Will Hillary Follow Through On Campaign Pledge To Ban ‘Private Mercenaries’?

Back in February, Senator Hillary Clinton cosponsored legislation calling for the Secretary of State to ban the use of private contractors like Blackwater from guarding State Department employees — a position that takes on new significance now that she is Secretary Of State designate.

It was about three weeks after Super Tuesday in the heat of the Democratic primary — and five months after the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square by now-indicted Blackwater employees working for the State Department — when Clinton took an aggressive stand against the use of private forces. A strongly-worded statement issued by her office lashed out at “private mercenary firms”:

From this war’s very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable. These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.

And in late February, Clinton became the sole Senate cosponsor of a bill, S.2398, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act that had been introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

In a major speech on Iraq a couple of weeks later, Hillary reiterated her support for removing private contractors from “combat-oriented and security functions in Iraq.”“For five years their behavior and lack of supervision and accountability have often eroded our credibility, endangered U.S. and Iraqi lives and undermined our mission,” she noted.

But given Hillary’s current position as Secretary of State designate, the most significant part of her stance can be found in Section 4 of the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which explicitly directs the Secretary of State to take action:

Not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that all personnel at any United States diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by Federal Government personnel.

Senator Clinton’s office has not responded to TPMmuckraker’s inquires about whether she still supports S.2398 and about her plans for the State Department’s use of private forces in Iraq.

So what exactly is at stake here? Between 2003 and 2007, the State Department awarded contracts for security and non-security work in Iraq totaling a massive $4 billion, according to an August report (pdf) by the Congressional Budget Office. Six thousand seven hundred contractors are working in Iraq for the State Department – about 40 percent of whom work on security, and another 25 percent of whom are classified as “police and correction advisers,” the report found. Of the total 6,700 contractors, only a third are U.S. citizens, and nearly half are citizens of neither U.S. citizens nor “local nationals.”

A congressional investigation found that private State Department security contractors from Blackwater alone were involved in nearly 200 “escalation of force” incidents between 2005 and 2007, including multiple killings of Iraqi civilians.

As for Barack Obama’s stance on the issue, he never went as far as Hillary during the primary, and The Nation quoted a senior adviser saying Obama did not support the Stop Outsourcing Security Act. The transition’s official Web site only says that Obama will “establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contract.”

We’ve put in an inquiry with the transition office for more detailed information on the President-Elect’s plans. But if Obama does support the continuing use of firms like Blackwater in Iraq — and requires Hillary to follow the same policy — she may soon find herself running a department that employs forces she once described as endangering both US lives and the mission In Iraq.

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