Pentagon Launches Probe of Security Contractors

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates has sent a team to Iraq to examine the operations of private seurity contractors, including Blackwater USA. The move comes after Blackwater was reported to have been involved in a deadly Sept. 16 shootout while protecting an American diplomatic convoy.

Peter Singer of the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution has a new report criticizing the use of contractors in Iraq.

The report finds that while contractors are handling several different jobs in Iraq, their presence is actually harming the counterinsurgency effort — from helping U.S. policymakers avoid making tough decisions, to how they create a bigger is better mentality and force lawmakers on several occasions to jettison their strategies that were designed to win the war.

Singer says one of the major problems with using security contractors in Iraq is they do not have the same mission as the U.S. military. Contractors, he says, are trying to fulfill their contracts, not win the war.

If contractors are critical to the mission in Iraq, that would mean there is a fundamental problem with the U.S. military, whose job is to win wars, Singer says.

Doug Brooks, president of International Peace Operations Association, an organization that represents contractors, says private contractors take a lot of the burden off the military by handling a variety of duties — from cooking to security. This allows a smaller military to focus on its mission in Iraq.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he has concerns that congressional inquiries into Blackwater are being hampered and plans a hearing on Blackwater and security contractors next week.

His committee's new report on Fallujah contradicts Blackwater's official report on the 2004 attack that left four members of its security team dead. Images of the men's burned bodies were seen around the world and sparked the battle of Fallujah.

Waxman says there may be as many as 181 private military contractors and 48,000 contractor personnel operating in Iraq. These contractors are not held to the same standards as U.S. military personnel and are not being held accountable for their actions. However, when contractors fire on Iraqi civilians, the Iraqis do not distinguish between them and the troops. This hurts the U.S. effort to win over the Iraqis' "hearts and minds," the congressman says.

Brooks says contractors and their employees should be held accountable for their actions.

Singer talks to Alex Cohen. Waxman and Brooks speak with Madeleine Brand.

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