SECDEF on Military Law Enforcement Authority Abroad

03.24.08 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The authority of a military commander to arrest and detain U.S. civilians suspected of committing a crime outside of the United States and within that commander’s area of responsibility is detailed in a recent memorandum (pdf) from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

“There is a particular need for clarity regarding the legal framework that should govern a command response to any illegal activities by Department of Defense civilian employees and DoD contractor personnel overseas with our Armed Forces,” Secretary Gates wrote.

Ordinarily, civilians who violate U.S. criminal laws are to be prosecuted by the Department of Justice and commanders are to notify DoJ whenever such cases arise.

However, the Gates memo states, “Commanders should be prepared to act, as appropriate, should possible U.S. federal criminal jurisdiction prove to be unavailable to address the alleged criminal behavior.”

See “UCMJ Jurisdiction Over DoD Civilian Employees, DoD Contractor Personnel, and Other Persons Serving With or Accompanying the Armed Forces Overseas During Declared War and in Contingency Operations,” memorandum from the Secretary of Defense, March 10, 2008.

The memorandum was previously reported by Sebastian Sprenger in InsideDefense.com.