Penn State International Law Review

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On September 16, 2007, American civilians shot and killed seventeen Iraqi civilians on a Baghdad street. The heavily armed Americans were not tourists or ordinary criminals; they were employed by Blackwater USA, a State Department contractor, and paid to protect the United States Embassy and diplomatic corps in Baghdad. Although the reports and investigations consistently concluded the shooting was at least excessive, the possible criminal liability of the individual shooters was less than certain because of the foreign location and the unique relationship between the State Department contractors and the U.S. military mission in Iraq. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act ("MEJA"), authorizes criminal charges in the United States for certain foreign conduct by civilians. This statute, however, does not necessarily apply to an entity operating under a contract with a federal agency other than the Department of Defense ("DoD"). Even if a federal court theoretically could exercise jurisdiction over the conduct, some of the likely defendants were granted a form of immunity during the investigation that would present another significant obstacle to a successful prosecution.