Nisoor Square Anniversary Reminder of Need to Close Accountability Gap
Washington, D.C. – Five years ago this Sunday, Sept. 16, private security contractors working for the U.S. company then known as Blackwater killed 17 unarmed civilians and wounded 24 more in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Both Iraqi government and U.S. military officials characterized the shootings as unjustified. Human Rights First notes that the incident exposed the United States’ unprecedented reliance on private contractors to perform military and security functions in a war zone without a commensurate U.S. policy for overseeing this contractor force and holding them accountable for serious violent crimes. “Not only did this tragedy reveal that the United States was ill-prepared to oversee and hold contractors accountable for acts of violence and abuse, it also alienated local populations and undercut the United States’ military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo. Despite positive reforms in U.S. law and policy in the years after Nisoor Square, many oversight and accountability gaps remain. To date, the law does not give U.S. courts criminal jurisdiction over all private security contractors employed by the U.S. government who commit crimes abroad. “It defies logic that a U.S. soldier who commits a crime abroad can be held accountable under U.S. law, but a private contractor who commits the same exact crime may not,” according to Milazzo. Currently, there is legislation in both chambers of Congress which would narrow, if not close, this gap. The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) would clarify and expand U.S. criminal jurisdiction over contractors fielded abroad, increase oversight, and allocate necessary investigatory and prosecutorial resources. CEJA would be a meaningful step towards closing the accountability gap and preventing future abuses by contractors deployed by the United States abroad. “The anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre should serve as a stark reminder that failing to establish an effective system of oversight and accountability of these private contractors undermines U.S. national security interests. Congress should act now to pass CEJA,” concludes Milazzo.