In Turnaround, Justice to Answer Iraq Rape Questions

In an apparent reversal of policy, the Justice Department will send an official to answer questions before Congress on the investigation and prosecution of alleged sex crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last December, the department declined to send an official to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on law enforcement efforts to protect U.S. contractors in Iraq. The hearing featured testimony by Jamie Leigh Jones, a young Texan woman who says she was gang-raped while working for government contractor KBR in Iraq.

In January, several lawmakers pounded the Justice Department for flatly refusing to answer their questions about how sexual assault cases in Iraq involving U.S. citizens are handled. "We still have heard nothing from your office," complained several Democratic senators, including presidential hopeful Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Since the January hearing, the attorney general has met with Chairman John Conyers on the MEJA, or Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, process, and the department has provided the House Judiciary Committee with additional information, a Justice spokesman said.

Now, congressional sources say the Justice Department has agreed to send a representative to a Senate hearing Wednesday entitled, "Closing Legal Loopholes: Justice for Americans Sexually Assaulted in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Sigal Mandelker, a senior appointee in the criminal division, is slated to appear before the Foreign Relations Committee, the Justice Department confirmed. Justice spokesman Erik Ablin said Mandelker was appearing for this hearing because the department had "received assurances" that it will not be questioned about any pending matters. The House hearing, he said, "concerned a pending matter that was under investigation."

Congressional sources, however, said two alleged rape victims, both former KBR employees who worked for the firm in Iraq, will be testifying about their experiences. One, the subject of a recent article, claims she was raped as recently as January.

To date, no one has been prosecuted for sexually assaulting a U.S. civilian in Iraq, according to the office of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., committee chairman. "This is another dirty little secret in Iraq no one wants to talk about," said Nelson in a statement.

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