Defense Base Act Compensation Blog

The Modern Day DBA Casualty

Archive for November, 2009

War Fraud Whistleblowers Under Wraps

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 30, 2009

Monday 30 November 2009

Truthout

Recently, the Congressional Research Service released an amazing statistic – it will cost one million dollars a year to support one soldier for one year in Afghanistan.

This mind-blowing number partly includes the cost of private contractors who have moved into areas of support that have been strictly military in the past. Estimates for the numbers of contractors have been as high as one contractor for every soldier. As President Obama prepares to announce his decision on Afghanistan, the price of this war is also on his mind since he included Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in his last war council.

One of the reasons for the high costs of maintaining each soldier is the lack of oversight of private contractor billings over the course of these two wars. The Department of Defense (DOD), and especially the Army, has fought the auditors and the investigators in the military who have attempted to expose fraud, waste, overbillings and other abuses of costs in contractor contracts. The contractors, using contingency contracting, which is similar to the old cost plus contracts, knew that their profits and, more important, their future task orders and contracts would be priced based on what they spend in the beginning of the wars. So the contractor billing meter, especially in labor costs, spun vigorously in the first years of the war with little oversight. When the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) tried to withhold a small percentage of payment from KBR, the largest contractor, because it believed that the billings were excessive and they wanted to scrub the numbers, the Army pushed past the DCAA and paid KBR the excessive costs. This set the tone to let the contractor billings run wild.

Click here to see Truthout’s Matt Renner interview Dina Rasor.

Click here to read full article by Dina Rasor at Truthout

Stay tuned . . . if you don’t hear about American war contracting fraud cases in the news, you will know that there is a group of very frustrated whistleblowers who cannot legally tell you what is going on with fraud in our wars.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Lt Col James Gentry dies from cancer after Toxic Exposure in Iraq

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 30, 2009

Ex-Indiana Soldier Who Blamed Cancer On Chemical Dies

WILLIAMS, Ind. (AP) – A formerIndiana National Guard commander has died after suffering from lung cancer he believed was caused by exposure to toxic chemicals in Iraq.

A funeral home says 52-year-old retired Lt. Col. James Gentry died Wednesday at his home in the southern Indiana community of Williams.

Gentry was commander of the 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry, which was assigned to guard a water pumping plant in Basrah, Iraq, shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Several soldiers from the unit have sued defense contractor KBR Inc., alleging it knowingly allowed them to be exposed to a known carcinogen. Houston-based KBR denies any wrongdoing.

Gentry was not a party to the suit but believed his cancer was caused by exposure.

Services will be Tuesday at Kraft Funeral Service in New Albany.

Original Story here

Posted in KBR, Toxic Exposures | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving thoughts for AIG, CNA, their claims adjusters, their lawyers and all who enable them

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 26, 2009

This Thanksgiving if you happen to be giving thanks for your home and the food on your table,  we hope you take a minute to think about the injured contractors’ lives you’ve stomped all over to get them.

Do your families know the things you do to other families for financial gain?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Judge says Halliburton must stay in convoy death case

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 25, 2009

Houston Chronicle

A Houston judge ruled today that Halliburton must remain as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging it and its former subsidiary KBR knowingly sent civilian truck convoys into dangerous conditions the day six drivers were killed in 2004 in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller found that Halliburton should remain in the case because plaintiffs have “numerous evidentiary examples of Halliburton’s involvement in the allegations giving rise to this litigation.”

Miller is considering a series of motions raised by the defendants to end three cases brought by injured plaintiffs and family members of the dead. The plaintiffs allege that KBR and its former parent, Halliburton, put profit above life in April 2004 when they deployed a convoy knowing about the heightened danger.

Miller previously dismissed the case, ruling that a civilian court could not second-guess military decisions. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Miller saying it may be possible to resolve the lawsuits without making a “constitutionally impermissible review of wartime decision-making.”

Halliburton spun off KBR in 2007. Last January it stated that it was paying off its final bill for KBR when it agreed to pay about $560 million to settle a Foreign Corrupt Practice Act case involving improper payments to Nigerian officials.

Halliburton has maintained the truck convoy lawsuits are based on KBR activity in Iraq, and Halliburton will be found to have no responsibility, legal or otherwise.

Miller did toss other corporate entities out of the lawsuit. KBR Inc. stays in the case. But KBR Holdings LLC and KBR International Inc. were let out. Also dropped from the suit were Halliburton Energy Services and DII Industries.

mary.flood@chron.com

MsSparky wrote:
Civilians contractors are not soldiers.Therefore they are still responsible for the safety of their employees. KBR/Halliburton bid on and accepted Task Order 43 knowing that in their Scope of Work (SOW) it stated:
1.2 Worksite Safety. The contractor shall be responsible for safety of employees and base camp residents during all operations in accordance with Army, OSHA, and the host nation safety regulations and guidance.
Personally, I think KBR had the option to stop their drivers from participating in this convoy based on the intelligence they received.
Ms Sparky
http://mssparky.com/

11/24/2009 9:57:59 PM

Posted in KBR | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“COUNTING CONTRACTORS: WHERE ARE THEY AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING?”

