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US civilian contractor charged under military law for alleged Iraq crime

[JURIST] The US military has charged [press release] a civilian contractor working with the military in Iraq with aggravated assault, marking the first time the military has charged a civilian since a 2006 amendment to Article II of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text] granting the military jurisdiction over civilians accompanying US troops in a combat zone. The Multi-National Force-Iraq said Saturday that Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali, a civilian with dual Iraq-Canadian citizenship, was charged in the stabbing death of another contractor in February. The charges mark the first time since the Vietnam war that a civilian has been charged under military law. He faces a preliminary Article 32 hearing on Thursday. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Prior to the 2006 UCMJ amendment, contractors working in Iraq were exempted [PDF text] from prosecution in that country. The amendment, found in Section 522 of the 2007 defense authorization bill [2 2766 materials; LawReader backgrounder], significantly changed the military's jurisdiction to bring civilian contractors within the military's jurisdiction during a "contingency operation" rather than its previous requirement that Congress actually declare war. Last fall, Congress took further steps [JURIST report] to bring US contractors within the jurisdiction of the military with the 2008 defense authorization bill [HR 1585 materials]. The issue of criminal jurisdiction over US military contractors working in Iraq gained notoriety last fall when several Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] employees allegedly killed at least eight Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] last fall. The US Department of Justice has run into legal hurdles [JURIST report] trying to bring criminal charges against the Blackwater employees.

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