House and Senate Introduce Bill on U.S. Civilian Contractor Accountability Abroad
Washington, D.C.—Today, Congress takes a significant step in closing an alarming accountability gap over civilian contractors who commit serious crimes abroad, a concern long raised by Human Rights First. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative David Price (D-NC) introduced the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) of 2011, which is designed to clarify and expand U.S. criminal jurisdiction over civilian contractors fielded abroad by the United States. This comes on the same day as the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan holds a hearing to discuss critical issues surrounding the State department’s need to add thousands of civilian contractors in Iraq to perform critical security-related functions once performed by the military. The State Department reports it will need to more than double its use of private security contractors to 7,000 by the time the military leaves Iraq. HRF’s Melina Milazzo said, “While our U.S. troops are held to account under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for their actions and private contractors that work in support of DoD’s mission are held to account under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, there is an open question whether civilian contractors not contracted by DoD or working in support of DoD’s mission can be held to account under any jurisdictional statute. It is high time that the United States holds all its personnel fielded abroad regardless of agency to clear standards of accountability.” Human Rights First has long called for legislation that would clarify U.S. criminal jurisdiction over private contractors deployed abroad in order to address private contractor impunity and prevent future abuses of contractors deployed abroad. This call has been echoed by Congress including, then-Senator Barack Obama, the bi-partisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, the Justice Department, and Industry leaders alike. As the Assistant Attorney General, Lanny Breuer, recently testified at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “Given the evolving nature of our engagement in various countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the large number of employees and contractors being utilized by agencies other than the Department of Defense, we view the enactment of CEJA as crucial to ensuring accountability and demonstrating to other countries that we do not give U.S. Government employees license to commit crimes overseas.” CEJA, if enacted, will address a serious deficiency in contractor accountability and oversight by extending U.S. criminal jurisdiction over contractors for serious crimes and establishing investigative task forces for contractor oversight. Human Rights First understands that the bill’s provision regarding an exemption for intelligence activities also extends criminal jurisdiction over intelligence contractors for activities not lawfully authorized, including rape and torture.