by David Isenberg at Huffington Post November 13, 2012
David Isenberg is the author of the book Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq and blogs at The PMSC Observer. He is a senior analyst at Wikistrat and a Navy veteran.
While it’s only one among many factors bedeviling Afghanistan, its substantial private-security contracting industry warrants attention. It’s made up of tens of thousands of Afghan employees, mostly armed guards.
Bear in mind that 2014 is the deadline for Afghanistan assuming responsibility for its own security. This is a date the whole world has an interest in because either Afghanistan will be a more or less stable country — or it will lapse back into the chaotic and destabilized state it was after the Soviets left in 1989.
We all recall how that turned out.
The Afghan government and the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are transferring private security company (PSC) operations to the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), a new Afghan government force.
But substantial uncertainty, to put it politely, and skepticism — to put it more bluntly – persists over APPF’s ability to handle the job. Even more importantly, how it plans to absorb the commanders and former fighters who currently provide the bulk of PSC workforces.
There are more contractors than troops in Afghanistan
Time’s Battleland October 9, 2012 by David Isenberg
U.S. military forces may be out of Iraq, but the unsung and unrecognized part of America’s modern military establishment is still serving and sacrificing — the role played by private military and security contractors.
That their work is dangerous can be seen by looking at the headlines. Just last Thursday a car bomb hit a private security convoy in Baghdad, killing four people and wounding at least nine others.
That is hardly an isolated incident. According to the most recent Department of Labor statistics there were at least 121 civilian contractor deaths filed on in the third quarter of 2012. Of course, these included countries besides Iraq.
As the Defense Base Act Compensation blog notes, “these numbers are not an accurate accounting of Contractor Casualties as many injuries and deaths are not reported as Defense Base Act Claims. Also, many of these injuries will become deaths due to the Defense Base Act Insurance Companies denial of medical benefits.” To date, a total of 90,680 claims have been filed since September 1, 2001.
How many contractors are now serving on behalf of the U.S. government?
According to the most recent quarterly contractor census report issued by the U.S. Central Command, which includes both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as 18 other countries stretching from Egypt to Kazakhstan, there were approximately 137,000 contractors working for the Pentagon in its region. There were 113,376 in Afghanistan and 7,336 in Iraq. Of that total, 40,110 were U.S. citizens, 50,560 were local hires, and 46,231 were from neither the U.S. not the country in which they were working.
Put simply, there are more contractors than U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
These numbers, however, do not reflect the totality of contractors. For example, they do not include contractors working for the U.S. State Department. The CENTCOM report says that “of FY 2012, the USG contractor population in Iraq will be approximately 13.5K. Roughly half of these contractors are employed under Department of State contracts.”
While most of the public now understands that contractors perform a lot of missions once done by troops – peeling potatoes, pulling security — they may not realize just how dependent on them the Pentagon has become.
No disrespect to Beau, Biden’s son, who served honorably in Iraq but perhaps if he was working for KBR or Academi, instead of the Delaware National Guard, Biden might have been more sensitive to those who are also sacrificing.
If you weren’t listening closely you might have missed it but last week, at the Democratic national convention, Vice President Joe Biden gave a major diss to the private military and security contracting (PMSC) industry.
In the course of his speech he said:
And tonight — (applause) — and tonight — tonight I want to acknowledge — I want to acknowledge, as we should every night, the incredible debt we owe to the families of those 6,473 fallen angels and those 49,746 wounded, thousands critically, thousands who will need our help for the rest of their lives.
Folks, we never — we must never, ever forget their sacrifice and always keep them in our care and in our prayers.
Biden might actually be a bit off; another famed Biden gaffe perhaps. The official Pentagon estimate through Sept. 7 for fatalities, which includes Defense Department civilians is 6,594 but their wounded estimate is exactly the same as Biden’s.
Don’t get me wrong. As an American and military veteran the toll of the military dead and wounded, especially those killed or wounded in Iraq, a war of choice, not necessity, tears at me. All these deaths and casualties should be remembered.
But as long as we are going to do body counts let us not low ball. What about all the PMSC personnel who have also made the ultimate sacrifice?
I’ve written about this before but since this is such an unappreciated subject, let’s review.
