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Edwards Weighs In On Blackwater

CBS News' Aaron Lewis reports:
(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
In remarks to be delivered later today, former Sen. John Edwards will describe a "fundamental reform of our system for providing security contractors in Iraq and other places."

The announcement comes in the middle of growing controversy involving Blackwater USA, a private security firm operating in Iraq. Blackwater's behavior and tactics in Iraq have come under increased fire since a shooting incident last month left 11 Iraqi civilians dead.

Edwards's plan calls for increasing quality control and accountability measures, as well as expanded legal oversight and prosecutions.

"America used to be the beacon of the world, but under the Bush administration and people like Blackwater, the beacon is flickering," says Edwards, according to excerpts of remarks released by the campaign. "We can restore democracy to our military decisions about war. And we can make sure that scandals like Blackwater become, forever, a thing of the past."

Edwards will also go beyond security contractors to reinforce his position on the war in Iraq. He implies that if Democrats truly want to end the war, Hillary Clinton is the wrong choice for the nomination.

"The debate I expect to have next fall with Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani or whoever's the Republican nominee is whether or not to end this war," he says, according to the excerpts. "But the debate Senator Clinton would be in is how big a war you're going to have. We should leave it to the Republicans to offer America four more years of George W. Bush's mess of a war in Iraq."

Edwards's plan calls for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops and all forces (except security forces for the embassy and humanitarian missions) removed within 9 to 10 months.

UPDATE: The Barack Obama campaign has released excerpts of Obama's Blackwater-related comments in his upcoming speech in Iowa City:

"We cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors," Obama said. "To add insult to injury, these contractors are charging taxpayers up to nine times more to do the same jobs as soldiers, a disparity that damages troop morale."

"Last week, I pushed through a provision to improve transparency by requiring our federal government to inform the public about how many contractors they're using, what it's costing us, and what their functions are," Obama said. "I've also proposed tougher government reform than any other candidate in this race - reforms that would eliminate the kind of no-bid contracts that this administration has given to Blackwater."

"I'm proposing the creation of a special FBI unit devoted entirely to investigating abuses by contractors," Obama said. "This week, the FBI announced it was sending a team to Iraq to look into the incident with Blackwater earlier this month. I'm glad to see it. But this shouldn't be just a temporary job for the FBI - it should be one of their permanent responsibilities."