Local Politics

Congressman Proposes Prosecuting Iraq Contractors

Posted October 2, 2007 5:48 p.m. EDT
Updated October 2, 2007 6:08 p.m. EDT

— As his colleagues grilled the founder and chief executive of private security firm Blackwater USA on Monday, 4th District Congressman David Price prepared for a House vote on his bill to prosecute contractors in Iraq.

Price's bill, which would that make all contractors working overseas subject to U.S. prosecution, is expected to go to a floor vote on Tuesday.

"You don't have a good answer for the Iraqis when they say they want to prosecute and we don't have a process for prosecuting them," the Chapel Hill Democrat said.

The FBI is investigating a Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater personnel opened fire on a crowd outside Baghdad, killing eight people. Blackwater officials maintain they were defending themselves, while the Iraqi government contends those killed were civilians.

Any evidence of wrongdoing in the case will be passed onto the Justice Department, officials said.

Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince defended his company Tuesday from charges that personnel were rogue mercenaries.

"I believe we acted appropriately at all times," Prince, a 38-year-old former Navy seal, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Richard Myers, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and a former federal prosecutor, said military personnel or contractors working for the military can be prosecuted for crimes in U.S. courts. But the law isn't clear for private contractors working for other government agencies or for private companies.

"I actually think this has the potential to set precedent," Myers said. "This is an important case, and it's the first one to test our system after the significant increase in the use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Because Blackwater is based in Moyock, any investigation into the company and its actions could fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh.