05.19.15

Leahy Introduces Legislation To Hold American Contractors Overseas Accountable Under U.S. Law

. . . Also Lays More Groundwork For Preclearance Arrangements To Help Restore ‘Montrealer’ Rail Service Connecting Vermont And Montreal

WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, May 19, 2015) – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to provide accountability for American contractors and government employees working abroad.

The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) would close a gap in current law and ensure that government employees and contractors working overseas can be prosecuted for criminal acts they commit abroad. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a cosponsor of the Leahy bill.

“To promote accountability, Congress must make sure that our criminal laws reach serious misconduct by U.S. government employees and contractors wherever they act,” Leahy said.  “The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act accomplishes this important and common sense goal by allowing United States contractors and employees working overseas who commit specific crimes to be tried and sentenced under U.S. law.”

The legislation allows the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute government contractors and employees for certain crimes committed overseas.  Tragedies like the 2007 killing of unarmed civilians in Baghdad by private security contractors with Blackwater underscore the need for clear jurisdiction and trained investigative and prosecutorial task forces able to hold wrongdoers accountable.  Last year a jury found one Blackwater security guard guilty of first-degree murder and three other guards guilty of voluntary manslaughter. 

CEJA advances efforts to expand U.S. preclearance operations in Canada, which would enhance national security and facilitate commerce and tourism with the largest U.S. trading partner. The United States currently stations U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in select locations in Canada to inspect passengers and cargo bound for the United States before they leave Canada, and Leahy has long called for an expansion of land, rail, marine and air preclearance operations that would greatly benefit Canada’s and the U.S. economy.  CEJA would ensure that the United States has legal authority to hold U.S. officials accountable if they engage in wrongdoing, and thereby help pave the way to fully implementing the expanded Canada preclearance agreement.

Other provisions in the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act include:

  • Expand criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by United States employees and contractors overseas;
  • Direct the Justice Department to create new investigative task forces to investigate, arrest and prosecute contractors and employees who commit serious crimes overseas;
  • Require the Attorney General to report annually to Congress about the offenses prosecuted under the statute and the use of new investigative resources.

The text of the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act is available online.       

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A Factor In U.S.-Canada Discussions
On Pre-Clearance Arrangements For Passenger Rail And Air Service

Another benefit of the bill is that it would complement efforts by Leahy and others to ease and expand air service between Burlington International Airport and Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport, and to restart passenger rail service between Vermont and Montreal.  Leahy has sought to expand U.S. preclearance operations in Canada – a process in which travelers clear customs prior to boarding a plane or train rather than upon arrival in the United States. 

The United States currently stations U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Officers in select locations in Canada to inspect passengers and cargo bound for the United States before they leave Canada.  These operations relieve congestion at U.S. airports, improve commerce, save money, and provide national security benefits.  The two nations recently signed a new agreement to expand land, rail, marine and air preclearance operations that would greatly benefit Vermont’s and the U.S. economies.  But one barrier in these discussions is that the United States lacks legal authority to prosecute U.S. officials engaged in preclearance operations if they commit crimes while stationed in Canada.  The Leahy bill would ensure that the U.S. has legal authority to hold U.S. officials accountable if they engage in wrongdoing, and would thereby help pave the way to fully implementing the expanded Canada preclearance agreement.

In particular, a key to restoring Amtrak service between Vermont and Montreal is the creation of a preclearance facility in Montreal’s Central Station.  This would eliminate the need for the train to stop at the U.S. border to allow CBP officers to inspect passengers, a process that currently takes about an hour on the Amtrak’s Adirondack Line in New York.


Today, air travelers from Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport to Burlington International Airport must deplane and pass through customs at a separate facility before re-boarding the plane to be transported to the airport terminal.  Leahy continues to work with CBP on proposals to establish preclearance operations at these Canadian travel hubs. 

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