What Do Military Contractors Have to Do to Get Banned?

Rape, murder, human trafficking, bribery, fraud… These are among the crimes committed by private military contractors working for American taxpayers. Numerous complaints have been filed against them, but the same companies keep right on getting bloated military contracts. As near as I can determine, more than 180,000 civilians work for these military contractors in Afganistan and Iraq.

A handful of companies constantly show up on the list of contract awards, sometimes after changing their names – as Blackwater did (to Xe) following a series of scandals.

Take the case of KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root, formerly Brown & Root, formerly a part of the Halliburton empire. In one report I found on the web, KBR’s military contracts were estimated at $16 billion.

KBR keeps getting military contracts despite numerous horror stories, and the latest attempt to rein in this tainted contractor is being undermined as I write this blog.

Despite “no” votes from 30 Republican senators, Democrat Al Franken recently managed to get an amendment passed that would bar from defense contracts any companies that deny legal redress to employees who have been sexually assaulted or discriminated against. (It is a common practice for contractors to make employees agree up front to accept arbitration for any complaints instead of taking action through the courts.)

Now, as the House and Senate negotiate a final version of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act,  which includes the Franken amendment, Senate leaders are considering leaving discrimination victims unprotected.

jonesFranken’s amendment was triggered by the horrific tale of Jamie Leigh Jones (photo at left), who told a Congressional hearing that she had been gang-raped by as many as seven co-workers in Iraq. Jones charged that on July 28, 2005, several of her fellow KBR employees offered her a drink containing a date rape drug, and she took two sips. She said the men then gang-raped her vaginally and anally while she was unconscious. She was able to name one of her attackers, but could not identify the others because she had passed out. According to her subsequent lawsuit, “when she awoke the next morning still affected by the drug, she found her body naked and severely bruised, with lacerations to her vagina and anus, blood running down her leg, her breast implants ruptured, and her pectoral muscles torn – which would later require reconstructive surgery. Upon walking to the rest room, she passed out again.”

When she complained, KBR locked Jones in a shipping container with armed guards at the door, denying her food, water, and medical treatment. But a sympathetic guard gave her a cell phone and she called her father back home in Texas. He contacted Representative Ted Poe, and Poe contacted the State Department. Agents dispatched from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad rescued Jones from KBR.

Jones’ account was confirmed by U.S. Army physician Jodi Schultz, who said she gave KBR/Halliburton security forces the rape kit she used to gather evidence. The rape kit disappeared.

In May 2007, a State Department diplomat recovered the rape kit from Halliburton/KBR. Missing, however, were the notes and the photographs Schultz had taken of Jones the morning following the rape.

Jones has filed suit against KBR even though the contractor claims she signed away her legal rights when she accepted her employment agreement. Her lawyers are arguing that her rape did not occur as a result of normal employment conditions.

She is not the only KBR employee who was raped and whose complaints were suppressed.

Dawn Leamon, who worked for a subsidiary of KBR told the Senate committee she was sodomized and forced to have oral sex with a KBR colleague and a Special Forces soldier. She said that when she reported the incident to KBR supervisors, she met a series of obstacles.

A third witness, Mary Beth Kineston, testified that she had been raped in the cab of her truck by a KBR subcontractor employee at night while waiting in line to fill her water tanker truck. She immediately reported the incident to her supervisors, but no one did a rape kit test, referred her for medical treatment or even offered to escort her back through the dark to her quarters that night.

Jones, who has formed a nonprofit to support other women with similar experiences, says 40 employees of U.S. contractors have contacted her with stories of sexual assault or sexual harassment – and accounts of how Halliburton, KBR and the Cayman Island-based Service Employees International Inc., a KBR shell company, either failed to help them or outright obstructed them.

victimKBR is guilty of even worse offenses. A recent Pentagon report concluded that the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth (photo at right), a decorated Green Beret from Pennsylvania, was caused by KBR’s shoddy work. Maseth was one of three American soldiers electrocuted while showering in Iraq.

It would take a book – and a long one – to describe all the scandals in which KBR has been involved. Yet the company has a decades-old history of preferential treatment by the U.S. military – under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The question is why? Does no one – not even the President – have control over the military brass who hand out contracts?