Dissing Independent Contractors



Now it’s personal.

The Bush cabal has begun besmirching the good name of us independent contractors, and I’m pissed.

Imagine. They’re saying that some of the most egregious torture and murder of prisoners at Baghram Airbase in Afghanistan and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as in other locations around the world, were committed by “independent contractors” working for the Pentagon or the CIA, and that because of this, they are powerless to initiate any kind of punitive action.

Independent contractors, they explain, were granted immunity from Iraqi laws by occupation head L. Paul Bremer in one of his first acts upon assuming authority over the country. At the same time, because they are only working under contract for the military or the CIA, and aren’t employees, they are not subject to military justice, either. Furthermore, because their alleged crimes were committed outside the U.S., American laws don’t apply to them either.

The implication is that, “Gee, we’re sure sorry these guys did all this nasty stuff, but we really couldn’t control their behavior, because they were independent contractors. And we’d like to punish them, but we can’t because they were independent contractors.”

Give me a break folks! How come, when I write an article for a magazine as an independent contractor, there is all this legal verbiage in my contract saying that I am liable for any mistakes I may make?

Here’s an example of one such fairly typical contract’s wording:

“”Author represents and warrants that the work will be original work, that it will be accurate, that it will not have been previously published, and that it will not infringe upon the personal or proprietary rights of or give rise to any claim by any third party, including but not limited to claims based on copyright, defamation, libel, physical injury, or invasion or privacy or publicity. In addition, in the event any complaint or claim relating to the work is made by any third party at any time, whether a formal legal complaint or otherwise, author will fully cooperate with the publisher in responding to and defending against such complaint or claim.”

This particular contract, written by a New York City-based publisher, also requires the author to agree to be subject to the jurisdiction of the New York State court system.

Now don’t tell me that the government of the United States, which makes welfare recipients agree to random drug tests, surprise home visits, and various other invasive surrenders of their rights, that makes employees in many agencies submit to lie-detector tests, etc., didn’t make these “independent contractor” licensed torturers sign legally binding contracts governing their behavior.

There’s nothing about independent contractors that says they cannot be expected, and legally required, to behave in a responsible, legal way, or in accordance with the guidelines set by the agency that contracts with them.

Now maybe the government was smart enough not to sign any contracts with its freelance torturers, but that doesn’t sound like the way a government bureaucracy works-which is by maxiumum possible use of paper. My guess is that there are some interesting contracts filed away in triplicate at the Pentagon and the CIA that would allow them to hang these guys if they wanted to, but we probably will never see that paperwork.

As for that claim that there is no jurisdiction for bringing these miscreants to justice, that’s the Bush administration’s fault. There is, in fact, a World Court in the Hague in Europe, which exists precisely for that purpose, but the Bush Administration has chosen to thumb its nose at that body, saying that it has no jurisdiction over Americans.

The argument used by the U.S. in opposing inclusion in the World Court is that the U.S. is perfectly capable of bringing its own people to justice, but here is a case that demonstrates our inability to do so. So let’s bring charges against the independent contractors in the World Court.

I for one want my profession’s good name cleared. We independent contractors are law-abiding citizens for the most part. And we know that if we step over the line, we are just as liable to prosecution as the next guy.

It’s not because they are “independent contractors” that the freelance torturers hired by the military and the CIA to do its dirty work in Afghanistan and Iraq and Guantanamo are getting off. It’s because the Bush administration doesn’t want to see them facing a public trial, in which they’d start talking publicly about who hired them and what they were hired to do.

DAVE LINDORFF is completing a book of Counterpunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press.


Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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