Halliburton unlawfully sent civilian truckers into combat in Iraq
19 Sept., 2006
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 (HalliburtonWatch.org) -- Former Halliburton employees in Iraq told a Senate committee yesterday that the company's KBR subsidiary (1) knowingly puts unarmed civilian truck drivers into extremely dangerous war zones in violation of military law, (2) hires employees through a Cayman Island subsidiary in order to avoid U.S. laws, (3) deliberately overcharges U.S. taxpayers "in true Enron-style" for recreational services provided to the troops, and (4) escapes punishment because the Bush administration successfully circumvents "whistleblower" laws that expose unscrupulous contractors. ###
Listen to the audio of the 1 hour and 44 minute hearing at this link.
The former employees disclosed their personal experiences with Halliburton to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, an unofficial committee controlled by the Democrats. Although the committee has no subpoena power or official standing since the Democrats are the minority party, it is the only venue in the Senate that has investigated a number of war contractors in Iraq, including Bechtel, Parsons and Custer-Battles.
"One question haunts me," former Halliburton truck driver in Iraq Edward Sanchez told the committee. "Why would KBR/Halliburton knowingly send unarmed non-combatant civilians in military tankers down a closed road where there was an ongoing battle, when they knew that we would be injured or killed?" Sanchez was injured, and seven of his fellow truckers killed (another presumed dead), after Halliburton sent his 19-truck convoy down a road the company knew was particularly and extremely violent on that day, Good Friday, April 9, 2004. The incident is commonly referred to as the "Good Friday Massacre." One of the truckers in the convoy, Tommy Hamill, was kidnapped after the attack and later released.
"The whole ordeal was preventable," says Sanchez, who has filed a legal claim against the company.
After the bloody experience was over, he said "a soldier came up to me and said words to the effect, 'Who are you guys? What are you guys doing out there? The roads are closed. We have been fighting those guys for over 48 hours. They [the enemy] own that road out there.'" The soldier was stunned that Halliburton sent the convoy into what became a preventable suicide mission. It turns out another Halliburton trucker was stunned as well. Sanchez said, "Another KBR convoy commander, who was not part of our convoy, told several of us that he could not believe that we had been sent down that road since he was attacked on the same road earlier that day, and sent word to KBR/Halliburton to not send anyone down that road due to the hostilities."
As the massacre was unfolding, Sanchez -- a civilian who has no prior military training -- fired an M16 rifle for the first time in his life to defend himself. He borrowed it from an injured soldier.
The experience contravenes what he was told by Halliburton before going to Iraq. The company assured him that he was "not going to be a soldier" or "be sent into battles or areas of known attack [emphasis added]." The operative words are "known attack" because it appears Halliburton knew it was sending its employees into a suicide mission on that Good Friday.
A former Halliburton convoy commander, Sean A. Larvenz, who participated in over 100 convoys in Iraq, told the committee that Halliburton knows immediately, and in real-time, when roads are too dangerous and thus forbidden by military law for civilian convoys to travel upon. "I have personal knowledge that KBR/Halliburton convoys communicated and transmitted real-time information via a satellite-linked computer system known as Qualcomm," he said. Global Positioning Satellite technology allows the company to track, and communicate with, all convoys. So, in the hours prior to the Good Friday massacre, Halliburton knew the road Sanchez was ordered to drive upon was too dangerous and therefore off-limits under military law.
"[T]here is absolutely no question in my mind [before the massacre] KBR/Halliburton was aware of the hostilities that existed," Larvenz told the committee. But "as long as the trucks rolled, they [Halliburton] got paid," he said.
Larvenz and Sanchez were in two different convoys, but both were attacked on that day. Sanchez still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
"[W]e are not here today to suggest that civilian workers of private contractors can expect an absolute guarantee of safety," T. Scott Allen, Jr., a lawyer who represents families of truckers killed in the Good Friday massacre, told the committee. "In fact, we would not have become involved, and our case would not have been filed, if, for example, these truck drivers [had] been the victims of a true 'surprise attack' under conditions that were not foreseen or known by Halliburton. I regret to say, however, that such are not the facts of our case."
According to Allen, Halliburton's own security department had specifically recommended before the massacre that no civilian convoys be deployed on the road where the attack occurred.
Allen, who has spent 90 percent of his legal career defending corporations and individuals, was so compelled by this case to become a plaintiff's attorney. Unfortunately, most of the information he discovered during his investigation cannot be made public because a court granted Halliburton's request to keep most of it secret.
Astonishingly, Halliburton is claiming complete immunity from victim lawsuits under the legal doctrine known as "sovereign immunity." But this doctrine grants immunity to governments, not private corporations. Apparently, Halliburton thinks it is a government agency equivalent to the military and therefore deserving of sovereign immunity from lawsuits. Many of Halliburton's critics have complained the company is so intertwined with the Department of Defense that it has indeed become a pseudo-government agency in violation of President Eisenhower's 1961 speech that warned against the "disastrous" and "unwarranted" influence of private defense contractors on public policy, including decisions on whether to go to war.
