Recommendations for Overseeing Government Contractors

Testimony Before the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

SOURCE: Center for American Progress

Pratap Chatterjee

Pratap Chatterjee testifies on private contractors before the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Read the testimony (CAP Action).

Chairman José Luis Gómez del Prado, distinguished members of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you. My name is Pratap Chatterjee and I am a Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where I focus on government procurement reform as part of the “Doing What Works” team. I’m also a member of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA.

First, I’ll give you a sense of my background. I have traveled to the Middle East and Central Asia more than a dozen times since September 11, 2001, spending more than 16 months on the ground in the region to investigate military contractors. I have visited Afghanistan and Iraq four times each, starting in January 2002. I traveled to both those countries as a journalist and spent almost all my time in the so-called “red zones,” accompanied generally only by a fixer or translator. In addition, I have also embedded with the U.S. military and visited bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in Kosovo and Kuwait, to research military logistics and police training contracts with KBR and DynCorp. I have written two books on this subject—Halliburton’s Army and Iraq, Inc.—as well as numerous articles and reports such as “Outsourcing Intelligence in Iraq,” which was produced in collaboration with Amnesty International. In my role as managing editor of CorpWatch, a website tracking corporate malfeasance, I also commissioned and edited a number of other investigative reports such as “Afghanistan, Inc.” on reconstruction in that country. I would be happy to make copies of any of these materials available to the Working Group should you be interested.

I would like to begin my remarks by noting that in the United States the use of private contractors for military purposes is now firmly entrenched in the Defense Department and many other government agencies. The activities of these contractors range from low-skill tasks like janitorial, kitchen, and transportation services, to essential military logistical support functions like weapons maintenance and protection. These armed security contractors can be further divided into two categories: static and mobile. Static guards are mostly relegated to enforcing entry rules, although they do carry weapons. The mobile security contractors who provide convoy support have attracted the most attention because of the likelihood of conflict with local populations. Most of the first “static” group of workers do not pose such a threat to local populations since they are not typically armed. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that mobile security teams are the only group of private contractors that pose human rights threats in conflict zones.

There are several other groups worthy of attention, such as interrogators and translators, some of whom provide inherently governmental services and others that provide support for such work. The Working Group has reported on two such companies—CACI and L-3/Titan—yet it has not sufficiently addressed their work in the draft convention. I would also like to discuss briefly the inexperienced police officers that have been hired through companies like DynCorp and tasked to train local security forces.

Finally I would like to discuss the tracking of weapons and ammunition that were supplied by contractors, and the theft and misuse of weapons by security forces. Once again, these are matters that the Working Group has examined, but I feel has not sufficiently tackled.

Briefly, my recommendations to the Working Group are as follows: (i) Create a model register of private military and security companies, (ii) incorporate freedom of information into the draft convention, (iii) set up minimum standards and professional guidelines for translators, (iv) collaborate with the Arms Trade Treaty negotiators, and (v) start a "name and shame" campaign against private military and security companies that violate international humanitarian law.

Pratap Chatterjee testifies on private contractors before the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Read the testimony (CAP Action).