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 24, 2009

THE COMMISSION ON WARTIME CONTRACTING IN IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN HOLDS A HEARING ON ACCOUNTABILITY ISSUES IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN, PANEL 1
NOVEMBER 2, 2009

“Counting Contractors: Where Are They and What Are They Doing?” carries the theme of accountability into three important areas of the commission’s work.

I offer this opening on behalf of Co-chair Christopher Shays and myself.

The other commissioners at the dais are Clark Kent Ervin, Grant Green, Robert Henke, Charles Tiefer, and Dov Zakheim.

There is currently one vacancy on the eight-member commission awaiting a congressional appointment.

Read the transcript here

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Obama to Announce Increase of Troops for Afghanistan on Dec 1

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 24, 2009

With the associated increases of one contractor to one soldier

What a windfall for AIG and CNA

From the Huffington Post

President Barack Obama is expected to announce a “sizable” increase in US troop levels in Afghanistan early next week, tentatively during a prime-time speech on Tuesday, December 1, according to media reports.

Obama met with his war council on Monday evening to decide how many troops to send in addition to the 68,000 already deployed. According to the Associated Press, “Military officials and others said they expect Obama to settle on a middle-ground option that would deploy an eventual 32,000 to 35,000 U.S. forces to the 8-year-old conflict.” McClatchy is reporting that Obama plans to send 34,000. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in the region, had been pressing for 40,000.

After Obama’s announcement next Tuesday, General McChrystal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, are expected to testify on Capitol Hill.

The president had been reluctant to make a decision without an exit strategy, a theme echoed today by Robert Gibbs. The White House press secretary told reporters that it’s “not just how we get people there, but what’s the strategy for getting them out.”

Below, an official White House photo by Pete Souza of President Obama meeting last night with his national security team to discuss Afghanistan in the Situation Room.

 

Posted in AIG and CNA | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TOO BIG TO FAIL: The KBR-AIG Dream Team

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 20, 2009

Thanks to DC Bureau and Adam Lichtenheld

In late August 2003, medical testing of KBR employees at Qarmat Ali found elevated levels of total chromium in their blood. Total chromium is comprised of trivalent chromium—an essential and naturally occurring nutrient—and hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing industrial component of sodium dichromate. In order to adequately determine if its workers were poisoned by sodium dichromate, KBR needed to separate out hexavalent chromium from the blood tests—a difficult and time-consuming process that usually requires a special laboratory.

But no such effort was even attempted. The reason, according to KBR Medical Director Robert Conte, lies in an archaic legal precedent, one that has forbidden sick KBR workers, such as Mr. Blacke and Mr. Langford, from seeking legal redress.

Under the Defense Base Act of 1941, private contractors working for the military are protected from legal liability for injuries suffered by their employees. Under the DBA, contractors transfer a work-related claim to a government insurer, which handles the claim and determines compensation. For KBR workers who became too sick to work at Qarmat Ali, this meant that their appeals for unemployment and disability benefits were turned over to American International Group, Inc, the world’s largest insurance company and the government’s handler of 90 percent of all DBA cases.

Since AIG retained full responsibility for KBR’s claims, it was at their discretion—not KBR’s—whether to follow up by ordering further blood tests. Determining the amount of hexavalent chromium in workers’ blood would have been critical to link their illnesses to the exposure at Qarmat Ali, thus making them eligible for worker’s compensation. AIG decided against it.

“When AIG picked it up, we figured they’d just follow up and do what they thought necessary at that point,” said Dr. Conte in a sworn deposition videotaped last year.

The Defense Base Act is a lucrative and low-cost deal for companies like AIG. Since the insurance giant works for the government in DBA cases, both premiums and payout claims are paid for by public funds. As a result, when AIG overcharged KBR tens of millions of dollars for DBA insurance in the first several years of the Iraq war—as the Army Audit Agency eventually discovered—U.S. taxpayers footed the bill. The findings of the audit investigation surfaced last fall, around the time that AIG was rescued from financial ruin by an $85 billion taxpayer bailout.

KBR, meanwhile, continues to use the DBA to shield it from accountability.

“KBR took the attitude…that there was nothing anyone was going to be able to do about [Qarmat Ali] because they were immune from lawsuit and/or any other accountability,” Langford said.

Original Story here

Posted in AIG and CNA, KBR, Toxic Exposures | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Army Suicides Hit Record and Will Likely Continue to Rise

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 20, 2009

Thursday 19 November 2009

by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report

Suicides among veterans and soldiers have reached a record high this year and are set to continue rising, Pentagon officials said.

The announcement, coming on the day that the suicide rate for 2009 reached the record number of 2008, leaves advocates worrying about the possible troop escalation President Obama is considering for Afghanistan and the measures the Army has in place to deal with the combat scars which leave no physical trace.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, called the news “horrible,” and said during a news conference Tuesday “we are almost certainly going to end the year higher than last year.”

As of November 16, 2009, 140 soldiers on active duty have taken their own lives, with 71 soldiers not on active duty whose death has also been identified as a suicide. The suicide rate for 2008 was the worst in three decades, and in January 2009, 24 soldiers killed themselves – more than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Full report here

Posted in PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

PTSD Claim Tidal Wave at the VA

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 20, 2009

PTSD Claim Tidal Wave

A VA healthcare use report obtained by VCS using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows that of 1.1 million Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans eligible for VA medical care, approximately 134,000 were already diagnosed by VA mental health professionals with PTSD (“VA Facility Specific OIF/OEF Veterans Coded with Potential PTSD Through 2nd Qt FY 2009”).

