Senate Rejects Contractor Ban

NYT – Senate Rejects Harder Penalties On Companies, And Ban On Private Interrogators [RSS]

The Senate on Wednesday defeated Democratic-led efforts inspired by controversies in Iraq to institute tougher criminal penalties for companies that overcharge on war and relief efforts and to ban private contractors in military interrogations.

Both measures grew out of events in Iraq, where some American companies have been accused of overcharging the government for goods and services, and where employees of private companies have been implicated in the prison abuse scandal.

Opponents said the proposals could disrupt military operations in Iraq and impair American intelligence and supply efforts. The plan to bar private interrogators within 90 days and translators within a year was rejected on a 54-43 vote; the tougher criminal penalties – of as much as 20 years – were defeated 52-46. If adopted, both would have been added to a major Pentagon bill now being debated in the Senate.

Senators approved an alternative Republican plan to extend current domestic antifraud laws to those operating overseas and, on a voice vote, adopted a declaration that those held in American custody should not be subject to torture.

Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he feared the proposal to allow jail terms of up to 20 years for those found to have “materially overvalued” goods and services could deter companies from seeking work in Iraq. He said such a step required more consideration .

I’d have to read the debate transcripts to fully understand the debate but this actually strikes me as reasonable–which was not my initial reaction upon seeing the headline. I strongly oppose putting contractors in charge of interrogations, but it may well not be practical to make the change in 90 days. Contracting translators seems perfectly reasonable, given that we need them in larger numbers at the moment than we will a year or two from now. And a 20-year criminal penalty strikes me as rather reactionary; the extension of existing anti-fraud legislation to cover overseas operations is more deliberate.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.