It’s About Time They Got Something Almost Right

The bold below is what we mean by ‘almost right.’ Amerikan politics sucks.

Contractors in war zones lose immunity: Bill provision allows military prosecutions
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff | January 7, 2007

WASHINGTON — An estimated 100,000 employees of US defense contractors working in Iraq are no longer immune from military prosecutions, because of a little-noticed provision in a 2007 defense spending bill aimed at holding private contractors accountable for crimes committed in war zones.

For the past three years, an unprecedented number of private contractors in Iraq have performed jobs previously reserved for the military, with immunity from military rules that govern troops and from criminal prosecution in Iraqi courts.

The legal loophole caused outrage during the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. Soldiers involved in abusing prisoners were sentenced in military courts, but the civilian interrogators working alongside them for Titan Corp. and CACI International, two private firms, faced no punishment.

The 2007 Defense Bill, enacted in October, placed contractors and others who accompany the military in the field under the same set of military laws that govern the armed forces.

“Basically 100,000 contractors woke up to find themselves under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” said Peter W. Singer , a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes on civilian military contractors and whose article on a defense blog Thursday called attention to the change.

Previously, the code applied to “persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field” only during a war, which US courts interpreted to mean a war declared by Congress. No such declaration was made in the Iraq conflict. Now, Congress has amended the code to apply to persons accompanying an armed force during a “declared war or contingency operation.”

The amendment, spearheaded by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was the latest in a series of moves by lawmakers to plug legal loopholes that had allowed contractors who had committed crimes overseas to escape justice. A Senate aide said the amendment passed with little discussion. “There was a concern about whether we have an adequate allocation of legal responsibility for contractors,” said the aide, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “If they are not subject to Iraqi law, what law are they subject to?”

But the provision might also have unintended consequences, if the military chooses to use its new power to court-martial civilians. For instance, the language in the law is so broad that it can be interpreted as saying that embedded journalists and contract employees from foreign countries would also be liable under the military code. Other punishable offenses under the code include disobeying an order, disrespecting an officer, and possession of pornography — far less serious than the crimes that Congress envisioned when drafting the bill.

Read the rest here.

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