December 6, 2007 in Nation/World

Deal boosts military control over security contractors

Robert Burns Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – A new agreement between the Pentagon and the State Department gives the military in Iraq more control over Blackwater Worldwide and other private security contractors.

The agreement was signed Wednesday at the Pentagon by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, whose department uses Blackwater to guard its diplomats. It spells out rules, standards and guidelines for the use of private security contractors.

The agreement also says contractors will be accountable for criminal acts under U.S. law. That partly clarifies what happens if a contractor breaks the law, but leaves the details to be worked out with Congress.

The move to tighten oversight followed Iraqi outrage over a Sept. 16 shooting in which 17 Iraq civilians were killed in a Baghdad square. Blackwater said its guards were protecting diplomats under attack before they opened fire, but Iraqi investigators concluded the shooting was unprovoked.

U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq later complained that they often do not know security firms are moving through their areas of responsibility until after some hostile incident has taken place.

One of the chief features of the new accord is a provision giving the main U.S. military command in Iraq more information on ground and air movements of private security contractors.

The agreement does not give the U.S. military complete control of all contractor movements, but it states that the U.S Embassy’s tactical operations center “will generally honor” the military’s recommendations to alter or cancel ground convoy or helicopter movements.

The agreement says deadly force is authorized when a private security contractor “reasonably believes that a person has committed a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent and poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to the personal security contractor.”

When there is evidence of a crime, the embassy and the Pentagon “will make referrals to the appropriate prosecutorial authority,” the agreement said. State and Defense departments will team up to help Congress establish a legal basis to hold security contractors “accountable under U.S. law.”

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