A VA claims activity report also obtained by VCS using FOIA reveals only 58,000 of those veterans were granted service-connected disability compensation benefits by VA (“VA Benefits Activity: Veterans Deployed to the Global War on Terror, July 2009).

This means less than half (43 percent) of the veterans diagnosed by VA with PTSD receive disability benefits for PTSD.  VCS finds VA’s PTSD claim adjudication outcome absolutely unacceptable, and this salient fact is cause for immediate action by VA.

Read this in full at VCS

Posted in PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The DBA’s Exclusive Remedy-A License to Kill? KBR defends it’s actions

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 20, 2009

KBR is claiming that the DBA’s Exclusive Remedy excuses them from knowingly sending their employees into deadly danger.

And you know what……  legally,  IT DOES

The Exclusive Remedy was intended (Congressional Intent ?) to be a trade off to ensure the injured worker did not have to bring legal action against their employer in order to receive medical and disability benefits.  The employee would “forthwith” receive medical care and partial replacement of the their income, but they and their family members could not bring legal action against the employer, for any reason.

With absolutely no incentive to provide the safest possible working conditions, profit will usually win over the  lives put on the line.  Pleasing the customer, clearing ordnance from under the power lines asap, getting those supplies to the airport, no matter the danger, are the bottom line.

When a casualty occurs the company sends in another warm body.

On the other hand, the casualty normally has to retain an attorney and fight for their very lives  with AIG, CNA and others ( carrier/employer ) for the benefits that were intended to be their part of the trade off.

What happened to the casualties end of the trade off?

This is an ongoing injustice right in the face of Congress, the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the White House

and frankly it appears that no one gives a damn.

KBR defends its actions

The article entitled “KBR aware convoy in harm’s way” (Page A1, Thursday) does not address some of the paramount issues in the convoy cases. KBR would like to set the record straight.

The events of the April 2004 convoy attack were tragic. We remain mindful of those who lost their loved ones as they were members of the KBR family. However, the assertion that KBR deliberately placed these men in harm’s way or failed to warn of the dangers of working in Iraq is simply false. KBR takes great care in warning and in training employees about the dangers they will face working in a war zone before they depart for Iraq.

It is important to understand the framework in which KBR and other government contractors perform their work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The executive branch and Congress decided many years ago to use civilian contractors to support the military during wartime in order to save costs in peacetime and because they could not recruit enough soldiers to meet all of their logistical needs without resorting to a draft. The Defense Base Act (DBA) was established by Congress as the process to provide coverage to civilians who are injured while supporting the military during war time. Given this exclusive remedy under the DBA, in order for these lawsuits to proceed, the plaintiffs must prove that KBR specifically intended to have the insurgents injure or kill KBR’s employees on the April 2004 convoys. The evidence does not support this allegation.

The e-mails that were the basis of the article do not tell the whole story. In context, the internal communication between KBR and the military evidence the concern KBR had for its employees. Further, the U.S. military alone decided to deploy the military supply convoys at issue here; they decided when, where and how the convoys were to be conducted. These military decisions were made based on the intelligence about insurgent threats that the military compiled through its unique capabilities and resources. Under the Political Question Doctrine and other established principles of law, it is not appropriate for courts — as litigation in these cases would require — to second-guess such wartime decisions and actions by the military that are reserved by the U.S. Constitution to the elected branches of government.

The men and women who work for KBR in Iraq do so at great sacrifice to themselves and their families. It is on their behalf that we will continue to defend the company and its actions. In turn we would hope that the media and others remain mindful that a presentation by the plaintiffs’ lawyers does not accurately reflect all of the facts.

William C. Bodie, president, KBR North American Government and Defense

Posted in AIG and CNA, KBR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Woman awarded $3M in assault claim against KBR

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 19, 2009

The Associated Press

Updated

y JUAN A. LOZANO (AP) – 54 minutes ago

HOUSTON — A woman who claimed she was raped in 2005 while working in Iraq for a former Halliburton Co. subsidiary has been awarded nearly $3 million by an arbitrator to settle her case.

Tracy Barker had sued U.S. contractor KBR Inc, its former parent company Halliburton and several affiliates in May 2007, claiming she was sexually attacked by a State Department employee while working as a civilian contractor in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

A federal judge in Houston had dismissed Barker’s lawsuit in January 2008, ruling she had to abide by an employment agreement she signed that said any claims she made against the companies would have to be settled through arbitration and not the courts.

Court records filed this week show Barker was awarded a judgment of $2.93 million to settle her arbitration claim against KBR.

The Associated Press doesn’t usually identify those who report they were sexually assaulted, but Barker made her identity public in her lawsuit.

In a statement, Houston-based KBR said Thursday it disagreed with the interim ruling from the arbitrator and it has filed a motion to modify the award.

“However, the decision validates what KBR has maintained all along; that the arbitration process is truly neutral and works in the best interest of the parties involved,” the statement said.

