Despite the growing use of contractors by the U.S. government, the system for awarding contracts and managing civilians working for those firms remain decentralized and unclear. In this environment, serious allegations of contractor involvement in human rights violations - including the torture at Abu Ghraib and hundreds of shootings, sometimes lethal, of Iraqi civilians - have emerged, yet contractors have not been held accountable.
A gruesome example of this occurred near Nisour Square, Baghdad, on September 16, when at least 17 Iraqis were killed after contractors of Blackwater Worldwide (now called Xe), a contractor of the U.S. State Department, reportedly shot several rounds from their armored vehicles. This is neither the first time nor an isolated incident of Blackwater personnel using lethal force against Iraqi civilians. The last widely reported incident was of a Blackwater contractor shooting and killing the Iraqi Vice President's body guard, on December 24, 2006. Additionally, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reported at an October 2 hearing that Blackwater engaged in 195 shootings since 2005, firing the first shots 84% of the time.
Erik Prince, Blackwater Worldwide's CEO, testified that his contractors "acted appropriately at all times". Yet, only eight days later, the company withdrew from the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), the trade association whose code of conduct it committed to follow, after IPOA was to begin a review of its compliance with the code's standards. The code itself is inadequate, but at least references key international human rights standards and could have been used to assess and potentially improve Blackwater's business practices and policies.
The case against the Blackwater (Xe) contractors was dismissed and the Department of Justice is currently examining whether or not charges will be refiled.