An obscure executive order penned by President Bush in May exempting U.S. oil companies doing business in Iraq from criminal or civil penalties has raised concerns among several advocacy groups.
The broadly worded Executive Order 13303, published May 22, exempts these companies from prosecution even for human rights, environmental destruction, or government bribery charges, reports Lisa Girion in The Los Angeles Times.
'As written, the executive order appears to cancel the rule of law for the oil industry or anyone else who gets possession or control of Iraqi oil or anything of value related to Iraqi oil,' said Tom Devine of the Washington-based Government Accountability Project.
Administration officials argue that the order protects oil proceeds destined for the Development Fund for Iraq, not the companies that pump the oil. 'This does not protect the companies' money,' said Treasury Department spokesman Taylor Griffin. 'It protects the Iraqi people's money.' He added that the order would be refined by rules the Treasury Department is currently drafting.
But Jamin Raskin, a constitutional law professor at American University, said the executive order's language appeared to negate occupational safety laws and strips U.S. citizens of their right to sue. The order 'seems to destroy the prospect of any enforcement of civil or criminal liability,' he said. 'People are saying of Iraq, 'It's a jungle out there,' and this order kind of makes that the law.'