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May 26, 2016
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) and Congressman Darell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced a bill to provide accountability for American contractors and government employees working abroad.  The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) builds on efforts in previous Congresses to close a gap in current law to ensure that government employees and contractors working overseas are not immune from prosecution for criminal acts. 

The number of private contractors employed by the U.S. government overseas has increased dramatically in recent years, even surpassing the number of U.S. military and civilian personnel in some locations, particularly as the U.S. reduces its military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan. While contractors are increasingly performing functions once reserved for government personnel, they are held to a different legal standard than uniformed personnel because the laws governing their activities remain unclear and outdated.

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.

“Contractors employed by our government must not be allowed to operate in an opaque, legal no-man’s land when they commit serious crimes abroad,” said Congressman Price.  “The actions of our country’s employees must be subject to the rule of law. By holding contractors accountable, this legislation will strengthen our diplomatic relations, enhance our national security, and improve oversight and effectiveness of taxpayer-funded government contracts.

“Contractors working for and representing the U.S. abroad should have to abide by U.S. law. It’s really that simple,” said Congressman Issa. “Unfortunately, when wrongdoing occurs, the current legal system leaves many civilian contractors in a legal gray zone where its not immediately apparent which jurisdiction, local or American, should be responsible for prosecution. The legislation sponsored today will help make it clear that when U.S. civilian contractors do something wrong, its the job of the U.S. Courts to hold them accountable. It’s an important protection that will help U.S. contractors avoid prosecution in unfair and unjust jurisdictions where the local legal system may not provide for the same level of due process while increasing accountability and ensuring our contractors abroad uphold the laws our country holds dear."

The bill 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, with additional improvements to the law secured in 2004.  As the United States military withdraws 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.