U.N. Report Underscores Lack Of Accountability And Oversight For Military And Security Contractors

September 14, 2010

U.S. Should Heed U.N. Recommendations, Says ACLU

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NEW YORK – A report examining the United States' handling of human rights violations committed by private military and security contractors in its employ was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council today. The report by the U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries concludes that, while the U.S. has taken some measures to increase oversight of private military and security contractors (PMSCs), greater transparency and accountability are needed to remedy incidents of human rights violations. The American Civil Liberties Union has long called for private contractors who violate the law to be held accountable and for more government transparency in the use of private contractors, and calls on the U.S. to implement the recommendations made in the report.

"Contracting out government work that involves the use of force and the detention of persons does not absolve the U.S. of its obligations to uphold human rights law," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The Obama administration has committed itself to greater transparency and accountability for universal human rights. It should investigate thoroughly and effectively all allegations of abuse committed by for-profit security contractors overseas and provide effective remedy and compensation to the victims."

Last week, a federal appeals court dismissed an ACLU lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc. for its role in the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program. The ACLU filed the lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of five men who were kidnapped by the CIA and forcibly disappeared to U.S.-run prisons overseas where they were tortured, charging that Jeppesen knowingly participated in the renditions by providing flight planning and logistical support. The Bush administration intervened in the case, improperly asserting the state secrets privilege in an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out, and the Obama administration continued to claim state secrets to block the case.

In preparation for its report, the working group heard testimony from the ACLU on the U.S. government's abuse of the state secrets privilege to shield PMSCs like Jeppesen from legal accountability. The U.N. report includes a recommendation that the U.S. stop withholding key information from the public regarding alleged human rights violations and reduce its use of the state secrets privilege to block legal scrutiny of unlawful practices involving PMSCs. The report also recommends that Congress launch an investigation into the use of private contractors to conduct rendition flights.
 
"The rendition program is unlawful, and companies that helped facilitate it should be held legally accountable. Unfortunately, the Obama administration continues to use the state secrets privilege to block litigation by rendition survivors," said Dakwar. "Extraordinary rendition is not a secret – it is widely known throughout the world, and the only place it isn't being talked about is where it matters most – in U.S. courts. Extraordinary rendition survivors deserve their day in court."

According to the report, the U.S. "relies heavily on the private military and security industry in conducting its worldwide military operations. Private military and security companies (PMSCs) from the United States dominate this new industry, which earns an estimated 20 billion to 100 billion dollars annually. The overall number of contractors in 2009 amounted to 244,000. Private forces constitute about half of the total United States force deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The U.S. government will have an opportunity to respond to the report's findings during today's U.N. Human Rights Council session.

The working group's report is available online at (.pdf): www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/docs/A-HRC-15-25-Add3_AEV.pdf

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