Contractor Oversight/Accountability Gaps Persist Despite Plan to Expand Presence in Iraq, Afghanistan

NEW REPORT finds many problems unaddressed three years after Nisoor Square Washington, DC – On the third anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre, as the Obama Administration is making plans to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq and deploy thousands more contractors to Afghanistan, inadequate oversight of private contractors in conflict zones and a failure to hold the contractors legally accountable threatens to compromise U.S. national security and undermine the nation’s ongoing military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new report released today. In State of Affairs: Three Years After Nisoor Square – Accountability and Oversight of U.S. Private Security and Other Contractors, Human Rights First notes the urgency of enacting reforms ahead of the Obama Administration’s plans to increase the number of private contractors working overseas. The report assesses the current status of these problems and offers a series of recommendations that aim to improve oversight and accountability of private contractors fielded abroad. Private contractors already far outnumber U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the U.S. plans to drawdown in Iraq, the Department of State plans to more than double the number of private security contractors it employs from 2,700 to 7,000. An additional 50,000 contractors – primarily working for the Department of Defense – will be required to support the Afghan surge. The release of the report coincides with the third anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre on Sept. 16. In that event, Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe) private security contractors working for the United States Department of State killed 17 unarmed civilians and wounded 24 more in an unprovoked incident in Baghdad. The Nisoor Square incident did trigger many positive reforms in U.S. law and policy, the report finds. For example, Congress has mandated greater agency oversight and coordination over private security and other contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Agencies have also, among other things, defined their responsibility for contractor oversight, increased their coordination over contractors, and established common principles governing contractor conduct. Despite that progress, serious deficiencies in U.S. agencies’ reporting, investigation, prosecution and oversight of serious contractor incidents persist. Agencies still do not accurately track the number of contractors and subcontractors fielded abroad. “Many oversight and accountability gaps persist three years after Nisoor Square, putting civilians at risk and undermining U.S. national security,” said Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo, author of the report. “Congress and the administration must work together to put solutions in place before additional contractors are deployed.” Among the report’s 19 recommendations:

  • Congress should enact the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) of 2010 (H.R. 4567, S. 2979) to expand criminal jurisdiction over and increase investigative resources for serious crimes committed by U.S. contractors.
  • Agencies should require oversight bodies to track all serious incidents reported, investigate and remediate when necessary, and maintain all supporting documentation relating to such actions taken.
  • The Department of Justice should commit additional resources to investigate and prosecute contractor crime and formally announce that prosecution of contractor crime abroad is a Justice Department national priority.
  • The Departments of Defense and State, as well as USAID, should develop an effective system to track the number of contractors and subcontractors employed by each agency, and report regularly to Congress and the public.
  • The U.S. government should ensure federal agencies have adequate uniformed and civilian workforce to perform contracting, acquisition, audit and inspector general functions.

Human Rights First has long followed this issue and been at the forefront of advocating for smart reforms to improve oversight and accountability capabilities. In November 2008, the organization issued How to End Impunity for Private Security and Other Contractors: Blueprint for the Next President.  In January of that same year, it also released a comprehensive report, Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity, that laid out the broad problem of contractor impunity, analyzed the current legal framework, and set forth detailed recommendations to establish accountability. For more information about this work, visit


Published on September 15, 2010


Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.