The Center for Justice and Democracy
Halliburton Plays Patriotism Card for Legal Immunity
By Laurie Beacham
Here at the Center for Justice & Democracy, it seems the efforts to strip injured citizens of their legal rights is unending, and comes in all shapes and sizes. But sometimes even we’re shocked. This time it is courtesy of Halliburton.
Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root) is reportedly the largest US military contractor in Iraq. Halliburton has been accused of overcharging the government for food, transportation, fuel and even recreational services. But it gets worse.
Former Halliburton employees told a Senate subcommittee hearing on September 18 that the company knowingly places unarmed civilian truck drivers into violent war zones in Iraq. The hearing addressed claims made in a lawsuit by families of Halliburton employees killed or injured in a 2004 ambush of its fuel convoy on a road near Abu Ghraib prison on April 9, 2004. The tragic event has come to be known as the “Good Friday Massacre.” Six KBR drivers were killed, one is presumed dead, and 26 employees were injured.
Halliburton, claiming pride in the patriotic service of its employees, sent one worker injured in the Massacre a letter announcing that he qualified to apply for the “Secretary of Defense for the Defense of Freedom Medal,” the civilian equivalent of a soldier’s Purple Heart. The employee was asked to fill out a seemingly boilerplate form giving permission for his medical records to be transferred to the Department of Defense for the application – boilerplate, except for Paragraph 9:
…I agree that in consideration for the application for a Defense of Freedom Medal on my behalf that … I hereby release, acquit and discharge KBR, all KBR employees, the Military, and any of their representatives …with respect to and from any and all claims and any and all causes of action, of any kind or character, whether now known or unknown, I may have against any of them which exist as of the date of this authorization ... This release also applies to any claims brought by any person or agency or class action under which I may have a right or benefit.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) characterized this waiver: “We’ll give you a medal if you promise not to sue us.” (read more on the hearing , listen to the hearing, and/or see the letter and form). The employee who received the litigation waiver reportedly refused to sign it, but received the Medal and sued, along with other families, anyway.
Halliburton/KBR makes a big deal out of this Medal, which was started after September 11. It is inscribed, “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation” and is presented by military Generals. According to KBR’s monthly “Mirror” publication, the most recent ceremony lasted over four days. But, apparently, all this appreciation by the company of the men and women it sends to Iraq ends at its purse strings and its accountability – at least if you go by its attempt to gain legal immunity in exchange for the Medal.
It’s not like there’s not a lot at stake here. Over 90 Halliburton employees and subcontractors have been killed and almost 400 wounded in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.
And on the day of the Good Friday Massacre, according to former Halliburton employees, the company was well aware that there had been severe violence on that road over the previous two days, and that several convoys had been attacked. A KBR convoy commander told Senators that Halliburton is aware, in real time, when roads are too dangerous for civilian travel and thus off-limits under military law. He said he personally reported the fighting in the area that day through the proper channels and recommended that no more trucks be sent there, but they sent the convoy, anyway. He told Senators, “As long as trucks rolled, they got paid.” Halliburton employees say they had been led to believe their safety would not be compromised.
This was not an isolated incident. HalliburtonWatch has obtained a video tape of another KBR convoy ambush in 2005 resulting in the deaths of three truckers. Reportedly, the convoy had been given a flawed map of the area from KBR and the military. The video was shot by a Halliburton truck driver delivering supplies (watch the video).
The lawsuit initiated by families of the Good Friday Massacre was just thrown out of federal court in Houston. The judge bought Halliburton’s argument that Halliburton/KBR was so intertwined with the U.S. military that the court lacked jurisdiction, finding that the case was “political” in nature. As Senator Durbin aptly stated, “So, they’re arguing that when it comes to making profits, they’re a private company ... But when it comes to being held accountable for their mismanagement and misconduct, they are somehow now part of our government.”
The plaintiffs are appealing the decision. But no matter what happens in that case, it’s important to remember that if Halliburton had enforced its litigation waiver or ever does so in the future, its employees would not even get as far as the courthouse doors.