PROVO Rep. Chris Cannon's vote against a revised law to hold private contractors in Iraq legally accountable is being questioned by his congressional seat competitors.
However, Cannon asserts the bill is poorly drafted and is damaging and redundant to a law already in place to provide contractor accountability something outside onlookers might not have seen.
"I believe people should be responsible they are responsible," Cannon said, who added he is not in favor of contractor immunity but doesn't want to see additional loopholes created by new legislation.
Cannon was one of 30 members of the House of Representatives to vote against a bill to give the United States additional power to prosecute private contractors for crimes.
The bill came in the wake of, and what Cannon calls as an attack against, Blackwater a group that protects diplomats and has recently come under fire over civilian assaults.
"As I write this, the Pelosi majority are attempting to apply United States criminal law to Blackwater USA and other private security firms in Iraq," Cannon wrote in an article published in "Human Events," a conservative newsletter/Web site. "The same people who clamor for a 'diplomatic and political solution' are trying to hamstring the very people who have a 100 percent success rate in protecting diplomats."
David Leavitt, running for the Republican nomination for the November 2008 election, said he disagrees with Cannon's vote.
"I would not have voted to extend immunity to contractors in Iraq," Leavitt said. "I just think that Congressman Cannon is on the wrong side of the issue."
However, Cannon explained he isn't in favor of immunity, either, and that accountability has always been in place through the National Defense Authorization Act, passed in 2005.
The act expanded the definition of who could be prosecuted for crimes to include civilian contractors and employees from other federal agencies who support American military missions overseas, according to the congressional document.
For some reason, though, no one has used that old law to prosecute independent contractors, said members of Cannon's staff. So rather than trying the legislation, a new, poorly worded bill was created, Cannon said.
This proposed law would limit the scope of prosecutions to individuals who are contracted or work in an area, or in "close proximity to an area where the Armed Forces is conducting a contingency operation," according to HR2740. That could mean a crime committed in Germany, away from the heated conflict in Iraq, could go unpunished.
"This is all about political show," Cannon said. "And a lot of Republicans voted to not have to worry about it. I don't think it's appropriate to vote for military show when we're talking about very, very serious issues."
Those serious issues include a bloody attack on Sept. 16, in which Blackwater employees allegedly shot 17 Iraqi civilians, engendering the wrath of the Iraqi people, who want the men tried in their country.
Another Utah candidate vying for Cannon's seat in the House said he was concerned with the vote.
"I am deeply concerned Mr. Cannon can so easily dismiss the rule of law while the United States continues fighting to institute it," said Jason Chaffetz, who is running for the 3rd District seat. "Excusing 100,000 private contractors from that rule of law sends a disturbing message to our troops, to Iraqis, and to the rest of the world. We are exporting democracy and freedom to Iraq, not lawlessness. Even Blackwater USA encourages more oversight and accountability."However, Cannon said these contracted men and women are not exempt from the law and that comments from outside politicians simply reflect an inability to understand the full situation and a failure to explore the actual bill text.
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