06.06.11

Leahy, Price Introduce Companion Bills To Hold American Contractors Overseas Accountable Under U.S. Law

WASHINGTON (Monday, June 6, 2011) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) have introduced companion bills to provide accountability for American contractors and government employees working abroad.  The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) builds on efforts in previous Congresses to enact legislation to close a gap in current law to ensure that government employees and contractors working overseas are not immune from prosecution for criminal acts.  Leahy introduced the bill in the Senate Monday; Price introduced legislation in the House of Representatives on Friday.

The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act will allow 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.

“Ensuring criminal accountability will improve our national security and protect Americans overseas,” said Leahy.  “Importantly, in those instances where the local justice system may be less fair, CEJA will also protect Americans by providing the option of prosecuting them in the United States, rather than leaving them subject to hostile and unpredictable local courts.  I hope Senators of both parties will work together to pass this important reform.”

“For too long, contractors employed by our government have operated in a legal no-man’s land, evading accountability for crimes such as murder, rape, and assault,” Price said.  “Our country’s failure to hold its own employees accountable has damaged our relations with key allies, undermined our military and diplomatic missions, and compromised our core national values.  It is time to close this accountability gap once and for all.”

The bills proposed by Leahy and Price will complement the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), which provides similar criminal jurisdiction over Department of Defense employees and contractors but does not clearly apply to U.S. contractors working overseas for other federal agencies, such as the Department of State.  The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act was originally enacted in 2000, and Leahy worked to secure improvements to the law in 2004.  As the United States military begins to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving behind thousands of civilian government employees and contractors, the broader jurisdictional scope of CEJA will become a critical accountability tool.

The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act will:

  • 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;
  • Allow the Justice Department to prosecute government contractors and employees for certain existing serious crimes without impacting the conduct of U.S. intelligence agencies abroad.

Leahy is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to which the legislation will be referred in the Senate.  Leahy is expected to schedule a markup of the legislation soon.  Price is the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on contractor and government employee accountability.  Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer testified in support of closing the gaps in the law the proposed Leahy and Price bills would address.

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

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On Introduction of the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act

June 6, 2011

Today, I reintroduce the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA).  The United States has dramatically more Government employees and contractors working overseas than ever before, but the legal framework governing them is unclear and outdated.  To promote accountability, Congress must make sure that our criminal laws reach serious misconduct by American Government employees and contractors wherever they act.  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.

Tragic events in Iraq and Afghanistan highlight the need to strengthen the laws providing for jurisdiction over American Government employees and contractors working abroad.  In September 2007, Blackwater security contractors working for the State Department shot more than 20 unarmed civilians on the streets of Baghdad, killing at least 14 of them, and causing a rift in our relations with the Iraqi government.  Efforts to prosecute those responsible for these shootings have been fraught with difficulties, and our ability to hold the wrongdoers in this case accountable remains in doubt.

I worked with Senator Sessions and others in 2000 to pass the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), and then, again, to amend it in 2004, so that U.S. criminal laws would extend to all members of the U.S. military, to those who accompany them, and to contractors who work with the military.  That law provides criminal jurisdiction over Defense Department employees and contractors, but it does not explicitly cover people working for other Federal agencies, like the Blackwater security contractors.  Had jurisdiction in the tragic Blackwater incident been clear, FBI agents likely would have been on the scene immediately, which could well have prevented some of the problems that have plagued the case. 

Other incidents have made all too clear that the Blackwater case was not an isolated incident.  Private security contractors have been involved in violent incidents and serious misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, including other shooting incidents in which civilians have been seriously injured or killed.  As the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, MEJA will no longer cover the thousands of contractors and employees who stay on.  The legislation I introduce today fills this gap.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from the Justice Department and from experts in the area of contractor accountability about the many diplomatic and national security benefits of expanding criminal jurisdiction over American employees and contractors overseas.  The hearing also explored how best to ensure that our Nation’s intelligence activities would not be impaired by CEJA.  The legislation I propose today has been carefully crafted to ensure that the intelligence community can continue its activities unimpeded.

This bill would also provide greater protection to Americans, as it would lead to more accountability for crimes committed by U.S. government contractors and employees against Americans working abroad.  In the last Congress, the Committee heard testimony from Jamie Leigh Jones, a young woman from Texas who took a job with Halliburton in Iraq in 2005 when she was 20-years-old.  In her first week on the job, she was drugged and gang-raped by coworkers.  When she reported this assault, her employers moved her to a locked trailer, where she was kept by armed guards and freed only when the State Department intervened.

Ms. Jones testified about the arbitration clause in her contract that prevented her from suing Halliburton for this outrageous conduct, and Congress has moved to change the civil law to prevent that kind of injustice.  Criminal jurisdiction over these kinds of atrocious crimes abroad, however, remains complicated and depends too greatly on the specific location of the crime, which makes prosecutions inconsistent and sometimes impossible.  We must fix the law to help avoid arbitrary injustice and ensure that victims will not see their attackers escape accountability.

Ensuring criminal accountability will also improve our national security and protect Americans overseas.  Importantly, in those instances where the local justice system may be less than fair, this explicit jurisdiction will also protect Americans by providing the option of prosecuting them in the United States, rather than leaving them subject to hostile and unpredictable local courts.  Our allies, including those countries most essential to our counter-terrorism and national security efforts, work best with us when we hold our own accountable. 

In the past, legislation in this area has been bipartisan.  I hope Senators of both parties will work together to pass this important reform.

 

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