The U.S. Department of Labor publishes figures based on data maintained by its Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, saying, “These reports do not constitute the complete or official casualty statistics of civilian contractor injuries and deaths.” These figures are not that useful as they refer to numbers of claims filed and not actual total fatalities. Their wounded totals also include figures for those injuries where there was no lost time or where lost time was just three or four days.
Still, through June 30 this year, the number of claims filed for Iraq and Afghanistan total 47,673 and 17,831, respectively. The number of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are 1,569 and 1,173. So that’s 2,742 dead “fallen angels”, who were working to support U.S. troops, diplomats, and private firms per overall U.S. goals in those countries, that Biden did not include.
By the way, to get an idea of the sheer Joe Heller surrealism of trying to track contractor casualties see this post by Overseas Civilian Contractors.
A better sense of the toll can be seen in this 2010 paper written by Prof. Steve Schooner and Colin Swan of George Washington University Law School. As they noted:
As of June 2010, more than 2,008 contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another 44 contractors killed were in Kuwait, many of whom supported the same missions. On top of that, more than 44,000 contractors have been injured, of which more than 16,000 were seriously wounded (see Figure 3). While these numbers rarely see the light of day, Figure 1 reflects the startling fact that contractor deaths now represent over twenty-five (25) percent of all U.S. fatalities since the beginning of these military actions.
In fact, in recent years contractors have, proportionately speaking, sacrificed even more than regular forces.
What is even more striking is that — in both Iraq and Afghanistan — contractors are bearing an increasing proportion of the annual death toll. In 2003, contractor deaths represented only 4 percent of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2007, that number rose to 27 percent. From 2008 to the second quarter of 2010, contractor fatalities accounted for an eye-popping 40 percent of the combined death toll. In the first two quarters of 2010 alone, contractor deaths represented more than half — 53 percent — of all fatalities. This point bears emphasis: since January 2010, more contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military soldiers. In other words, contractors supporting the war effort today are losing more lives than the U.S. military waging these wars. Indeed, two recent estimates suggest private security personnel working for DoD in Iraq and Afghanistan — a small percentage of the total contractor workforce in these regions — were 1.8 to 4.5 times more likely to be killed than uniformed personnel.
No disrespect to Beau, Biden’s son, who served honorably in Iraq but perhaps if he was worked for KBR or Academi, instead of the Delaware National Guard, Biden might have been more sensitive to those who are also sacrificing.
By the way, lest you think I’m a Republican partisan, neither Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney at the Republican national convention so much as mentioned Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone casualties. That might be funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic, given that this is the party that normally falls all over itself, playing up its supposed support for wartime sacrifice.
Follow David Isenberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vanidan
Remember when rioters in Watts, Calif., began shouting “Burn, Baby! BURN!” in the turmoil of 1965? I’m sure they didn’t have the following future in mind.
That would be the various lawsuits against KBR for operating burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we should all be paying attention to this and not just for the human toll it has taken on soldiers and contractors. It also says something disturbing about the ability of the federal government to exercise proper control over its private contractors.
An article, “Military Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan: Considerations and Obstacles for Emerging Litigation” by Kate Donovan Kurera, in the Fall 2010 issue of the Pace Environmental Law Review provides the necessary insight.
For those who haven’t been paying attention the last four years the background goes thusly:
Burn pits have been relied on heavily as a waste disposal method at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of United States military presence in these countries in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Little attention was paid to the pits in Iraq and Afghanistan until Joshua Eller, a computer technician deployed in Iraq, filed suit in 2008 against KBR for negligently exposing thousands of soldiers, former KBR employees, and civilians to unsafe conditions due to “faulty waste disposal systems.” Eller and a group of more than two hundred plaintiffs returning from their tours of duty, attribute chronic illnesses, disease, and even death to exposure to thick black and green toxic burn pit smoke that descended into their living quarters and interfered with military operations.
The plaintiffs assert that they witnessed batteries, plastics, biohazard materials, solvents, asbestos, chemical and medical wastes, items doused with diesel fuel, and even human remains being dumped into open burn pits. Defense Department officials say this waste stream contained items now prohibited pursuant to revised guidelines. Plaintiffs contend that KBR breached these contracts by negligently operating burn pits.
