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US military pre-trial hearing begins for civilian contractor charged with Iraq crime

[JURIST] A US military court opened an Article 32 hearing [press release] in Baghdad on Tuesday for a civilian military contractor accused of aggravated assault. Earlier this month, the US military charged [JURIST report] Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali, a dual Iraqi-Canadian citizen working as a translator in Iraq, with the February stabbing of another contractor. He is the first civilian charged by the military since a 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text] granted the military jurisdiction over civilians accompanying US troops in a combat zone. His Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent to a civilian grand jury proceeding, was delayed [JURIST report] late last week. AP has more.

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]. 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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