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First civilian contractor facing military court martial in Iraq

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By The Staff

By JOSEPH GIORDONO

Stars and Stripes

Mideast Edition

A contractor in Iraq accused of aggravated assault will face a U.S. military court-martial, the first such case under an amendment to rules covering civilians with U.S. forces in combat zones, officials said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the commander of Multi-National Corps—Iraq, has referred to a general court-martial the assault charge against Alaa “Alex” Mohammed Ali, an interpreter who allegedly stabbed another contractor during a dispute in February.

As of Monday, no date for the beginning of the court-martial had been set.

“The accused has a statutory right to a five-day period between the time he is served with the charges and the date of trial,” a military spokesman in Baghdad said Monday.

“The court-martial will be held in Iraq, but it is not determined exactly where yet.”

The military trial will be the first under a 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which now provides for military trials of civilian contractors working for the U.S. government.

Ali has been held at Camp Victory, Iraq, since Feb. 29. Six days earlier, Ali allegedly stabbed a fellow translator four times in the chest during an argument at a combat outpost near Hit, officials have said.

“Mr. Ali is being afforded all the same rights, protections, and privileges service members receive in military court, including the right to counsel, right to speedy trial, protection against self-incrimination, and presumption of innocence,” a U.S. military statement read.

Ali, who has Canadian and Iraqi citizenship, has military defense attorneys.

The court-martial was set after an Article 32 hearing—similar to a civilian grand jury—led by Lt. Col. Charles Febus, the investigating officer.

About 200,000 contractors work for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Pentagon. Following a string of incidents largely involving security contractors, there have been calls for greater oversight of the contractors.

The contractors’ duties include everything from supplying food and water to building barracks, providing security, and gathering intelligence.

Military law experts say the authority to charge civilians under the UCMJ could be challenged in civilian courts as the Ali case progresses.

Used with permission from Stars and Stripes, a DoD publication. © 2008 Stars and Stripes. Please do not reprint.