Some Criminal Offenses Committed Overseas by DOD Civilians Are Not Being Prosecuted:

Legislation Is Needed

FPCD-79-45: Published: Sep 11, 1979. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 1979.

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International law recognizes that a host country has criminal jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel stationed in that country. Negotiated agreements allowing the United States to exercise jurisdiction over service members stationed overseas give it criminal jurisdiction over many offenses committed by service members that otherwise would have been prosecuted by the foreign country or not prosecuted at all. The United States has virtually no criminal jurisdiction over the 343,000 civilian personnel and dependents accompanying the armed forces overseas. These civilians are subject to foreign criminal jurisdiction which is not always exercised.

GAO analyses indicate that the actions taken by the Department of Defense (DOD) in the military cases may be inadequate. Military officials believe that the civilians' knowledge that the United States does not have criminal jurisdiction is an encouragement to offenders. Many military commanders dispose of these offenses through administrative sanctions which are inadequate in terms of punishment and deterrency and safeguarding an individual's rights. The strongest administrative sanctions are often directed against the military member/sponsor, and not the civilian offender.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Legislation should be enacted to extend criminal jurisdiction over U.S. citizen civilians accompanying the military forces overseas. The extraterritorial jurisdiction should extend to petty as well as serious offenses, because the less serious offenses appear to be the greatest disciplinary problem.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DOD and the Attorney General should prepare provisions for implementing the extraterritorial extension of laws and report their findings to the Congress by September 1980. They should consider provisions for: apprehending, restraining, and delivering these civilians to trial; bringing offenders back to the United States for trial; and establishing courts and/or magistrates overseas. The Secretary of DOD should direct the services to provide more information to the Congress about the number, type, and disposition of criminal offenses committed by civilians accompanying the military forces overseas. Further, the Secretary of DOD should improve the present reporting system to accumulate and track information on the disposition of all overseas cases involving service members released to U.S. authorities and include it in the annual report to the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

    Agency Affected:


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