Barker’s attorney did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

In her lawsuit, Barker had claimed while working in the companies’ procurement department in Baghdad, she was housed in mostly male barracks and consistently subjected to sexually explicit comments and verbal and physical threats of abuse. Barker claimed she and other employees complained to the companies but they did nothing and instead retaliated against her.

Barker was later transferred to Basra, where she claimed that in June 2005, she was raped in her room by the State Department employee, who she also sued. That case was transferred to federal court in Virginia, where it was formally settled last week. Details of the settlement were not made public.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, in dismissing the lawsuit against KBR, said that until Congress tells courts that binding contracts to arbitrate do not include sexual harassment claims, Barker’s claims had to be arbitrated.

Last month, the Senate approved a measure prohibiting the Defense Department from contracting with companies that require employees to resolve sexual assault allegations and other claims through arbitration.

The amendment was attached to a larger defense spending bill. A vote on the full bill was expected later.

In September, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that a similar lawsuit filed by another ex-contract worker, Jamie Leigh Jones, could go to court in Houston instead of arbitration.

Jones filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 claiming she was raped by Halliburton and KBR firefighters while working at Camp Hope, Baghdad, in 2005.

Jones has also made her identity public in her lawsuit and her face and name have been broadcast in media reports and on her own Web site.

HOUSTON — An arbitrator has awarded a woman nearly $3 million to settle her claims that she was raped in Iraq by a State Department employee in 2005 while working for a former Halliburton Co. subsidiary.

Court records filed this week show Tracy Barker was awarded $2.93 million to settle her claim against military contractor KBR Inc.

Barker had sued Houston-based Halliburton and its former KBR subsidiary in May 2007, alleging she was sexually attacked while working as a civilian contractor in Basra, Iraq.

The Associated Press doesn’t usually identify those who report they were sexually assaulted, but Barker made her identity public in her lawsuit.

Posted in KBR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Wives of Baghdad four appeal for help

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 19, 2009

The wives of four South African men abducted on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, nearly three years ago have made an emotional plea for help to President Jacob Zuma.

Speaking to the media in Pretoria today, the women cried as they spoke of their sadness and hope that they might one day find out what had happened to their husbands – whether they were dead or alive.

“As the wives, we are here to plead for help. Would someone out there please show compassion and human kindness,” said Marie Enslin, whose husband Johann was kidnapped on December 10 2006 along with Hardus Greef, Callie Scheepers and Andre Durant.

“We are sincerely appealing to our new leader Mr Jacob Zuma to assist us and our children.”

Referring to the Koran, Enslin said it read that husbands and wives were each other’s garments and in the Bible they were each other’s convents.

“Our garments and our convents have been missing for 1074 days,” she said.

The men were working for the private security operations company Safenet when they disappeared.

This Christmas would be the fourth she and their four children were without her husband, said Enslin.

“Whether dead or alive, the stress of living and missing loved ones is like a black hole in the heart. Please release them,” she appealed to the men’s captors.

“We need closure. If they are dead, God forbid, please be compassionate and hand over their remains so that we can have closure.”

Retha Scheepers echoed her fellow wives’ prayers that they needed to know what had happened to the men.

“We [my family and I] don’t know where he [Callie] is and every morning I wake up and think today is the day I’m going to get good news or bad news, and at night, nothing.

“We were married for one year and two months, I haven’t really got a marriage beyond the honeymoon stage. My family is broken because their father isn’t here,” she said.

Elmarie Greef said Safenet had promised to “unconditionally” support the women financially, however this had stopped when they went to the media.

“As we started speaking to the media… in December we did not get paid. They said we must declare our men dead and claim from the US government,” said Enslin.

In a statement shortly after the payments stopped, Safenet said this was no longer the responsibility of the company, which had done more than enough to help.

It was also unclear whether Safenet – which no longer operates in Iraq – had ever paid a ransom, even though it had assured the women it would.

“The rumour is just that it wasn’t paid. It was asked for, but never paid,” said Enslin.

“There are people out there who must know what’s going on,” she said.

Lourika Durant is the only one of the four women who heard from her husband Andre after his abduction.

He called her briefly on December 23, 2006, but the call was quickly disconnected.

“I was excited. It was such a high. I just can’t imagine what it would be like to hear his voice again.

“When my phone rings and it’s a no number or a private number, my heart beats. My youngest is one-year-old, so she doesn’t even know her daddy,” Durant said.

The women are receiving money from the US treasury department. Their husbands are not officially declared dead, but are still listed with the United Nations as being among the 45,000 people missing.

Shortly before the briefing, the department of international relations and cooperation issued a statement recognising that the abductions had left “numbness of unexplained cause and effect”.

The department said it had worked on the case since the start and had shared the families’ countless disappointments, dashed hopes and the absence of communication from the captors.

Original Story here

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Iraq Convoy was sent out despite Threat

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 19, 2009

Unarmored trucks carrying needed supplies were ambushed, leaving six drivers dead. Records illuminate the fateful decision.

