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Princeton's Law and Public Affairs Program Releases Consensus Findings on Legal Framework Governing U.S. Military Contractors

Report Develops Framework for the Legal Regulation of Military Contractors and Reflects Views of Bipartisan Experts from Military, Academia, Private Sector

PRINCETON – OCT. 1 – The Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA) at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School issued a report today proposing a framework for handling the legal regulation of military contractors.

The report resulted from a meeting in June that brought together senior military and government officials, contractors, academic experts and Washington policymakers (see participant biographies) to discuss how security contractors working in zones of conflict should be trained, integrated with military forces, and held accountable. The group signed off on the summary report this week.

"This is clearly an area in which the law has yet to catch up with facts on the ground," said Princeton Visiting Scholar Deborah Pearlstein, a legal expert and one of the organizers of the event. "We’d invited high-level participants from military and private sector backgrounds to Princeton with the idea that they’d be able to hash some of this out off-the-record. We came away surprised at how much common ground there was," Pearlstein said.

While participants diverged on a range of issues, the group found broad agreement in several key areas:

  • It is important to close gaps in the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), which provides for contractors to be put on trial in US federal courts when they have violated US law abroad;
  • MEJA investigation and prosecution authority should be consolidated within a dedicated unit in the Department of Justice;
  • Federal agency policies governing contractors in conflict zones should be standardized and coordinated;
  • At least where discipline through the civilian justice system is impossible, and the offense is of a serious nature, the military should have limited authority to pursue prosecution of contractors through the military justice system;
  • Greater public debate is essential to determine which if any government security functions may be inappropriate for private outsourcing.

In addition to questions of accountability in cases of abuse, the report summarizes the group’s discussions about the origins and direction of the contracting industry, the appropriate role of contractors on the battlefield, and the special challenges of intelligence gathering and security-related functions.

"As the nature of government changes, the nature of accountability must change with it," said Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. "This project is exactly the role that I hope to see the Woodrow Wilson School play in bringing people together and advancing deliberation and recommendations on an important and timely public policy issue."

The workshop was held under the "Chatham House rule," which permits summaries of the group’s discussions and conclusions to be made public without attributing particular positions to particular speakers. A list of participants at the workshop is made available separately.

The workshop was the first in a series of policy problem-solving workshops in issues of law and security co-sponsored by Princeton's LAPA Program and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. It was organized by WWS Professor and LAPA Director Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton Visiting Scholar Deborah Pearlstein, and University of Connecticut law professor Laura Dickinson, a fellow at LAPA in 2006-07.

"We wanted to give important participants in the debates over military contracting an opportunity to work through to a consensus on the problem," Scheppele said. "By inviting them to Princeton, giving them a space to debate in confidence, and working from concrete examples to general policy, we were able to find common ground on this crucial issue."

Based at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Program for Law and Public Affairs is a forum for teaching and research about the legal technologies and institutions needed to address the complex policy problems of the new century.

Media contact:

Kim Lane Scheppele (609 258-6949, kimlane@princeton.edu
Deborah Pearlstein (609) 258-9590, dpearlst@princeton.edu
Laura Dickinson (860) 570-5268, ldickins@princeton.edu