When Crimes, Not Profits Stay in a Warzone


When the United States invaded Iraq and Afghanistan it didn’t only invade with an army of soldiers, but with an army of contractors. The Department of Defense policy, crafted by members of the Bush Administration after the first Gulf War in 1991, was to outsource as much of the war and occupations as possible. This caused a massive windfall for corporations looking to cash in on the rebuilding and on providing services that used to be provided by the troops.

According to the Los Angeles Times, by 2007 the number of contractors employed in Iraq outnumbered the number of US troops. One of the companies that profited the most from the outsourcing was Kellogg Brown & Root, otherwise known as KBR, Inc. The subsidiary of Halliburton, KBR specializes in engineering and construction contracts. At that time, KBR was also the largest employer of Americans in Iraq.

Serious allegations have been levied against KBR over the last decade of war. The Boston Globe reported in 2008 that the Houston based corporation used shell companies in the Cayman Islands to avoid Medicare and Social Security deductions, which the DOD had been aware of since 2004. In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for KBR in Iraq, but a court ruled against the KBR claim that her injuries were somehow work related.

In 2008, unsafe electrical wiring installations by KBR contractors lead to the electrocution and death of Army Special Forces soldier, Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth. As the New York Times reported, employees had warned the company about faulty wiring as early as 2005 and the DOD was warned by the company itself as late as 2007. Maseth’s death was ruled a “negligent homicide,” after U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division investigated his death. The family of Maseth sued KBR for wrongful death.

Last week a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit. According to Stars and Stripes, U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer said that she could rule on the lawsuit “without first ruling on the Army’s decision to house him and other soldiers in a barracks with a substandard electrical system.” Bill Stickman, the lawyer representing Maseth’s parents, told Stars and Stripes that they will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. “We’re all disappointed, but we don’t feel defeated at this point. We think we have strong issues and we’re confident of our chances before the circuit and getting Ryan his day in court.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against KBR on behalf of soldiers in Iraq who were exposed to toxic chemicals from “burn pits.” As the Nashville Post reported, the lawsuits claim that KBR and other companies “callously exposed and continue to expose soldiers and others to toxic smoke, ash and fumes. These exposures are causing a host of serious diseases, increased risk of serious diseases in the future, death and increased risk of death.”

This week the Military Times reports that KBR has filed a motion to dismiss 55 lawsuits filed by military personnel and veterans against the company. The company claims that the lawsuits “would overstep the boundaries between governmental branches.” The company also says that it “should be exempt from litigation because it deserves the same immunity given government entities and personnel.” Maryland District Court Judge Roger Titus will rule on the case in the coming weeks.

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