By T. Christian Miller

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 3, 2007

Video and original story here

Senior managers for defense contractor KBR overruled calls to halt supply operations in Iraq in the spring of 2004, ordering unarmored trucks into an active combat zone where six civilian drivers died in an ambush, according to newly available documents.
Company e-mails and other internal communications reveal that before KBR dispatched the convoy, a chorus of security advisors predicted an increase in roadside bombings and attacks on Iraq’s highways. They recommended suspension of convoys.
“[I] think we will get people injured or killed tomorrow,” warned KBR regional security chief George Seagle, citing “tons of intel.” But in an e-mail sent a day before the convoy was dispatched, he also acknowledged: “Big politics and contract issues involved.”
KBR was under intense pressure from the military to deliver on its multibillion-dollar contract to transport food, fuel and other vital supplies to U.S. soldiers. At Baghdad’s airport, a shortage of jet fuel threatened to ground some units.
After consulting with military commanders, KBR’s top managers decided to keep the convoys rolling. “If the [Army] pushes, then we push, too,” wrote an aide to Craig Peterson, KBR’s top official in Iraq.
The decision prompted a raging internal debate that is detailed in private KBR documents, some under court seal, that were reviewed by The Times.
One KBR management official threatened to resign when superiors ordered truckers to continue driving. “I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart,” wrote Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation.
Six American truck drivers and two U.S. soldiers were killed when the convoy rumbled into a five-mile gauntlet of weapons fire on April 9, 2004, making an emergency delivery of jet fuel to the airport. One soldier and a seventh trucker remain missing.
Recriminations began the same day.
“Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?” demanded one security advisor in an e-mail. “Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers.”
Another wrote, “I cannot believe this has happened; the ones responsible should be held accountable for this.”
The previously undisclosed documents raise new questions about the U.S. military’s growing reliance on civilian contractors to help fight wars.
Selected e-mails, some of them excerpts, were cited in a May 22 letter to the Justice Department by lawyers suing the Houston-based giant on behalf of the dead drivers’ families. The families and most of the survivors of the convoy seek a federal criminal probe of KBR’s role in the episode.
To confirm the excerpts, The Times reviewed internal memos, e-mails and court-sealed depositions, obtained a copy of an Army investigative report on the incident and interviewed several KBR truck drivers and former military officials.
Attorneys for KBR reacted angrily to inquiries about the documents. In a letter urging The Times to “refrain from publishing” material under court seal, attorney Michael L. Rice also warned that the paper might be subject to unspecified legal sanctions.
KBR officials declined to be interviewed. In the past, they have said that the Army was responsible for selecting convoy routes and providing adequate protection.
Scott Allen, a lawyer for the families, confirmed that he had sent a letter to the Justice Department, but declined further comment and advised the families and surviving drivers to avoid interviews. A department spokesman acknowledged receiving the letter but also declined to comment.
The documentary record, though incomplete, provides the first behind-the-scenes look at a day when military goals clashed with corporate responsibilities, with soldiers and civilian truckers in the middle.
What follows is an account of the Good Friday convoy attack, based on the e-mails, court records and interviews.

Growing fears

Inside a long row of white trailers that served as KBR’s office at Camp Anaconda, the region’s main logistics hub, there was growing unease in the early days of April.Violence had surged throughout the region. The mutilated bodies of American contractors had just been removed from a bridge in Fallouja. The military was battling simultaneous Shiite and Sunni uprisings.
It would turn out to be one of the deadliest months of the war for American soldiers and contractors — and KBR’s truck drivers were caught in the crossfire. Trucking program chief Richard fired off e-mails to superiors in Houston and Kuwait describing the growing risks to his drivers.
“One of my convoys was hit with 14 mortars, 6 RPGs, 5 IEDs and small arms fire,” Richard wrote April 7. Senior KBR management in Iraq suspended travel, with Richard telling one colleague in an e-mail that the roads were “too dangerous.”
Several convoys were canceled that week. Delayed shipments contributed to spot shortages when many supplies were needed most.

KBR — then part of Halliburton Co., the company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney — delivered 80% to 90% of the military’s fuel, according to one senior logistics officer.
That meant that if KBR didn’t move, neither could the U.S. Army. Unlike soldiers, contractors don’t have to follow orders.
“We had to get food to the soldiers. We had to get fuel to the soldiers,” the officer said. “This was a war.”
That was clear to KBR dispatchers on April 8, when the first convoys that had moved out onto the highways started reporting gunfire.
“Things started early this a.m. and it hasn’t been good,” one of the trucking project managers advised in an e-mail.
“Gentlemen . . . HOT!!! We have a convoy . . . that is in direct engagement at this time . . . and pleads for immediate assistance,” reported a security advisor.
Vivid reports came in from the field. “We are taking on gun fire, mortared, rocket launch, small arms fire you name it, we got it, we are losing trucks one by one. . . my driver and I were lucky to get out alive.”
By the end of Thursday, one KBR driver was dead and more than 70 had been attacked. Several were seriously injured. Because the next day was a Shiite holiday as well as Good Friday, security advisors worried that sectarian violence might add to the danger. They were of one voice calling for suspension of convoys.
“I say we halt them for a day at least and consider it a safety/security stand-down, and mental health day,” security chief Seagle wrote on April 8. “There is tons of intel stating tomorrow will be another bad day.”
Trucking chief Richard agreed. “Another day like today and we will lose most of our drivers.”

