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U.S. Congressional Wartime Commission Targets Armed Contractors

Pratap Chatterjee

On June 21 Jerry Torres, whose company provides translators and armed security guards in Iraq, was invited to testify before the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC). The bi-partisan body was created by the U.S. Congress in early 2008 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in military contracting services in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Today, every U.S. soldier deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq is matched by at least one civilian working for a private company. All told, about 239,451 contractors work for the Pentagon in battle zones around the world. Roughly one in five is a U.S. citizen, two out of five are natives of the country at war, and the remaining workers are from third countries, according to a census taken by the Pentagon's Central Command in the first quarter of 2010.

In January Torres's company had dispatched hundreds of Sierra Leonian armed security guards to protect Forward Operating Base Shield, a U.S. military base in Baghdad. "This Commission was going to ask him, under oath, why his firm agreed in January to assume private security responsibilities at FOB Shield with several hundred guards that had not been properly vetted and approved," said Michael Thibault, one of the co-chairs of the commission and a former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

"This Commission was also going to ask Mr. Torres why he personally flew to Iraq, to FOB Shield, and strongly suggested … that Torres AES be allowed to post the unapproved guards, guards that would protect American troops, and then to ‘catch-up the approval process,’" added Thibault.
Instead, Torrres’s lawyer informed the commission staff that the former Green Beret was "nervous about appearing."

The failure of a contractor to appear for an oversight hearing into lapses highlighted the entrenched reliance on private contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq that has led to numerous abuses from alleged fraud to the killing of innocent bystanders.

Currently, the Pentagon and the State Department employ some 18,800 armed "private security contractors" in Iraq and another 23,700 in Afghanistan to protect convoys, diplomats and other personnel, and military bases and other facilities at a cost estimated to run into billions of dollars a year.

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