Raped And In Legal Limbo

by dday

I interrupt the usual campaign gloating and trash talking and pie fighting to bring you a disturbing and important story of the consequences of unrivaled corporate power and the shifting of our armed forces into mercenary operations.

Mary Beth Kineston, an Ohio resident who went to Iraq to drive trucks, thought she had endured the worst when her supply convoy was ambushed in April 2004. After car bombs exploded and insurgents began firing on the road between Baghdad and Balad, she and other military contractors were saved only when Army Black Hawk helicopters arrived.

But not long after the ambush, Ms. Kineston said, she was sexually assaulted by another driver, who remained on the job, at least temporarily, even after she reported the episode to KBR, the military contractor that employed the drivers. Later, she said she was groped by a second KBR worker. After complaining to the company about the threats and harassments endured by female employees in Iraq, she was fired.

For the last several years, we have in Iraq created a lawless society administered by similarly lawless corporate entities, all blessed with their own immunities and legal black holes, so that even abhorrent episodes like rape change nothing and get nobody fired except the accuser.

“I felt safer on the convoys with the Army than I ever did working for KBR,” said Ms. Kineston, who won a modest arbitration award against KBR. “At least if you got in trouble on a convoy, you could radio the Army and they would come and help you out. But when I complained to KBR, they didn’t do anything. I still have nightmares. They changed my life forever, and they got away with it.”

Mary Beth Kineston is not the only woman. According to former Halliburton employee and gang-rape victim Jennifer Leigh Jones, 38 women have told their stories of rape and assault to her, but none can come forward due to arbitration agreements:

Jamie Leigh Jones is testifying on Capitol Hill this afternoon. She says she and other women are being forced to argue their cases of sexual harassment, assault and rape before secretive arbitration panels rather than in open court before a judge and jury.

Jones returned from Iraq following her rape in 2005. She was the subject of an exclusive ABC News report in December which led to congressional hearings.

After months of waiting for criminal charges to be filed, Jones decided to file suit against Halliburton and KBR.

KBR has moved for Jones' claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom, as provided under the terms of her original employment contract.

In arbitration, there is no public record or transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Jones' claims would not be heard before a judge and jury. Rather, a private arbitrator hired by the corporation would decide Jones' case.

Corporate power is the thread tying all of this together. We know they can get the government to grant them amnesty for breaking the law. And in this case, they hire their own arbitrator to conduct sham hearings looking into malfeasance by their own employees.

And honestly, the only one saying much of anything about this is a Republican.

Congressman Ted Poe, R-Texas, who has been involved in the Jones case since the beginning, will also appear at today's hearing. He disagrees with the arbitration solution.

"Air things out in a public forum of a courtroom," said Rep. Poe in an earlier interview with ABC News. "That's why we have courts in the United States."

It's his constituent that's come forward, but there are apparently dozens of others. All of them have been subject to humiliating and dehumanizing conditions, had crimes committed against them by their co-workers, and these corporations are claiming that they signed away their Constitutional right to due process of the law with a trial by jury. Not only that, but since the crimes took place in a foreign war zone, the military justice system doesn't apply to them, either.

This breeds lawlessness inside the contractor zones, for obvious reasons. When there's no accountability, why modify behavior?

Paul Brand, a Chicago psychologist who counsels contractors who have served in Iraq, said the harassment of female workers by male colleagues was common. “The extent of the harassment varies greatly from contractor to contractor, depending on how diligently they screen job candidates and management’s willingness to encourage women to report problems,” he said. “In many instances, very little or nothing is done.”

Comprehensive statistics on sexual assaults in Iraq are unavailable because no one in the government or the contracting industry is tracking them. Court documents, interviews with those who were victims, their lawyers and other professionals, along with the limited data made available by the Bush administration, suggest a troubling trend.

The Criminal Investigation Command of the Army has reported that it investigated 124 cases of sexual assault in Iraq over the last three years. Those figures, provided to Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who has taken the lead in the Senate on the issue, include cases involving both contractors and military personnel, but do not include cases involving contractors or soldiers investigated by other branches of the military.

This is especially abominable because there's no need to have so many contractors doing work previously reserved for the US military and under military control, and because it's a symptom of how corporate power has almost totally overtaken our government.

Take a few minutes out of your election coverage and really take a look at this story. It is the expected consequence of the Bush Republican era of corporate dominance.