Unable to act

Despite their mounting fears, KBR security advisors had no authority to halt convoy deployment. They lost that on Monday, April 5, when that power was abruptly limited to Richard and his boss — KBR General Manager Craig Peterson. It angered the security team.
“Yeah, well I have been authorized for a year now to stop convoys now all of a sudden Keith [Richard] . . . is the only one who can. . . . well partner believe me the ball is in his court,” groused one.
The documents show that Peterson, a retired Army general then new to KBR, was determined to meet the company’s contractual obligations with the military, which he repeatedly referred to as “the customer.” Peterson was adamant that the civilian truckers had to move out when the military called for them.
After a meeting with military commanders, he noted in an e-mail that “it was reiterated that only the army leadership can stop convoys” and that it was necessary “to team our way into decisions. We cannot unilaterally decide these things on our own.”
There was sharp disagreement inside the company. “We cannot allow the Army to push us to put our people in harms way,” wrote Tom Crum, then the chief operating officer for KBR’s logistics operations.
“We need to work with the Army without a doubt relative to stopping the convoys. But if we in management believe the Army is asking us to put our KBR employees in danger that we are not willing to accept, then we will refuse to go,” Crum insisted.
Richard also argued that the truckers were not soldiers. “Our drivers did sign up with the understanding of some level of hostility, but they did not expect to be in the middle of a war,” he said in an e-mail.
One of Peterson’s aides sent a note scolding Richard. “[Peterson] says that if the client pushes, then we push,” the message said. It also specified that convoys should stop only if security was not adequate and “doesn’t pass the Common Sense Safety Test.”
Richard was clearly rankled. “Who in the hell determines adequate security . . . ? This is a roll of the dice. None of this passes any of these tests if you ask me,” said a Richard e-mail.
He threatened to resign.
“With this decision I cannot continue my employment with KBR. . . . I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart,” he wrote in e-mail messages. “Putting civilians in the middle of a war is not in any contract, policy or procedure. I will not allow this to happen.”
But after a long day of armed attacks on his drivers and arguments with his boss, Richard issued a terse e-mail at 10:26 p.m., employing a familiar phrase:
“If the military pushes, we push,” he wrote.

Supplies urgently needed

At Baghdad’s airport, dwindling fuel supplies threatened to idle two military divisions, according to the Army report. Military commanders called for 200,000 gallons of jet fuel to be rushed from Camp Anaconda.
Notes taken during conversations surrounding that decision underscore the urgency of the situation.
“Has to happen . . . 1st light has to go . . . emergency push,” read some of the notes as reproduced in the Army report.
Gen. James E. Chambers, the head of Army’s 13th Corps Support Command (Coscom), issued explicit orders to his officers: “Not moving critical support is not an option,” he wrote in an e-mail sent before dawn April 9. “We just have to figure out how to mitigate the risks.”
The orders were passed down to military units that escort KBR convoys with an Anaconda commander’s comment attached: “Note the statement about convoys. They move.”
But there was dissent among military command staff, too. At a 6 a.m. intelligence briefing, Chambers was told that the road leading to Baghdad’s airport was too dangerous for civilians, according to Col. Ray Josey, head of operations for Chambers.
“We should just stand down,” Josey said he told Chambers.
Others argued it was safe enough. In the end, Chambers ordered the jet fuel cargo to move. But he also ordered a beefed-up military escort for the KBR convoy: more Humvees, double the ammunition and an armed soldier in every truck cab.
Chambers, now head of the Army’s Transportation Center at Ft. Eustis, Va., declined comment through a spokesman, citing the pending litigation. Josey, who soon after was relieved of his post by Chambers, is now retired in Texas.
At KBR the decision to move was again in doubt as dawn arrived.
In a message time-stamped 6:44 a.m. April 9 — nearly an hour after Chambers’ order — Richard sent a message to all drivers: “No convoys are to move” between Anaconda and the military bases south of Baghdad.
The stand-down lasted only 25 minutes.
At 7:14 a.m. another message moved over the KBR communications system. It read:
“Per Keith Richards, project manager, all traffic is to proceed as normal. All . . . traffic lanes are open in all directions.”
It is not clear what caused the orders to shift back and forth. Richard, through his attorney, declined to be interviewed. He no longer works for KBR.
Company officials have said that KBR depended on the military for guidance about when and whether roads were safe to travel, indicating in court proceedings that the Army said the route was safe before departure.
The Army report found that on April 9 there was confusion among different military units about the status of the route to the airport. The military unit monitoring road safety listed the road as a no-go the entire day, but Coscom commanders did not consult the unit in dispatching the convoy.
At KBR there was no such confusion. Six KBR convoys already had been attacked around the airport that same morning. Also, Stephen Pulley, KBR’s senior security advisor at Camp Anaconda, was in frequent contact with the road monitoring unit and received repeated assurances the routes were closed.
When 13th Coscom suddenly advised that the roads had opened, Pulley was skeptical.
“Something smells,” he wrote.

