"Interrogation for Profit." That was the title of the lead op-ed in last Thursday's New York Times. It's a phrase straight of Brave New Films' documentary Iraq for Sale, and an issue we've been calling attention to for the last few years. But while it's gratifying to see a growing dialogue about how the Bush administration has shirked all accountability regarding the detainment and interrogation of Iraqi prisoners by hiring mercenary private contractors, this fight is far from over.
It is true, as the op-ed pointed out, that Congress is finally pushing to prohibit private contractors and limit the use of security guards in combat areas. According to Congressional Quarterly, the House has already passed such a ban and the Senate is set to consider its own version, which has been tacked onto a $612.5 billion defense authorization bill. Not surprisingly, however, President Bush is already threatening to veto, using the age-old boilerplate that banning private interrogators "would unduly limit the United States' ability to obtain intelligence needed to protect Americans from attack."
Protect Americans from attack? Once again, Bush is painting himself as our concerned father, though by now he's become an abusive parent. By suggesting that only the father can safeguard his children (us) from the supposedly imminent threat of terrorism, Bush is preying on our collective vulnerabilities in a post-9/11 world. For the last seven years, this has been Bush's chief line of defense, and it's a diabolically clever one because it has enabled his administration to run this war with zero accountability.
For what would happen if Congress were successful in banning or even limiting the use of private contractors? It would effectively mark the beginning of an end to the Bush administration and its shadow army of over 180,000 private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq. It would mean that when there is another incident like last September's shooting in Nisour Square -- in which Blackwater guards were accused of brutally killing 17 Iraqi civilians without any provocation -- the Bush administration wouldn't be able to pour hundreds of millions more into "protective services" contracts for Blackwater and other companies. Perhaps this legislation would even open up the floodgates, signaling the corporate press to examine the Bush administration's reliance on contractors and facilitating the prosecution of contractors charged with lethal conduct.
This legislation could also mean accountability for those contractors who have profited enormously from the outsourcing of intelligence gathering. Our government wouldn't be able to continue outsourcing 70 percent of its intelligence budget. That colossal number, according to Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, is equivalent to over $42 billion a year that our governments hands over to a "'secret army' of corporate vendors." These are profiteers like CACI International, whose interrogators faced no repercussions when they were accused of abusing Abu Ghraib prisoners with attacks dogs. Instead, the government awarded CACI a three-year $156 million contract to provide more army intelligence training and information technology support.
Proponents of the Congressional legislation to ban contractors are correct in pointing out that this war and the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners ought to be the responsibility of highly-trained military personnel, not poorly-prepared contractors whose only goal is to make profits. And while Bush will likely veto this bill, hopefully Congress will listen to Iraq for Sale, NY Times op-eds, and the bologsphere, and remain undaunted in its pursuit of oversight. At the very least, here's hoping these calls for accountability can drown out future admonitions from our abusive father.