06.23.11

Senate Judiciary Committee Reports Leahy-Authored Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act

WASHINGTON (Thursday, June 23, 2011) – The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved legislation authored by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to provide accountability for American contractors and government employees working abroad.  The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) would close a gap in current law to ensure that government employees and contractors working overseas are not immune from prosecution for criminal acts. 

“Now, more than ever, Congress must make sure that our criminal laws reach serious misconduct by American Government employees and contractors wherever they act,” said Leahy.  “The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act accomplishes that goal by allowing United States contractors and employees working overseas who commit serious crimes to be tried and sentenced under U.S. law.”

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.

“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employees and contractors working overseas than ever before, but the legal framework governing them is unclear and outdated,” Leahy said.  “As the military mission in Iraq winds down and as the draw down in Afghanistan that the President announced last night begins, fewer and fewer of the thousands of Americans who stay on in these countries will be covered by current law.  The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act will fill this gap.”

The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act will:

  • Expand criminal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes committed by United States employees and contractors overseas without impacting the conduct of U.S. intelligence agencies abroad. 
  • Direct the Justice Department to dedicate resources 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.

A bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee approved of sending the bill to the full Senate.  The legislation is cosponsored by Committee members Al Franken (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Richard Durbin (Ill.).  Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) introduced similar legislation in the House.

The legislation complements 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.

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.

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