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Civilian appeals conviction by US military court

An Iraqi-Canadian civilian on Wednesday appealed his conviction by a US military court. Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali [JURIST news archive], a military contractor who was convicted by a US military court [JURIST report] in Iraq in 2008, argued that his conviction was unconstitutional [AP report]. The case was the first in which a civilian was charged and convicted by the military since a 2006 amendment [S 2766 materials] to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text] granted the military jurisdiction over civilians accompanying US troops in a combat zone, and the first time a civilian was charged and convicted under military law since the Vietnam war. Ali's lawyer, Army Capt. Tiffany Dewell, argued that the 2006 amendment opened the door for non-military individuals accompanying US forces in combat to be tried by court-martial. Dewell also suggested that upholding Ali's conviction would be a slippery slope leading to more trials by court-martial, the use of which the Supreme Court has narrowed in a series of rulings. Civilians have fewer protections when tried by court martial.

The US military charged [JURIST report] Ali in the stabbing death of another contractor in February 2008. Prior to the 2006 UCMJ amendment, contractors working in Iraq were exempt 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. In 2007, 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]. Victor Hansen indicated that Ali's seemingly unremarkable case could have a significant impact on military law [JURIST op-ed].

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