Military Justice for a Civilian

Via The Post and the military's press shop in Baghdad, it appears that the first military prosecution of a civilian contractor in Iraq has ended in a guilty plea. According to today's news story:

[T]he U.S. military announced that a Canadian man working as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq was sentenced to five months of confinement after pleading guilty in the stabbing of a colleague in February.

The contractor, Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali, was the first civilian prosecuted since a 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice allowed the military to court-martial civilian contractors.

According to the military, Ali stabbed another contractor with a knife at a military facility on Feb. 23 near Hit, in western Iraq. A judge dropped the most serious charge filed against him, aggravated assault, after Ali agreed to plead guilty to obtaining a knife without permission, disposing of the weapon after the assault and lying to military investigators.

The prosecution marked the first time that the military's justice system was used to prosecute a civilian contractor on the battlefield since at least 1968. It was the result of a 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, inserted at the last minute by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), which expanded the UCMJ's jurisdiction to cover civilians during "contingency operations" (like Iraq and Afghanistan), in addition to times of declared war.

The change generated a great deal of legal commentary and raised many thorny questions as to whether it was constitutional to apply military law to civilians. The best precedent on the matter is the Supreme Court's decision in Reid vs. Covert, in which the court strongly hinted in a footnote that it would bless such prosecutions in an area of active hostility. Add that to the Supreme Court's favorable view of military justice, as seen in the recent Guantanamo cases, and it's likely that this conviction would have been affirmed.

But, of course, this case ended in a plea bargain, so we likely won't get the chance to see any of those questions resolved on appeal. I predict that the military will continue to use its UCMJ authority to prosecute contractors -- but only in those rare cases where both the Justice Department and local authorities refuse to act.

By Phillip Carter |  June 24, 2008; 11:00 AM ET  | Category:  Iraq
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Comments

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The military of any country should never have jurisdiction over any civilian. Do you not remember that the German military swore allegiance to Hitler, not Germany. Every military man should swear allegiance to the Constitution and the laws of the land, not to any man.

Posted by: ghostcommander | June 25, 2008 1:05 AM

Agree totally. I don't care what the circumstances were. He's not military and should be tried in civilian criminal courts. He's Canadian. If the Canadian's refuse to take steps to have him extradited and charged in Canadian courts then he should be tried in Iraqi courts. If the Iraqi courts won't do it because the victim is not Iraqi then the victim's country of origin has a copmpelling interest in trying him. If the victim is American then he should be tried in American courts. If nothing else it might induce the Canadians to step in and do what's right and have him extradited.

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | June 25, 2008 10:00 AM

Phil,

My Guard friend at FEMA had some serious concerns about the law as written. He said that domestic relief operations, like Hurricane Katrina, are "Contingency Operations". Therefore, this law becomes a backdoor to martial law on US soil.

When federal military is involved, the military commander on scene can plausibly use this law to impose martial law on the "Displaced Persons/Refugees" who are "accompanying US forces".

This may give further impetus to states to stay away from Title 32/10 assistance, and more State/Federal disputes.

Posted by: Jimmy | June 26, 2008 4:13 PM

This is a step in the right direction to get the American people to see that all personnel regardless of their status must be must acountable for their actions.
We can argue who has jurisdiction over the contractors but that is not the main issue. America is stepping up to the plate and letting the world know that criminal lawless actions will no longer be unaccounted for during contingency operations.

These comments are my personal views and I do not speak for the Army views.

Posted by: MAJ Etienne | June 30, 2008 1:14 PM

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