Laying Down the Rules for Private Security Contractors

The failure to establish effective accountability over private security contractors (PSCs) hasn't just obscured important truths about how our nation secures its foreign policy -- it has allowed some reckless actors to repeatedly endanger this goal.

We now have a chance to firmly lay down the rules, punish violators and allow the professional PSCs who make me proud every day do the jobs they're trained to do. This is why I support The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA), which will be reintroduced soon by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT. The bill was originally introduced last year and goes further than the current law in holding contractors accountable and plugs potential legal loopholes that bad actors may take advantage of.

The truth is our nation and our allies depend on PSCs to meet their goals. Without PSCs and the mission flexibility we provide, crucial military personnel and assets would have to be pulled from the front lines to perform tasks such as guarding an embassy gate or checking IDs. This is not why we send our highly-trained soldiers overseas. Private security companies allow soldiers to do what only soldiers can do. And, already strained by repeated deployments, our troops would face even less time at home with their families amid more grueling rotations. Another benefit is that, despite the claims otherwise, PSCs in most cases save the government money, a fact established by a 2008 Congressional Budget Office analysis and a comprehensive 2010 Government Accountability Office report. With federal budgets tight, this fact should not be ignored.

There is no argument that a number of serious incidents involving PSCs have occurred. The lack of an effective legal framework for accountability only adds to the alarm and outrage these incidents cause. Bad actors put lives and critical work at risk and are then allowed to perform more government work, further straining the nation's difficult missions overseas. Those of us who take this work seriously know what's at stake, for ourselves, for those we protect, and most of all, for our country.

While Triple Canopy has been working diligently alongside U.S. Government officials performing critical work in distant war zones, I've committed us to fighting the good fight on behalf of regulators too. We were proud to help launch the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, unveiled in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2010, establishing a global set of standards and launching efforts to create effective mechanisms for governance and oversight.

Our work on these issues has allowed us to pursue common goals with groups such as Human Rights First, a leading non-governmental organization committed to the rule of law and human dignity, and another supporter of Sen. Leahy's legislation. In matters as important as CEJA, we stand side-by-side with Human Rights First in its call for clear standards of accountability.

By establishing accountability, we can move on to culpability. We can be sure that safeguards are in place and that contractors who break the rules are punished while those that honor the rules are not. Ultimately, how we decide to address questions of accountability and culpability for these incidents must reflect the ideals that America offers: we must be fair, respect the rights of all parties, and seek only justice, free from the influence of politics. And I hope we'll move past the confusion and politicization when it comes to PSCs and begin to realize that one does not need to be a member of the military in order to serve our country.

If we do not take these steps, we'll get more of the same: more misunderstandings about what PSCs do, more contracts awarded to the rule-breakers, and more politicization in the vacuum of facts. In the absence of proper accountability, we put our country's ability to achieve our goals at risk, from the country's foreign policy to the lives of those on the ground.

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