Clinton Aide Takes Responsibility in Afghan Embassy Hazings
The State Department's personnel chief took the blame for lewd acts by the guard force at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, a hazing scandal that has raised questions about the outsourcing of diplomatic security, Bloomberg reported.
"As the State Department's senior management officer, I take responsibility for having failed to prevent them and for not having uncovered them earlier," Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, told an oversight panel today of the incidents documented in photographs, testimony and e-mails.
Eight guards assigned to secure the embassy in Kabul have been fired and four quit after appearing in scenes of nudity and drunkenness. In addition, the senior management team in Kabul for the contractor, ArmorGroup North America, is being replaced. ArmorGroup is owned by Wackenhut Services Inc., whose parent company is West Sussex, U.K.-based G4S Plc.
The company has said it is cooperating in the State Department probe.
Kennedy, who reports to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke before the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, born out of legislation signed last year by President George W. Bush.
Commission co-chairman Chris Shays, a former Republican congressman from Connecticut, said the incidents in Kabul "undermine American efforts to build a stable, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan" and they "provide free recruiting material to the Taliban."
Commissioner Dov Zakheim, a former undersecretary of defense, called the scandal "the equivalent of Abu Ghraib for Afghanistan," referring to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. personnel at a facility west of Baghdad.
The scandal emerged as President Barack Obama is trying to develop a more effective strategy to fend off the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Obama has ordered an additional 21,000 troops and trainers to the war, which will bring the total U.S. force there to 68,000.
Still, since 2004, the U.S. military hasn't provided soldiers to secure the embassy. The State Department has since relied on outside contractors to provide that function.
A total of 2,500 contract workers serve as guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kennedy said. He added that finding contractors for those countries presents "unique logistical challenges" for the State Department.
Kennedy said an embassy regional security officer is being stationed at Camp Sullivan, the housing complex about four miles (six kilometers) from the embassy compound where the activities took place.
"These recent events make evident the need for stronger State Department oversight, including now when contractors are off duty," Kennedy said. "And unless that oversight can be effectively provided by our contractors, closer management by government personnel will be necessary."
Commissioners questioned why the State Department hadn't terminated the ArmorGroup contract even after it issued repeated reprimands of the contractor's conduct since 2007.
Commissioner Linda Gustitus said the State Department need not wait until the end of an investigation to terminate a contract and likened the incident to one involving the company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, which provided security in Iraq.
Five guards employed by Blackwater, now known as Xe, were charged in December with manslaughter and weapons violations in the deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in a hail of gunfire at a busy Baghdad intersection in 2007. A sixth Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty to related charges in the case.
"When you didn't terminate your contract with Blackwater," Gustitus, a former chief of staff to Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said, it sent "a message to other contractors that you can do a lot" and not lose a contract.
The Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based non-profit organization that investigates misconduct, prompted the State Department actions. In a Sept. 1 letter to Clinton, released to the public, the group detailed how some guards and supervisors engaged "in near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates."
The watchdog group described and provided photos of scenes of nudity and drunkenness and said guards who refused to participate were ridiculed, demoted and even fired.
Guards also remained sleep-deprived because of staff shortages, and the inability of some personnel to communicate adequately in English forced the use of pantomime in dangerous situations, the group said.