WASHINGTON – Five Democratic senators have asked Congressional auditors to investigate the use and activities of private military contractors in Iraq.
In a letter to congressional auditors on Thursday, the senators said the private firms – which employ as many as 20,000 people in Iraq – are increasingly doing security work, but they are unregulated by the federal government.
"In what ways might it endanger the lives of United States servicemen and women to be operating or cooperating with these firms or to be located in areas where PMFs are carrying out their own operations," the senators asked the auditors at the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm.
The six-page letter poses multiple questions on 35 different subjects involving the contractors, ranging from who they are and how many have been injured or killed so far, to an explanation of government costs and accountability.
The letter was signed by Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. It underscores concerns that lawmakers have expressed in recent weeks about the contractors.
A recent review of government documents by The Associated Press found that 10 companies with billions of dollars in U.S. contracts for Iraq reconstruction have paid more than $300 million in penalties since 2000 to resolve allegations of bid rigging, fraud, delivery of faulty military parts and environmental damage.
The United States is paying more than $780 million to one British firm that was convicted of fraud on three federal construction projects and banned from U.S. government work during 2002.
Earlier this month, 13 Democrats wrote Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to argue that it is a dangerous precedent to allow private armies to operate outside the control of a governmental authority.
Dozens of companies are operating in Iraq under contract with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led governing body in Iraq, plus the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies. Thousands of others are on assignments for the United States and others worldwide, protecting buildings, guarding officials, and training police and soldiers.
The senators asked the GAO to address the private contractors' liabilities, including whether they are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and who has jurisdiction to punish them if they commit crimes.
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