As of August 2010 there were an estimated two hundred and fifty one burns pits operating in Afghanistan and twenty two in Iraq. The most attention has focused on the burn pit operating at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, which was suspected of burning two hundred and forty tons of waste a day at peak operation
While the health impact of the pits is what the media focuses on, Kurera sees even more important legal issues: She writes: Please read the entire article here
David Isenberg at Huffington Post August 16, 2012
Last year I wrote a report for the Project on Government Oversight about and subsequently testified to Congress, regarding a Kuwaiti-based KBR subcontractor which had exploited hundreds of third-country nationals (TCN) coming from various South Asian countries.
Some of the subsequent press coverage criticized KBR, but that missed the point. Sure, in several respect KBR could have done much better, but at least it held special inspections documenting atrocious living conditions and threatened to cut off awards to the subcontractor.
But the real story is how little information the U.S. government has over the operations of foreign subcontractors. As I noted in my congressional testimony:
Subcontracting is among the most challenging parts of the U.S. government’s widespread outsourcing of war-related tasks. It works like this: A government agency – most likely the Defense Department, State Department, or U.S. Agency for International Development – will award work to a “prime” contractor. That prime contractor, usually a large American company like Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) or DynCorp International, will often subcontract some or even a majority of its work to other companies, including foreign-owned firms. Those subcontractors sometimes then turn around and subcontract part of the work, and so on.…
But in footing the bill for all this work by a network of companies, the U.S. government often doesn’t know who it is ultimately paying. And that can lead to fraud, shoddy work, or even taxpayer funds ending up in the hands of enemy fighters.
For more detail the article “Limitations Of the Contingency Contracting Framework: Finding Effective Ways To Police Foreign Subcontractors In Iraq And Afghanistan” by Carissa N. Tyler in the Winter 2012 issue of the Public Contract Law Journal provides some valuable detail on the scope of this problem. For example, “Subcontractors are responsible for approximately seventy percent of the work of prime contractors; however, the Government has extremely limited visibility into these subcontractors’ operations. U.S. taxpayer dollars are at risk because U.S. agencies cannot directly police foreign subcontractors. “
by David Isenberg at Huffington Post July 30, 2012
A new report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) provides some detail on the sacrifices made by private contractors who engaged in reconstruction or stabilization activities in Iraq between May 1, 2003, and August 31, 2010.
The total number includes 318 Americans (U.S. military, federal civilian employees, and U.S. civilian contractors), 111 third-country nationals, 271 Iraqis and 19 of unknown nationality who were working in support of the U.S. reconstruction or stabilization mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Of course, the actual total number, as opposed to the merely official one, is almost certainly higher, according to the report
For several reasons, an exact calculation is not possible. First, no agency managed a central database for reconstruction or stabilization casualties. Each U.S. government entity involved in Iraq’s reconstruction–the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of State (DoS), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)–maintained its own employee casualty database. The Department of Labor (DoL) maintains a database of civilian contractors of all nationalities that were killed in Iraq who worked for or were contracted by U.S.-based companies or were insured through U.S. insurance carriers and notified DoL through the Defense Base Act.
Second, the databases we could access often did not contain enough detail to confirm whether a casualty was stabilization- or reconstruction-related. For example, there were 1,047 military casualties where the type of mission could not be determined.
Finally, there was no central source of information on third-country nationals or Iraqi civilians killed while working on or in support of U.S. projects.
What the report, “The Human Toll Of Reconstruction Or Stabilization Operations During Operation Iraqi Freedom” does say is that “Americans suffered 44 percent of the total reconstruction or stabilization-related deaths, including 264 from the Department of Defense (37 percent) and 54 U.S. federal civilian employees and U.S. civilian contractors (8 percent).” So, looking just at the very limited subset of contractors working stabilization and reconstruction-related activities, you get 57 deaths.
By David Isenberg at IISS June 14, 2012
On June 6 the Detroit Metro Times published an article, Soldier of Misfortune, that deserves much more attention that it has gotten thus far. So let’s take a look at it. What follows relies principally on and borrows heavily from the article.
In 2006, after surviving one tour of duty in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, Cpl. Justin Pope was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. In 2007 he took a job with DynCorp, a private military contractor providing security at the American embassy in Erbil, Iraq. Pope completed a one year assignment with DynCorp, before agreeing to a second one-year assignment, beginning in the fall of 2008.
