U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today voted for H.R. 2740, a bill to bring all private military contractors under the accountability of U.S. law. The bill closes a loophole that allows contractors working for government agencies aside from the Defense Department – like State-Department-employed Blackwater – to dodge prosecution in U.S. courts if they commit crimes in a war zone. H.R. 2740 passed by a vote of 389 to 30.
“We are using huge numbers of private contractors in Iraq outside of the jurisdiction of our courts. We need to bring all private groups in Iraq under the rule of law and establish accountability,” Smith said.
Congress passed the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) in 2000. The bill originally gave U.S. courts jurisdiction over contractors hired by the Defense Department in overseas war zones. The State Department and other agencies make use of such contractors, and the original MEJA language does not extend court jurisdiction over them.
More than 1,000 private security contractors now do business with the State Department in Iraq apparently outside of any U.S. legal accountability. These contractors include 861 Blackwater employees. Under the bill passed today, these and all other security contractors working for the U.S. can be held accountable to U.S. law when they commit crimes.
H.R. 2740 must now be passed by the Senate before the President can sign it into law.