Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Tale Of How Halliburton/KBR Rape

In July 2005, on her "fourth night in a Green Zone barracks in Baghdad," former Halliburton/KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones says she "accepted a 'special drink' from male KBR employees," after which she doesn't "remember anything at all" until she "woke up naked," "bleeding," and "bruised." "I remember looking down and seeing the bruises between my inner thighs, at that moment my heart sank," Jones told an ABC-affiliate in Houston. According to Jones, "an examination by Army doctors showed she had been raped 'both vaginally and anally,'" but somehow "the rape kit" with her examination's results "disappeared after it was handed over to KBR security officers." After reporting her rape to KBR, Jones says "the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job." After "at least 24 hours" in the container "without food or water," a "sympathetic guard" allowed her to call her family in Texas, who contacted Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). Poe then contacted the State Department, "which quickly dispatched agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad" to free Jones from the container. In the two years since Jones returned from Iraq, "the Justice Department has brought no criminal charges in the matter" and Poe says "neither the departments of State nor Justice will give him answers on the status of the Jones investigation." Frustrated by the government's inaction, Jones is now taking her case to the civil court system, but KBR is pushing for it to be heard in "private arbitration," without a "public record or transcript."

KBR'S 'INADEQUATE' DEFENSE: KBR, formerly known as Kellogg, Brown and Root and until 2006, a subsidiary of Halliburton, is "the largest" private "employer of Americans" in Iraq, with "nearly 14,000 U.S. workers." The company is aggressively resisting Jones's claims. In a memo to company employees, KBR CEO Bill Utt "disputes portions of Ms. Jones' version of the facts" and alleges "inaccuracies in the accounts of the incident in questions." In particular, KBR says "one of its human resources employees tended to Jones following the incident, provided her with food, and helped her contact her family." Jamie Armstrong, the human resources employee, confirmed to KBR's version of events to ABC News, but cautioned that "her memory may not be accurate" because "this happened several years ago." In his memo to employees, Utt emphasizes that the company "expressed" its "position in detail to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)," but the Houston Chronicle reports "that the EEOC's Houston office found KBR's investigation into Jones's allegations were 'inadequate and did not effect an adequate remedy.'" According to the Chronicle, KBR told the EEOC that "one of the men accused in the rape" said that Jones "consented to have sex with him." Jones's lawyers responded by to KBR's defense by saying that "attacking the victim is the oldest trick in the book."

For the past two years, Poe has been championing Jones's case, pushing federal investigators to take action. "I think it is the responsibility of our government, the Justice Department and the State Department," Poe told ABC News. "When crimes occur against American citizens overseas in Iraq, contractors that are paid by the American public, that we pursue the criminal cases as best as we possibly can and that people are prosecuted." After ABC News reported on Jones's case last week, the House Judiciary Committee announced that it would hold a hearing on Jones's allegations next Wednesday. In the past week, multiple members of Congress have written to the Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State urging them to "act immediately to investigate Ms. Jones's claims." In his letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) raised concerns about a second KBR employee alleging sexual assault while working for the company in Iraq. "I am deeply troubled by recent reports that at least two women who worked in Iraq under contractors for the Department of Defense were sexually assaulted by male coworkers," Nelson wrote to Gates.

In her lawsuit, Jones asserts that "KBR and Halliburton created a 'boys will be boys' atmosphere at the company barracks which put her and other female employees at risk." "I think that the men who are there believe that they live without laws," Jones's lawyer Todd Kelly told ABC News. Another former KBR employee, Linda Lindsey, supports Jones's claims about the "boys will be boys" environment of KBR barracks in Iraq. "I saw rampant sexual harassment and discrimination," said Lindsey in a sworn affidavit for Jones's case. During an appearance on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight last week, Poe said he does not think that Jones's alleged rape "is an isolated case of sexual assault against American citizens in Baghdad by coworkers," and he wants "the other victims to notify" his office immediately. In his letter to Gates, Nelson mentions "a second alleged assault, this time of a woman from Florida who reportedly worked for a KBR subsidiary in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005." Houston's CBS affiliate KHOU says "a North Carolina woman, who also said she was assaulted by a KBR contractor," will testify along with Jones on Wednesday, though the House Judiciary Committee has yet to release an official witness list.

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