Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have requested that the Justice Department prosecute Gambian national Michael Sang Correa — who is currently in U.S. custody in Colorado for overstaying a visa — for his alleged role as an enforcer for deposed Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.

In a Feb. 18 letter to Attorney General William Bar and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, Leahy and Durbin provide an overview of the allegations against Correa, a former captain in the Gambian National Army and member of the Jammeh regime’s notorious “Junglers,” a secret unit implicated in arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of civilians. The two senators point out that Correa himself is alleged to have participated in various acts of torture, including against at least one U.S. citizen, and played a role in the murder of two identified U.S. citizens, Alhagie Mamut Ceesay and Ebou Jobe. Consequently, as the Senators point out, Correa could be prosecuted for these crimes under at least two federal laws (18 U.S.C. §2332 and 18 U.S.C. §2340A).

In December, Andrew Moore discussed the implications of Correa’s case in a piece for Just Security, which the senators cited in their letter. Moore provided detailed accounts of both the allegations against Correa and the various avenues through which Correa could be held legally accountable, both criminally and civilly, for his acts as a Jungler in Gambia.

However, as Moore noted in his piece, prosecutions in U.S. courts for acts of torture or the killing of U.S. citizens occurring outside the U.S. have been rare. There are many factors that combine to create this scarcity, ranging from practical challenges such as the availability of evidence, to legal ones, such as the lack of applicable U.S. laws in some instances, to financial ones, given the relative expense of carrying out criminal prosecutions for extraterritorial acts.

Nonetheless, as Leahy and Durbin point out in their letter, Congress has expressly directed the Justice Department to prioritize the prosecution of human rights violators. There is also a specific U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit, the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit tasked with, inter alia, “identify[ing] and prosecut[ing] individuals who have been involved and/or responsible for the commission of human rights abuses across the globe.” Correa clearly represents a prime target for this unit to investigate and prosecute.

While much of the physical evidence and witnesses who could connect Correa to the torture and killings he is alleged to have participated in likely remains outside the U.S., various organizations, including Human Rights Watch, TRIAL International, and Amnesty International, have painstakingly documented the crimes of the Jammeh regime. The acts of the Junglers have featured prominently in these analyses and Correa himself has already been named in damning televised testimony at Gambia’s ongoing Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission.

These factors, combined with the letter from Leahy and Durbin, make it difficult for the Justice Department to continue its preferred practice of deporting, rather than prosecuting, individuals implicated in serious human rights violations and/or international crimes when it comes to Correa. He is in U.S. custody, at least some of the crimes he allegedly participated in clearly fall under existing U.S. law, and various promising sources of evidence and useful witnesses have already been identified. The final indispensable ingredient is the will to act. Hopefully, Barr and Wolf will seize this relatively rare opportunity to criminally prosecute a person implicated in extremely grave human rights abuses in a U.S. court.

Image – Demonstrators holds up placards and banners while demonstrating, asking for Yahya Jammeh, the former President of the Gambia, to be brought to justice, in Banjul on January 25, 2020. (Photo by ROMAIN CHANSON/AFP via Getty Images)