"So, they're arguing that when it comes to making profits, they're a private company," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said of Halliburton during the hearing. "But when it comes to being held accountable for their mismanagement and misconduct, they're somehow now part of our government." Durbin was incredulous of what he called Halliburton's "Wrap themselves in the flag" defense.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), noted that Halliburton avoids accountability by hiring employees under its subsidiary in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven country in the Caribbean, which allows for avoidance of U.S. tax, worker safety and other laws. "We've had a report showing a large percentage of corporations doing business with the federal government that are creating subsidiaries in tax haven countries," he said. "They want all of the largesse of contracting with our government and none of the responsibilities of paying taxes."
Sen. Durbin added that "when we admire the patriotism and the courage of our men and women in uniform willing to stand up for Americans," companies like Halliburton "decide that they don't want to be part of America if they have to follow our laws, so they go to the islands in the Caribbean and other places to do their business. That ought to be a red flag to any objective person that you got to keep an eye on them."
False Claims Act
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reported that more than 50 Iraq fraud investigations are ongoing today against contractors in Iraq and at least five lawsuits have been filed under the False Claims Act (FCA), a federal law that gives employees of government contractors the right to sue on behalf of the government in order to recover stolen money for the taxpayers.
But the Bush Justice Department has thwarted most lawsuits filed under the FCA and hasn't brought a single case against a military contractor in Iraq for defrauding taxpayers. The U.S. Justice Department has 60 days to decide whether to join lawsuits brought by employees under the FCA but the administration has obtained extensions and delays from the courts in order to prevent these employee-whistleblower cases from being litigated. Attorney Alan Grayson, who represents FCA plaintiffs, told the committee that the delays meant "Sixty days became sixty weeks."
Grayson reminded the committee that the FCA was proposed and supported by President Lincoln during the Civil War. At the time, Lincoln chided war profiteers, saying: "Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the Nation while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the South and their countrymen moldering the dust."
"No one seems to give a damn," Dorgan said in reference to his Republican colleagues who continue to resist public demands for oversight hearings into corrupt war contractors. "No one seems to want to hold oversight hearings," he said, "so we're doing it." But Dorgan's committee has no official power and cannot subpoena witnesses.
"What has been happening by some of these contractors undermines our troops ... and deceives and cheats our taxpayers," Dorgan said, "and I believe we ought to put a stop to it."
Inflating costs charged to the military
Another FCA lawsuit stalled by the Bush administration was filed by whistleblower and former Halliburton employee Julie McBride. She informed the committee of millions of dollars in billings regularly submitted by Halliburton to the military for nonexistent recreational activities. McBride worked for KBR in 2004 as a "morale, welfare and recreation" coordinator at a Marine base in Fallujah, Iraq. Her job was to organize recreational activities for off-duty troops. "I became the camp mom," she said.
According to McBride, Halliburton bills the military according to the number of Marines that use KBR's recreation facility, but she witnessed the company deliberately and falsely inflating the number of Marines that use it. For example, a person who used a computer in the recreation center was counted as one customer, but if that person subsequently used the weight room, he would be counted as two customers. The center included a weight room, video games, Internet cafe, a library and phone bank.
On one day, says McBride, the "boots in the door" count was about 330 troops. But KBR counted over 1,600 heads -- or 5 times the number of troops that actually came into the facility that day.
McBride calls it an outrage "in true Enron-style," referring to the disgraced and convicted energy trader that ripped-off rate payers by the billions in California.
She said many Halliburton employees, especially the administrators, "don't care about the military." For example, Halliburton was tasked with holding a 2005 Super Bowl party for the troops, but employees absconded with the food and widescreen television and launched their own private football party. U.S. taxpayers, as usual, were left holding the bag and paid for the entire company event.
After complaining about the rip-off to her superiors, McBride was put under surveillance and guarded by four Halliburton security guards who subsequently escorted her onto an airplane out of the country.
The final outrage of the day received the most media attention: Halliburton offers its workers injured in Iraq the opportunity to apply for the Pentagon's Defense of Freedom medal, a seemingly honorable recommendation for those returning home with medical injuries. The worker is asked to sign a release form so Halliburton can provide the Pentagon with all the personal medical records needed for the award consideration process. But less conspicuous on the form is paragraph number 9, which absolves Halliburton of all legal liability and forbids the worker from suing even if the company's criminal negligence caused the injury.
Durbin described the scheme as "We'll give you a medal if you promise not to sue us."
All the former employees said nobody in the Pentagon or elsewhere in government has contacted them to investigate their allegations. As Sen. Dorgan said, "No one seems to give a damn."
Former Army chaplain says KBR places profits before soldiers
Statement by Edward Sanchez, former Halliburton truck driver
Statement by Sean A. Larvenz, former Halliburton convoy commander
Statement by Julie McBride, former Halliburton Morale, Welfare and Recreation coordinator
Statement by attorney Alan Grayson of Grayson & Kubli, P.C.
Statement by T. Scott Allen, Jr., Partner, Cruse, Scott, Henderson & Allen, LLP
Opening Statement by Committee Chairman, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Biographies of the committee witnesses