A U.S. military court has sentenced an Iraqi-Canadian translator to five months in jail in connection with a stabbing at a military base west of Baghdad.
The case marks the first time the U.S. military has prosecuted a civilian since the Vietnam War.
Alaa (Alex) Mohammad Ali pleaded guilty Sunday to wrongfully taking a knife owned by a U.S. soldier, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, the military said.
He had originally been charged with aggravated assault, but the charge was dropped when he pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. He was accused of stabbing another contractor four times during a fight on Feb. 23. The victim survived.
Ali has joint citizenship in Iraq and Canada, but details about his Canadian connections were not immediately available.
Under a 2006 amendment to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, civilians employed in a combat zone by the U.S. can be tried by a military court. The provision was intended to close the legal loophole that made it difficult to successfully prosecute such individuals in conflicts where the U.S. Congress had not formally declared a state of war.
Contractors have operated in a legal grey area in Iraq, because officials exempted them from prosecution in Iraqi courts in 2004, but it is not clear whether they can be charged by the court system in the United States.
There are more than 160,000 contractors working in Iraq and some 36,000 in Afghanistan — matching the number of U.S. troops in those regions. The contractors perform numerous tasks including supplying food and water, building barracks, providing armed security and gathering intelligence.
During the war in Vietnam, several civilians working for the U.S. armed forces were charged with violations of military law. There were several convictions, but all were eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.