‘I’m hit, I’m hit’

KBR drivers led by Thomas Hamill, a Mississippi dairy farmer, were assembled in the dusty staging area of Camp Anaconda ready to roll that Friday morning, unaware of the internal debates. Hamill was not one to second-guess orders — whatever they were.
“When I went over there, I said: ‘I won’t refuse to go out on a mission as long as the U.S. Army is willing to escort me out,’ ” he said. “If they didn’t want to go out, then I wouldn’t go out.”
A few minutes after 10 a.m., the 26-vehicle convoy rolled out — 19 KBR trucks and seven military vehicles driven by soldiers from the 724th Army Reserve Transportation Company from Illinois. The convoy stretched nearly a mile and a half.
About the same time — 9:54 a.m. — Lt. Col. James Carroll, a reservist from Missouri working at 13th Coscom, confirmed orders sending the convoy on a route to Baghdad airport that took it right through a battle between the Mahdi Army and 1st Cavalry.
Three minutes later, Carroll reversed himself and sent out a second e-mail: “Sorry. It looks like [the route] is closed until further notice.”
By mistake, however, Carroll sent the second message to himself, and no one else ever saw it, according to the Army report. In an interview, Carroll disputed that account, saying that he called military escorts to warn them not to proceed on the route.
“When I saw that I sent the e-mail to myself, I did everything I could” to reach them, Carroll said. “It was the worst day of my life. You can’t believe how much I second-guessed myself . . . [but] I firmly believe that I did everything I could.”
Hamill’s convoy reached the airport area about noon. He saw the landscape already littered with burning trucks. His truck was hit and disabled by a roadside bomb, forcing Hamill to scramble for cover.
He later was taken captive by a band of gunmen.
The other truckers drove on through fire and smoke. As bullet rounds pierced their cargo tanks, fuel spilled to the ground, making the road slippery. Brakes failed. Trucks jackknifed and flipped over. More roadside bombs detonated.
The sounds of battle crackled over the drivers’ radios.
“I’m burning!” screamed one driver.
“I’m hit, I’m hit,” called another.
In an incident report, one of the escort soldiers wrote: “I started hearing bullets hit all over our trucks, around my head and door. They were zipping by. We pushed through the flames and kept rolling. It was just hell.”
Eddie Sanchez, a driver from New Mexico, was rescued by U.S. soldiers. He recalled one who seemed angry, demanding: “Who are you guys? What are you guys doing out there? We have been fighting those guys for over 48 hours.”
The final tally was grim. Six KBR drivers were dead. Most other drivers were wounded. Besides the kidnapped Hamill, another was missing. Tim Bell now is presumed dead. Two soldiers were killed. A third, Matt Maupin, was captured by insurgents and is still listed as missing. Hamill escaped after nearly three weeks and is back in the U.S.
Only six of the 19 KBR trucks reached the airport. Across Iraq, all 122 convoys sent out by KBR on April 9 were attacked, according to KBR.
Richard was devastated by the loss of his drivers, according to Pulley, who worked closely with him at Anaconda.
“I thought the man was going to break down and cry after he found out he sent all those people out there,” Pulley said in a deposition. “He was very upset with himself.”
Randy Ross, a driver whose truck limped into the airport on steel rims, his tanker and tires blasted with holes, said he blamed neither KBR nor the military. He blamed Iraq.
“It was a bad day,” said Ross, who, like Hamill, is not part of the suit. “It was a very bad day.”
After the attack, Peterson stopped the trucks. “No KBR convoys will move tomorrow, 10th April 04. I will inform the military chain of command,” he said in an e-mail.
Peterson, now a senior vice president at IAP Worldwide Services, a Florida-based military contractor, declined through a spokesman to comment.
In an e-mail sent to an Army general shortly after the convoy disaster, Peterson asked: “Do you think there was any way we could have predicted the events of 8/9 April, the convoy hits? Do you think we had any real predictive intel or indicators or warnings that were sufficiently articulate enough to conclude that we should have halted movement?”
Pulley left no doubt about his feelings. “KBR security did their job,” said security advisor in deposition testimony. “KBR security was overruled.”

Communication blamed

The military conducted its own investigation of the April 9 attack. The 280-page report concluded that miscommunications in the military about the danger of the roads had contributed to the casualties.
The investigating officer noted that he was not allowed to inquire into the actions of military officials in the 13th Coscom, because the unit was outside his chain of command.
For the families and drivers of the Good Friday convoy, however, KBR provided few details. The company has never made public its own investigation. Its attorneys have fought to keep internal communications under seal, arguing that they contain national security secrets.
In 2005, the families filed their wrongful death suit against KBR in Texas.
Last September, U.S. Dist. Judge Gray H. Miller dismissed the lawsuit under a rule that bars courts from jurisdiction in cases related to the routine exercise of military orders.
“Is it wise to use civilian contractors in a war zone? Was it wise to send the convoy along the route [to Baghdad airport] on April 9, 2004?” Miller wrote. “Answering either question and the many questions in between would require the court to examine the policies of the executive branch during wartime, a step the court declines to take.”
Lawyers for the families contend that KBR retained full authority over its civilian convoys and have appealed.

Posted in KBR | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

E-mails show KBR feared casualties before deadly attack

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 19, 2009

KBR security personnel expected casualties the night before six civilian drivers were killed and others injured in an Iraqi ambush, but sent the convoy into a combat zone anyway, according to e-mails presented in a Houston federal court Wednesday.

