In Depth: Rep. David Price (D-NC), the sponsor of this bill's companion in the House, argued in a press release that the bill would improve the U.S.'s international relations by holding contractors accountable:
"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. 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."
However, some have argued that the bill would allow the DOJ to prosecute contractors based on political whim. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) explained in a 2011 hearing
"We should not require agents to pay for defense attorneys and risk jail time at the political whim of the Justice Department."
Of Note: The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) has been introduced several times by Senator Leahy (D-VT) over the years, after the passage of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) in 2000. Previous attempts to pass the CEJA have been stymied by debate over whether intelligence personnel should be shielded, as they may be forced to break the law while performing their job.
has been a jurisdiction gap covering contractors employed by agencies
other than the DOD. Contractors performing a military service are
covered by the MEJA — but security contractors working for other
agencies are not.
This created problems in
handling the case of Blackwater contractors who killed 17 unarmed Iraqis in
2007, when the Justice Department attempted to try them under MEJA. A
judge dismissed the case as the contractors were providing diplomatic security,
which led to the accused not being considered military contractors. The
case was revived with a new prosecution team, and all four Blackwater
contractors were convicted, although the case is expected to continue
through appellate courts.
(Photo Credit: news.genius.com)