Friday, October 5, 2007

US House approves Blackwater-backed legislation

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation backed by Blackwater CEO Erik Prince to fill legal gaps concerning accountability for private contractors abroad.

Prince complained to Congress on October 2 that existing law did not allow him to take action against Blackwater diplomatic security personnel abroad who were suspected of committing crimes. He referred specifically to the highly publicized case of an off-duty guard who got drunk and allegedly shot a bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president. All Blackwater could do in that case, Prince said, was fire the guard, make him pay a financial penalty, send him back to the US, and urge that the government revoke the guard's security clearance.

When lawmakers suggested that Blackwater should have apprehended the alleged killer, Prince said that US law forbids the company to detain people. "We fired him. We fined him. But we, as a private organization, can't do any more," Prince told congressmen at the hearing. "We can't flog him. We can't incarcerate him. That's up to the Justice Department. We are not empowered to enforce U.S. law."

The Blackwater CEO publicly backed a bill by Rep. David Price (D-NC), HR 2740, to expand US law to make non-Defense Department contractors abroad accountable for wrongdoing or criminal activity.

Congressman Price's legislation also had the strong support of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), a trade group of which Blackwater is a member. "Anything that enhances the accountability is good for our industry," says IPOA President Doug Brooks.

The White House opposes the legislation, and Republicans argue that Democrats are ramming the bill through Congress without adequate review.

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