Following last Sunday's shooting involving Iraqi civilians and guards employed by a Blackwater USA private security team, Senate Democrats today heard startling testimony from a group of contractor whistleblowers.
At a Democratic Committee policy hearing on Capitol Hill, Donald Vance, Navy veteran and former private security contractor, told lawmakers about his three-month incarceration in April 2006 at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, where he was kept in solitary confinement, denied an attorney and subjected to psychological torture, all for blowing the whistle on his former employer, private security contractor Shield Guard Services.
After witnessing weapons-dealing, bribery and contract fraud at SGS the previous year, Vance had contacted the FBI on a trip back to Chicago, but upon his return to Baghdad in the spring of 2006 he believed he had been targeted by SGS and started to fear for his safety.
"What started as a rescue ended up a nightmare," Vance said. Instead of verifying his information with the FBI, Vance said "these government officials blindfolded and handcuffed me and took me into detention. I was placed in isolation. I was denied food and water. I was denied sleep. I was also denied requested, and much needed, medication. I was interrogated constantly."
Vance continued: "Before each session, I would ask for an attorney. This request was invariably denied."
At the end of his detention, the Navy veteran said the U.S. military "gave me a $20 bill and dumped me at Baghdad airport." Vance has since filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, called it "an unbelievable story," saying "it's frightening anytime we hear of an American citizen detained by American hands and not given constitutional rights given to all Americans."
Dorgan promised that, in light of what he called "the most staggering amount of contractor abuse in the history of the country," Congress would take action.
"This is about people dying, about money being stolen from U.S. taxpayers, and it's time for the U.S. government to get it right."
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., admitted Congress had been too slow to react.
"This particular problem has kind of flown by us, but it cries out for accountability. This system is in total chaos," Webb said.
"It is long past time to confront and constrain these contracting abuses," agreed Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Lawmakers also heard testimony about the plights of other whistleblowers.
Former Chief Contracting Officer of the Army Corps of Engineers Bunnatine Greenhouse was removed from her post after she raised concerns about the awarding of a $7 billion contract to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root.
"Contracting officers now know that speaking up against contracting abuses will not bring them praise but can cost them their jobs", she said.