geneva Conventions. When the same photos were about to be released in May 2009, the Obama administration sought to block their release arguing that the images could further inflame anti-American opinion. If it is already this difficult to get information out of government agencies, then imagine the difficulty of obtaining information for the purpose of accountability when there’s a private contract involved in a sensitive national operation.

Another area of great concern that the New York Times article briefly touches upon is whether, aside from the concerns about accountability for PMSCs in such a program, PMSCs should be involved in the first place? As Senator Diane Feinstein (CA) aptly states, “It is too easy to contract out work that you don’t want to accept responsibility for”. In the debate about the use of PMSCs in modern warfare, there is the pressing question of what functions a government can and cannot outsource. In U.S. statute and policy, inherently governmental functions are loosely defined as “a function so intimately related to the public interest” that it must be performed by Federal employees. The list of functions that fall under “inherently governmental” is also extremely inconsistent, varying from agency to agency. Because of this lack of a clear and consistent definition, PMSCs are contracted to perform duties in highly sensitive areas such as intelligence and now, even assassinations.

To better regulate the industry, Congress also needs to pass legislation that will close the legal vacuum in which PMSCs are operating and appropriate more resources to regulation and oversight. The U.S. government currently does not adequately regulate the industry and its statutes to hold PMSCs accountable for crimes overseas are few. In its June 2009 Interim Report, the Commission on Wartime Contracting finds that U.S. government oversight of PMSCs is inadequate. Because they mostly operate transnationally, jurisdiction can become a problem. While PMSCs contracted by the DOD can be held accountable under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), contractors hired by other agencies such as the DOS often fall through legal gaps.

The foundation to improve regulation, oversight and accountability of PMSCs has already been set. To close legal gaps such as the one in MEJA, legislation has been proposed in the past and we look forward to similar legislation in the 111th Session of Congress. As for clarifying definitions of “inherently governmental functions”, a bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting was established in Public Law 110-181 to recommend among other things improvements in its Final Report on the “process for determining which functions are inherently governmental and which functions are appropriate for performance by contractors in a contingency operation, especially whether providing security in an area of combat operations is inherently governmental.” On an international level, the UN Working Group on Mercenaries (UNWGM) completed its two-week visit to the U.S. on August 3rd, 2009. During that time, the UNWGM met with the DOJ, members of Congress, governmental officials and public interest groups to discuss how PMSCs can be regulated on international, regional, national and local levels. Such efforts are all a step in the right direction.

If You Can't Quit Them, Then Regulate Military Contractors

By Lillian Tan, Corporate Action Network Intern

Their operations are vast and war zone contractors are likely here to stay, as Suzanne Simons writes in her CNN International article. Her article is a comprehensive piece that places emphasis on one of the more salient issues regarding private military and security companies (PMSCs) or contractors: lack of regulation, oversight, and accountability. The PMSC industry has grown rapidly since the war on terror and continues to play an integral role in the conflict in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, but the US government, as reported by the CWC in its Interim Report, lacks resources to manage the industry that it has come to depend on like a crutch.

Since 2001, Congress has appropriated about $830 billion to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over that period, America’s reliance on contractors has grown to unprecedented proportions to support logistics, security, and reconstruction efforts related to those operations. More than 240,000 contractor employees—about 80 percent of them foreign nationals—now work in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting the Department of Defense. Additional contractor employees support the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

-Executive Summary, June 2009 Interim Report from the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC)

The result from the combination of a growing military industry and weak government regulation and oversight is a culture of impunity and lack of accountability for the many human rights abuses committed by PMSCs. Yes, five Blackwater guards will be tried in February 2010 for opening fire and killing civilians in Nisour Square and yes, a private civil lawsuit was filed against Blackwater contractor Andrew J. Moonen for killing one of the Iraqi Vice President’s bodyguards in Baghdad’s green zone. However, let us also keep in mind not only how long it took for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to act in the first case, but also the fact that numerous cases of detainee abuse committed by PMSC personnel have gone unprosecuted. In February 2008, Amnesty found out through Senator Durbin’s inquiry to the DOJ that 24 cases of detainee abuse were transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia; 22 of the 24 were dismissed and 2 are pending. Our efforts to find out why these cases were dismissed or unresolved were fruitless.

The industry cannot be expected to regulate itself and a government that is increasingly outsourcing its operations needs to ensure that it has the mechanisms to regulate PMSCs’ activities and hold the companies accountable for their actions (and not reward them with more contracts). Doug Brooks of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) stated that PMSCs are here to stay and that it’s about time we made it work but after the recent completion of a twelfth version of IPOA’s Code of Conduct, the trade association still has not made it work. Essentially, the Code is ineffectual. For starters, there are no guidelines detailing what compliance with its standards entails; companies do not have to show that they are operationalizing the Code to IPOA or any third-party monitor; and there are no requirements for public reporting on company efforts to adhere to the Code.

This is why the U.S. government will have to move beyond the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to create a new body of legislation that will hold all U.S. government contractors working overseas accountable – irrespective of which government agency employs them – if they commit human rights violations.

For more information on PMSCs, visit www.aiusa.org/pmscs and read CorpWatch’s investigative report on intelligence contracting Outsourcing Intelligence in Iraq.

Much Ado About Blackwater Part II: Xe (the next generation?)

Just as it seemed everyone knew about Blackwater and its laundry list of scandals, the company pulled an all-too-common move of ducking a public-relations battering and organization-level accountability by changing it’s name. Poof. No more “Blackwater”, no more problem. Now, there’s just Xe (the company’s new name) and the “U.S. Training Center”.

I, for one, think we should instead refer to the firm as the “company formerly known as Blackwater”, at least until there’s evidence of real changes in its way of operating. And, by real changes, I don’t just mean that Erik Prince isn’t CEO anymore. Will the company formerly known as Blackwater, for example, adopt a human rights policy? Will it introduce stricter (any) guidelines on training and vetting of employees/contractors? Will it do anything to give the world any kind of assurance that it can be trusted  — particularly to train African military troops and/or in peacekeeping missions — areas of work it has been seeking agressively, perhaps in an attempt to stay more behind the scenes than their U.S. Diplomatic Security contract allowed.

Mr. Prince, the former CEO of the company fomerly known as Blackwater, told the Wall Street Journal that he was “a little worn out by the whole thing, the politics of it all”. Frankly, I’m a little worn out of companies getting away with murder and then doing a quick costume change and thinking that solves the problem.

Prince also told the Journal that the company’s new name, Xe, is an abbreviation for Xenon, ”an inert, non-combustible gas.” But nations and private sector clients already know that the company formerly known as Blackwater is not inert — it’s moving quickly to soak up new contracts, and if history repeats itself and the company does not make real changes to its modus operandi, it will prove combustible once again.