A provision slipped into a spending bill by the last Congress and approved by the president makes civilian contractors in Iraq subject to military court-martial. But legal scholars believe the rule could also be extended to include civilian government employees and even embedded journalists.
The provision, which was slipped into a spending bill at the end of the last Congress, is intended to close a long-standing loophole that critics say puts contractors in war zones above the law.
But the provision also could affect others accompanying U.S. forces in the field, including civilian government employees and embedded journalists.
“Right now, you have two different standards for people doing the same job,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who pushed the provision. “This will bring uniformity to the commander’s ability to control the behavior of people representing our country.”
One additional complication lies in determining who the new provision applies to. Graham said the change was aimed solely at holding contractors accountable. But legal observers say it could be interpreted broadly to also include employees with other government agencies, as well as reporters.
“One could imagine a situation in which a commander is unhappy with what a reporter is writing and could use the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] to pressure the reporter,” said Phillip E. Carter, a contracting lawyer with McKenna Long & Aldridge.