What is not disputed is that on the night of March 4, 2009, Pope was in his room at the embassy compound when a single bullet from a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun fired at point-blank range entered his mouth, passed through his brain and exited the back of his skull.
But what his family refuses to believe is the official account of that killing, a story of mutual, reckless gunplay detailed in the files of the U.S. District Court in Gulfport, Mississippi. That is where Kyle Palmer, a young man who went to war with Pope and claimed to love him like a brother, pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
As someone with no special knowledge of the case I can’t say who ultimately was at fault but even if you accept the official version, that Pope’s death happened due to reckless horseplay, it still doesn’t speak well for either corporate professionalism or accountability. As the article notes:
Detroit attorney William Goodman, who along with law partner Julie Hurwitz is representing Pope’s family in a recently filed lawsuit, offers a big-picture look at what he sees at stake: a system designed to protect private military contractors such as DynCorp, even if they are guilty of “gross negligence and deliberate indifference to the rights of their employees, peoples of foreign lands and American public officials.”
“Moreover,” he contends, “this system shields private military contractors from any accountability even when an employee is killed while off duty as the direct result of the contractor’s own wrongdoing, or is killed by another employee of the contractor. This is simply outrageous. Even more disturbing, it extends the immunity that was once reserved to the government, to private corporations, even further reinforcing the notion that we are ruled not by a democratic government but, rather, by avaricious private interests.”
Pope’s family, sickened by the official account of his death which paints him as an irresponsible participant in his own demise, went to court once already in an attempt to force the discovery of information they hope will shed new light on what happened that night in Iraq a little more than three years ago. That first suit, filed in federal court, was dismissed last September. The judge ruled, in part, that any right to sue for negligence had been waived when Pope signed his contract with DynCorp. He also determined that the company was shielded by something known as the Defense Base Act, a 1941 law that creates a “federal compensation scheme for defense contractors and employees when such employee suffers injury or death while working outside of the United States.”
Now Pope’s survivors, a group that includes his wife, 11-year-old son, mother, stepfather, brothers and sisters, have launched a second lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court in Detroit.
This time, instead of claiming negligence, it is being alleged that the company and more than a dozen of its employees at the time conspired to cover up what actually occurred the night Pope was killed.
The company isn’t answering questions about the case. When contacted by Metro Times, a DynCorp International spokeswoman responded with this e-mail:
This was an extremely tragic accident that occurred several years ago, after working hours, when personnel were allegedly drinking alcohol in violation of Company policy. Although our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Pope’s family and loved ones, the allegations contained within the suit are without merit. Please be advised that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan fully dismissed a related lawsuit last year.
When I contacted DynCorp I received the same quote.
Although not named in the suit, the U.S. State Department, which investigated the killing, is part of the cover-up, says the family and its attorneys.
The family first learned that something bad had happened to Justin when his wife, Ashley, received a call from a DynCorp employee around 5:30 p.m. Detroit time on March 4, 2009, informing her that Justin had been in an “accident” — and that it was serious. A second call informed them that he’d been shot in the “neck,” and that he’d been airlifted by helicopter to a hospital. A third call brought the news that Justin had died.
The next day, two women arrived at Ashley’s home where family members had gathered. They were Anne Boffo and her daughter Natalie. Natalie was Kyle Palmer’s fiancée, and the couple had socialized with Ashley and Justin when they all lived in Jacksonville, N.C., where the guys were stationed at Camp Lejeune.
Anne Boffo’s husband and Natalie’s father, Michael Boffo, is a former Marine who, at the time, was project manager for DynCorp International’s protective services unit in Iraq. According to court records, he supervised a group of 151 people. Included in that number were Kyle Palmer and Justin Pope.
It was through their connection to Michael Boffo that Kyle and Justin went to work for DynCorp. Kyle had two previous drunk driving arrests that had to be expunged from his record before the company would hire him. When the Boffos arrived, Ashley didn’t yet know it was Palmer who had shot and killed her husband. In fact, other than learning that he’d been shot, she had no information about how he died.
