On Wednesday, Edwards Also Participated in NEA’s ‘From the School House to the White House’ and Visited Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
(Manchester, NH) – On Wednesday, October 3rd Senator John Edwards returned to New Hampshire to unveil a bold new direction for security contractors in Iraq that will bring contractors back within the Pentagon’s chain of command and help prevent disasters like the recent scandal involving Blackwater contractors and the deaths of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. At the Seacoast Media Group forum in Portsmouth this afternoon, Edwards also discussed his detailed plan to end the war and withdraw all troops from Iraq in 9-10 months.
“George Bush’s outsourcing of security in Iraq to private industry and political cronies is yet another striking example of his dangerous mismanagement of this war,” Edwards said. “As president, I will end this end-run around the all-volunteer force that has served this country so well and bring all security contractors back within the Pentagon’s chain of command.”
NOTE – Attached below is a fact sheet on John Edwards’ plan.
Earlier in the day, Edwards participated in the NEA’s ‘From the School House to the White House' event at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton. Edwards was the first presidential candidate from either party to participate in the event in conjunction with the National Education Association. Edwards spoke with students and took questions before sitting down with teachers for a discussion about education issues and Edwards’ bold K-12 education plan.
On Wednesday, Edwards also visited the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a meeting with members and leaders of the Federal Employees Metal Trades Council.John Edwards’ Plan to End the Current System of Outsourcing Security Missions to Private Contractors
“The recent incidents of violence involving Blackwater contractors in Iraq, including the shooting of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad last month, have caused tremendous damage to America’s battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. These incidents hurt America’s moral standing, both in Iraq and around the world. And they serve as a tragic reminder of how the Bush Administration has outsourced our military responsibilities to corporate contractors and political cronies who operate outside of the rules of engagement and without any meaningful oversight.” -- John Edwards
About 50,000 private contractors are currently working on security and military missions in Iraq. Their tasks can include loading weapons systems, operating combat systems and guarding diplomats. In many instances, security contractors actually engage in combat. However, they frequently lack rules of engagement, an operational command and legal oversight. [The New York Times, October 1, 2007; Singer, 2007]
The Bush Administration’s outsourcing of security tasks to private industry and political cronies, combined with its poor management and oversight, has led directly to disasters like the recent tragedy involving a convoy operated by Blackwater, an independent contracting firm that guards State Department employees. In September 2007, a Blackwater convoy was involved in a firefight in Baghdad that left at least 8 Iraqi civilians dead. And this is not the first time Blackwater has gotten into trouble. Blackwater contractors have been in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq in the last two years—in most cases firing from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded. Their forces have been involved in the shootings of innocent bystanders, a traffic accident where an Iraqi vehicle went up in flames, and an incident in which a drunken Blackwater contractor allegedly killed a security guard of the Iraqi vice president in 2006. Other security contractors were involved in the Abu Ghraib interrogator scandals. [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform 2007; Singer 2007]
Events like these have caused tremendous damage to America’s battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Even worse, security contractors can escape responsibility for alleged misconduct. There does not appear to be any clear legal authority to prosecute Blackwater for the recent event in Baghdad, or the operational command to prevent such incidents in the future.
Such catastrophes have at least three causes. First, the president’s disastrous management of the Iraq War and the administration’s poor intelligence and planning of missions has required the outsourcing of security functions from the professional military. Second, President Bush has pursued an ideological doctrine that enriches corporate cronies at the expense of good governance and sound policy. Third, Republican policymakers have made an end-run around the main purpose of the modern, post-Vietnam all-volunteer force: that we should not go to war without the backing and involvement of the people. [Singer, 2007]
We must end our current system of outsourcing security missions to private contractors. John Edwards believes we need to return to a military that responds to the will of the American people and that puts all personnel under clear operational command and the rule of law. As president, he will fundamentally reform our system for security contractors by restoring democracy, expanding the rule of law, getting cronyism out of the system and ensuring accountability.
Restore Democracy to Our Military Decisions About the War : We must put the democracy back in our military and prevent a disaster like the continuation of the Iraq War –despite the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Americans – from ever happening again. Because contractors neither enlist in the services nor have servicemembers’ substantial training or service requirements, they can be used without accountability. As president, Edwards will transfer most security missions currently performed by contractors back to military command,narrowly limit the circumstances under which security contractors can be engaged, and bring all security contractors within the Pentagon’s chain of command.
Expand Legal Oversight and Prosecutions : The Military Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) covers contractors, but only those employed by the Department of Defense. As president, Edwards will ask Congress to amend MEJA to cover contractors employed by any U.S. agency. He will also work with his Attorney General to ensure criminal allegations involving contractors are always investigated and, whenappropriate, prosecuted. Finally, there should never be a mystery about when contractors can use force and the penalties for improper actions. Edwards will charge his Secretary of Defense with establishing clear rules of engagement for contractors.
Get Cronyism out of Security Contracts : Political cronyism has no place when America’s moral reputation, as well as the lives of our brave servicemembers, are at stake. As president, Edwards will ask Congress to pass legislation prohibiting campaign contributions by applicants for and recent recipients of security contracts, extending the ban to current contractors. He will also ask Congress to pass legislation to close the revolvingdoor for government contractors by prohibiting former officials from working as contractors with business before their former offices for five years.
Establish Strong Quality Control and Accountability Measures : We have seen too much mismanagement and poor personnel choices under the Bush Administration, with a system that lacks clear and consistent measures to insure the quality of contractor operations. As president, Edwards will charge his National Security Advisor with establishing a regular system of Quality Assurance Evaluations of contractors and will make sure that agencies exercise oversight.
Implement a Formal Evaluation of the Role of Contractors : Today, we do not have complete information on the role of security contractors in our security operations, as the Department of Defense appears incapable of even reporting how many are working for us in Iraq. As president, Edwards will order his Secretary of Defense to deliver a comprehensive accounting of all contractors performing security operations within the first six months of hisadministration. Edwards has also proposed the creation of a new National Security Budget that will include all security activities by the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies. Edwards will require this budget to include all funding requests for all contractors, so that Congress can better evaluate the role and value of security contractors in the future.