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Fayetteville Observer - Bill would increase accountability for contractors, government employees overseas

July 15, 2014
In The News

By Drew Brooks
American contractors would come under greater scrutiny if a bill introduced this week passes through Congress.

The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, introduced Monday in companion bills from Rep. David Price and Sen. Patrick Leahy, would hold more contractors and government employees accountable under U.S. law by closing gaps in current laws to ensure those working overseas can be prosecuted for acts committed abroad.

The lawmakers said the current legal framework governing them is unclear and outdated.

Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat who also represents Fayetteville, and Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have worked together on similar legislation for several years.

If approved, the legislation would allow the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute government contractors and employees for a range of crimes committed overseas, from arson to drug offenses.

The lawmakers cited the 2007 killing of unarmed civilians in Baghdad by private security contractors as an event that underscores a need for clear jurisdiction and trained investigators to hold contractors and others accountable for wrongdoing.

A trial for the former Blackwater security guards charged in the 2007 shooting is underway.

Leahy said the accused continue to argue the U.S. government has no jurisdiction to prosecute them. He said the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act would lead to more accountability for crimes committed by U.S. government contractors and employees, while also providing greater protection to American victims of crime.

The bill would expand criminal jurisdiction over some crimes and direct the Justice Department to create new investigative task forces focused on contractors and employees who commit serious crimes overseas.

It also would require the attorney general to issue an annual report on the offenses prosecuted under the statute and the use of new investigative resources.

Price said the need for the bill does not decrease as the U.S. contractor presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere dwindles.

Many of those contractors are military veterans.

"Although the number of American military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan has been reduced in recent years, our commitment to the rule of law has not, and closing the accountability gap for U.S. contractors operating overseas is more urgent than ever," Price said in a statement. "We have seen the peril of allowing firms such as Blackwater to operate in a legal no-man's land - a few bad actors can put our international relationships at risk and undermine the missions we ask our military and diplomatic personnel to complete. The bottom line is: if contractors working on behalf of the United States commit crimes abroad, DOJ should be able to prosecute them."