June 21, 2008

Iraqi-Canadian Contractor Goes on Trial in Iraq in Stabbing Case


BAGHDAD - A U.S. army translator holding joint Iraqi-Canadian citizenship goes on trial before a U.S. military court Sunday for allegedly stabbing a fellow contractor.

Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali has been charged with aggravated assault for allegedly stabbing another contractor four times during a fight Feb. 23 on a base near Hit, 140 kilometres west of Baghdad.

The court martial, the first such military prosecution since the Vietnam War, will take place at Camp Victory, headquarters of U.S. forces in Iraq.

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

In 2006, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina added a measure to a defence 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 were 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. They perform numerous tasks, including supplying food and water, building barracks, providing armed security and gathering intelligence.

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

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.