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Contractor convicted in rare court-martial

Jun. 22, 2008 - 12:45PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 22, 2008 - 12:45PM  |  
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BAGHDAD — A military court convicted an Iraqi-Canadian translator in connection with a stabbing incident last February and sentenced him to five months in jail, the U.S. said Monday. It was the first military prosecution of a civilian since the Vietnam War.

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BAGHDAD — A military court convicted an Iraqi-Canadian translator in connection with a stabbing incident last February and sentenced him to five months in jail, the U.S. said Monday. It was the first military prosecution of a civilian since the Vietnam War.

Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali pleaded guilty Sunday to wrongfully taking a knife owned by a U.S. soldier, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, the military said.

It was the first trial under a 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice which enables civilian employees in a combat zone to be tried for offenses before a military court.

He had been charged with aggravated assault for allegedly stabbing another contractor four times during a fight Feb. 23 on a base near Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad. The assault charge was dropped after he pleaded guilty to the lesser offenses, the military said.

In 2006, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., added a measure to a defense spending bill that made civilians working for the U.S. military in a "contingency operation" subject to courts-martial.

The provision was intended to close the legal loophole that made it difficult to successfully prosecute such individuals in conflicts where Congress had not formally declared a state of war.

There are more than 160,000 contractors working in Iraq and some 36,000 in Afghanistan — about the same number of troops in those regions. They perform numerous tasks including supplying food and water, building barracks, providing armed security and gathering intelligence.

The contractors have operated in a legal gray area because officials exempted them from prosecution in Iraqi courts in 2004. It has also been unclear whether they could be charged in the U.S.

During the war in Vietnam, several civilians working for the U.S. armed forces were charged with violations of military law. There were several convictions, but all were eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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