Human rights lawyer Scott Horton recently wrote about the case of Raymond Azar, a Lebanese construction manager for a Lebanon-based firm that does work for the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. Azar's case is noteworthy to legal scholars like Horton due to the fact that it's the first known instance of a rendition—the forcible removal of a criminal suspect from another country without going through a formal extradition process—carried out by the Obama administration. Azar claims he was seized off the streets of Kabul by gun-toting FBI agents who mistreated him during his detention and 16-hour flight aboard a Gulfstream V executive jet to Manassas, Virginia, where his case is currently before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
What most interested POGO about Azar's case is the reason the federal authorities went through all that trouble in the first place. Azar is not a suspected terrorist or drug kingpin, the two rare situations in which renditions have been employed in the past. Instead, he was indicted for allegedly taking part in a contract bribery/fraud scheme, and a relatively small-time one at that. Azar, a co-worker and the company they worked for are accused of orchestrating a scheme in which about $100,000 in bribes were paid to a US Army Corps of Engineers contract officer in order to secure the payment of fraudulent invoices the company submitted on a reconstruction contract in Afghanistan.
Why did the US go to such great lengths to nab Azar? Is he suspected of something far more serious than just run-of-the-mill contract misconduct? Horton doesn’t think so. The government's handling of the case since Azar’s arrest indicates it does not believe he poses an imminent threat to public safety or national security. All the Department of Justice would tell Horton is that "the United States views contract fraud as a very serious matter," which is pretty much the sentiment it expressed in this April press release announcing the filing of formal charges in the case.
Is President Obama taking off the gloves when it comes to fighting contract misconduct? If so, the contractors featured in our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, many of which perform work for the government in locations far away from US soil, could find out the hard way why it’s called the "long arm of the law."
-- Neil Gordon