Military Contractors Lose Their "Get Out of Jail" Card

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 3:25 PM EST

Five years into the war on terror, American military contractors have finally lost some of their immunity from prosecution for dirty deeds done on the federal dime. In a post over on DefenseTech, the Brookings Institution's Peter Singer reports on a quiet insertion into the 2007 Pentagon budget that means "contractors' 'get out of jail free' card may have been torn to shreds." Basically, contractors are now subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which means they can be court martialed:

This means that if contractors violate the rules of engagement in a warzone or commit crimes during a contingency operation like Iraq, they can now be court-martialed (as in, Corporate Warriors, meet A Few Good Men). On face value, this appears to be a step forward for realistic accountability. Military contractor conduct can now be checked by the military investigation and court system, which unlike civilian courts, is actually ready and able both to understand the peculiarities of life and work in a warzone and kick into action when things go wrong.

The scope of new law is not entirely clear; it may include embedded journalists, too. (Not that they go around playing soldier—Judy Miller aside.) But overall, says Singer, this move brings a bit of much-needed oversight to a largely unregulated industry. "Last month," he writes , "DOJ reported to Congress that it has sat on over 20 investigations of suspected contractor crimes without action in the last year." Sounds like a good place to begin.