Gates Issues New Guidance For Contractor Crimes

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
March 19, 2008
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued his combatant commanders new guidance that urges them to make use of their authority to investigate alleged crimes committed by civilian Defense Department employees and contractors in war zones.
“Commanders possess significant authority to act whenever criminal activity may relate to or affect the commander’s responsibilities, including situations in which the alleged offender’s precise identity or actual affiliation is to that point undetermined,” Gates wrote in a March 10 memo.
“I expect commanders and their law enforcement authorities to act accordingly,” he wrote. Copies of the memo went to the attorney general’s office, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
The memo is an attempt to translate into guidance the ramifications of the fiscal year 2007 Defense Authorization Act, which extended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to civilians accompanying the military during war or post-conflict missions, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the past years, reports of alleged wrongdoing by DOD contractors in those countries have continued to surface, prompting calls for tighter control over the large number of private workers supporting operations there.
Gates’ new guidance includes sections on authorities by military personnel to make arrests, processes for notifying federal prosecutors following a suspected crime committed abroad, and clarifications on when commanders should invoke their UCMJ-based authority.
“Because of the unique nature of this Uniform Code of Military Justice jurisdiction over civilians, it is important that the exercise of this jurisdiction be based on military necessity to support an effective fighting force and be called for by circumstances that meet the interests of justice,” Gates wrote.
As examples, he cites cases in which “the person’s conduct is adverse to a significant military interest of the United States (i.e., alleged misconduct that may jeopardize good order and discipline or discredit the armed forces and thereby have a potential adverse effect on military operations).”
Eugene Fidell, who is the president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a lecturer at Yale Law School, said passages like this are too vague to serve as concrete guidance to combatant commanders.
He said Gate’s memo falls short on specifics, such as what constitutes an offense, and what procedures a combatant commander must follow in the aftermath of an alleged crime.
“Commanders need guidance,” Fidell told “They don’t want to reinvent the wheel in every case.”
He also chided Pentagon officials for being slow to implement the October 17, 2006, legislation extending the UCMJ to civilians and contractors.
“It has taken them an amazingly long time to get their act together on this, and it seems they still haven’t gotten very far,” he said.
--Sebastian Sprenger