Fri, Oct 26, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US Congress cracks down on military contractors


The US Congress is moving to put under military control all armed contractors operating in combat zones, a Pentagon recommendation that could run into resistance at the State Department.

The Senate this month included such a requirement in its defense spending bill for next year. Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Wednesday he is confident the House will go along with the idea and include it in a final bill sent to US President George W. Bush.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to testify about the subject yesterday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

She has ordered new rules for the private guards who are hired to protect US diplomats. They include increased monitoring and explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force. The steps were recommended by a review panel that Rice created after a deadly Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater USA guards.

The secretary of state also urged better coordination with the military, but did not explicitly act on a suggestion by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates that combatant commanders have control over the contractors.

Levin said he was not sure if Rice expressly opposed the idea. "Whether she likes it or not, we expect to get this language" to emerge in the compromise with the House.

"It's not slapdash" and "is something we've been working on a long time," Levin said.

The Blackwater shooting provoked an outcry from the Democratic-led Congress and the Iraqi government, which is demanding that it have the right to prosecute the contractors.

In more fallout, the State Department's security chief resigned on Wednesday.

Richard Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, made no mention of the furor in his resignation letter. But it came just one day after a study commissioned by Rice found serious lapses in the department's oversight of private guards, who are employed by Griffin.

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