“There is tons of intel stating tomorrow will be another bad day,” wrote George Seagle, director of security for KBR government operations, the night before the April 9, 2004, attacks. In the e-mail presented in court, he suggested KBR halt convoys for the next day, the first anniversary of the day Baghdad fell in the U.S.-led invasion.

In a flurry of e-mails, many held under seal in the court case for the last year, various KBR employees discussed their concern about possible loss of life.

Seagle responded that he understood the pressures of big politics and contract issues might cause the fuel-delivering convoys to be sent out anyway but “we will get people injured or killed tomorrow.”

And before the ambush but on the same day, Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation in Iraq, e-mailed KBR’s Houston headquarters saying, “we need to expedite the hiring of drivers. We need drivers in theater soon.”

Plaintiff lawyer Scott Allen presented the e-mails in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Gray Miller to determine whether a jury should hear three lawsuits against KBR.

KBR argues that as a contractor it was acting on the basis of military decisions that are not subject to review by civilian courts.

But a group of injured plaintiffs and family members of the dead allege that KBR and its former parent, Halliburton, put profit above life. They say that drivers were promised safety, but their supervisor, who had been in the military, put them in harm’s way to show the civilian company was tough enough to do jobs the military did in former conflicts.

“They were sacrificed for the profit of KBR,” said Tommy Fibich, whose client is still in a coma.

Sent back on appeal

Fibich said most of the drivers were promised that their safety would come first and they took the job to pay off debts or help put a first generation through college.

KBR lawyers argued that the e-mails and contract details are beside the point and that the case should be tossed because the military and the civilian company were intertwined and federal law prohibits courts from second-guessing military decisions.

“While KBR of course knew about the threats, the company ultimately relied on the judgments and representations of the military,” KBR attorney Ray Biagini told the judge.

Miller accepted that argument once before, tossing out all three suits on grounds that the court could not try a case questioning wartime military decisions.

But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the cases back, ruling it may be possible to try the cases without making a “constitutionally impermissible review of wartime decision-making.”

Army not party to case

The cases center on the April 2004 insurgent attack on a KBR convoy of military supply trucks, which killed six civilian truck drivers and wounded 14.

The drivers caught in the ambush were delivering fuel under a multibillion-dollar contract for KBR to transport supplies, build bases, serve meals and provide other logistical support services for American troops in the Middle East.

Plaintiffs in the Houston suits are two injured workers and the family of one who was killed in the attack.

Biagini argued that nothing has changed since the appellate court asked the judge to take another look at the case. He said KBR and the military were indivisible and KBR acted in good faith on the military’s assurances of protection.

KBR lawyers argued that there are half a dozen legal theories under which the lawsuits should be thrown out of court again.

KBR lawyer David Kasanow noted that the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter agreeing the suit should not go to trial. The government letter said the Defense Base Act protects civilian employers like KBR from being sued in a case like this unless they specifically intended employees be injured or killed.

The plaintiffs argued a jury should hear the case because the e-mails show that KBR bosses did know drivers would be injured or killed.

Miller ruled earlier this year that the U.S. Army itself will not be a party to the case. The judge is now expected to take the many legal issues under advisement.

He could toss out the case, or could remove Halliburton as a defendant. Halliburton argues it is improperly named in the suit and it had no control over the events at issue.

If Miller lets the case stand, it is scheduled for jury trial next May.

Original Story here

mary.flood@chron.com

Posted in KBR | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Contractors in Iraq to be Subject to American Laws

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on November 19, 2009

Under American law, the Defense Base Act, they’ll still be allowed to kill, maim, or allow their employees to be raped, just not anyone else.

Courthouse News Service

by Nick Wilson

WASHINGTON (CN) – Senators introduced legislation Wednesday that would bring foreign military contractors under the jurisdiction of American laws following an appeal from the parents of a soldier allegedly killed by a contractor in Iraq.
In introducing the legislation, Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight Chair Claire McCaskill from Missouri told the story of Lt. Col. Dominic Baragona who was allegedly killed when a contractor’s truck slammed into him in 2003. The man’s parents spent years appealing to the Defense Department, the Bush administration and the Army to seek accountability and information regarding their son’s death.
The family sued Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Company (KGL), the contracting company, in 2006. McCaskill said the contracting firm did not show up before the court until after the family won a $4.9 million judgment. The contractor then argued that the government does not have jurisdiction over it and the court vacated the judgment.
“The need for Congress to act with this legislation has raised serious questions for me about the systematic failures that have allowed companies like KGL to escape accountability for their actions,” McCaskill said.
The subcommittee also released a report showing that federal agencies rarely dismiss abusive contractors.
The investigation revealed that over the last five years, the Defense Department Office of Inspector General reported 2,700 convictions, but the Defense Department only debarred 708 contractors.
The Department of Homeland Security did not debar any contractors in 2006, despite widespread reports of waste, fraud and abuse following Hurricane Katrina.
The “Lieutenant General Dominic ‘Rocky’ Baragona Justice for American Heroes Harmed by Contractors Act” would require foreign companies that enter into contracts with the United States to consent to personal jurisdiction in cases involving serious injury, death or rape.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: