September 27, 2007 in Nation/World

Pentagon probing contractor oversight

Mcclatchy The Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department announced Wednesday that it’s sent a team of investigators to Iraq to look into how the U.S. military monitors private security contractors in the wake of a Sept. 16 incident in which security guards working for the State Department killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians.

Pentagon officials also said they’ve sent a memo to commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan reminding them that they can court-martial private security guards working under military contracts who violate U.S. military law.

The twin actions come as U.S. and Iraqi authorities try to determine how to punish private security contractors who shoot civilians unnecessarily or take other actions that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior military officials worry are undermining U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has referred its investigation of the Sept. 16 incident to a magistrate for possible criminal charges, saying that security guards from Blackwater USA opened fire without provocation at a busy Baghdad intersection, killing 11 and wounding 12. At the time, the guards were escorting a State Department convoy. Blackwater has said its guards were responding to hostile fire.

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