June 23, 2011
Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Bill on U.S. Civilian Contractor Accountability Abroad
Washington, D.C.— Today, the Senate made significant strides in closing a pernicious accountability gap for private contractors who commit serious crimes while deployed abroad. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA), S.1145, designed to hold civilian contractors to the same standards of accountability as Defense Department contractors and service members. While U.S. troops are held to account under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and private contractors who work in support of DoD’s mission are subject to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, there is an open question of whether civilian contractors not contracted by DoD or working in support of DoD’s mission can be held to account under any jurisdictional statute. The current ambiguity under U.S. law can lead to absurd results that run counter to our national security and foreign policy interests. In certain circumstances, a U.S. contractor may commit a serious crime like rape or murder with impunity if he happens to work for the State Department rather than the Defense Department, for example. Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo said, “Victims of contractor crimes and local populations among which contractors serve do not distinguish a contractor by the agency that employs him. Nor do they distinguish U.S. contractors from U.S. soldiers. When American criminal acts go unpunished, it gravely impacts U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, regardless of which agency employed the perpetrator.” “Whether or not a contractor who committed a crime is punished should not turn on which U.S. agency signed his contract. This is no way to conduct our foreign policy and counterinsurgency efforts abroad. The United States should hold all its personnel to clear standards of accountability,” added Milazzo. CEJA would extend U.S. criminal jurisdiction to cover serious crimes committed abroad by people employed or contracted by any U.S. department or agency other than the Department of Defense without impacting the conduct of U.S. intelligence agencies abroad Human Rights First has long called for the passage of CEJA in order to address private contractor impunity and prevent future abuses by contractors deployed abroad. This call has now been echoed by the Justice Department, the State Department, the bi-partisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, and industry leaders alike. Milazzo concluded, “We should not squander this critical moment where U.S. agencies, independent oversight commissions, industry, and civil society have reached a consensus that CEJA is needed to close a serious accountability gap. The Senate Judiciary Committee has taken the first step toward accountability. The rest of Congress and the President should follow.” This is the first time CEJA has passed through Committee. It will now go to the Senate floor for full consideration. A similar bill, H.R. 2136, introduced by Rep. David Price, has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary for consideration.