The next to arrive was DynCorp employee Mike Kehoe who’d flown to Michigan from Iraq. Ashley says Kehoe initially told her that Justin was alone in his room when he died.
“He asked me if Justin had been depressed about anything,” Ashley recalls.
The implication, she says, was that Justin might have committed suicide.
No one in his family believed that to be remotely possible.
Then the story changed, says the family. Justin was cleaning his weapon, they were told, and it accidentally misfired. Family members say they immediately dismissed that possibility as well. Justin, they say, had an intense concern regarding firearm safety.
Kevin Pope, Justin’s oldest brother, made handwritten notes as events unfolded. Among other things, he remarked about how Keho had shown up with paperwork for Ashley to sign. There were two insurance policies — one for $250,000 and other for $50,000 — that had to be processed.
“Mike [Kehoe] also said it would be probably two or three more days before we would have word on how he died.”
That claim was made even though court records would reveal that State Department investigators, who were in the area working on another case, were on the scene within an hour.
Palmer showed up in Michigan four days after the shooting to attend services for his friend. It was then that he confessed to Ashley that he was somehow involved, but that he had been too drunk at the time of the shooting to have a clear recollection of it. He did remember seeing someone else’s hand on the gun.
According to Kevin Pope’s contemporaneous notes, “Sunday the 8th Palmer was here in the Courtyard Marriott where I met him in the afternoon. I talked with Palmer alone in the hotel room. … He said both of their hands were on the gun. He said he was convulsing after that. He said he thinks Justin only had one Corona. I think he made it sound like he had a lot more to drink. He did say there was another guy in the room.”
Three days later Kevin wrote: “Palmer and Natalie came to Ashley’s on Wednesday night the 11th around midnight. I asked Palmer how long Justin’s blood was pumping after he was shot. Palmer answered that he didn’t remember anything until he woke up several hours later. … I told Palmer my brother loved him and I do too. I told him I forgive him if he’s living with guilt and he told me it means a lot.”
However, the stories being told to the family kept changing. They say now that it is difficult to keep track of all the versions of Justin’s death that were presented to them by both Palmer and DynCorp officials. The scenario evolved from Pope being alone in his room to him being there with Palmer and “possibly” one other person to there being a room full of people.
It wasn’t until Palmer, fired from DynCorp because of the killing, was back in the United States, in Gulfport, Miss., that investigators were able to extract a confession from him. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of eight years. Under the original plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to request that Palmer serve no prison time whatsoever. Five years of supervised probation would be his penalty.
Before sentencing, the prosecutor read into the record what he says the government would be able to prove if the case were to go to trial.
The defendant and Pope were close friends who had served together in the U.S. Marine Corps during the battle of Fallujah back in Iraq in 2005. Both had been trained as snipers and were well versed in firearms, including their function and procedures for safely handling weapons.
The evidence would also show that in the late evening hours of March 4th and continuing into the early hours of March 5th of 2009, an informal party or get-together was taking place at Justin Pope’s embassy-provided residence inside the State Department embassy compound in Erbil. Pope, the defendant, and others had been escorting the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq during the day.
There were approximately eight to ten contractors in this small bedroom. Most had consumed alcohol. Indeed, the defendant had drank two bottles of wine, several beers, and some whiskey by himself before and during the party. The defendant himself believed that he was so drunk that he would not have been able to legally operate a motor vehicle. Pope was not drunk that night, and some people present believed he may have had one beer, but a toxicology report reflected there was no alcohol present in Pope’s system at the time of his death.
During the party, Justin Pope and the defendant had engaged in some playful and friendly wrestling on Pope’s bed. After that wrestling had concluded, the evidence would show that the defendant [Palmer] went to a bed at the opposite end of the room and stood there while Pope went to his desk. From his desk, Pope retrieved his 9-millimeter Glock 19 handgun. The evidence would show that Pope then went over to the bed where the defendant was standing. Pope pulled back the slide of his Glock handgun at least once, expelling an unfired round of ammunition. The defendant never saw Pope removing the magazine from the weapon, and the action, in the absence of seeing the magazine removed, made it clear that the gun was in fact loaded.
Pope then began to dance on the bed with the defendant while Pope was waiving the gun around. Justin Pope, in a joking manner, pointed the gun at the defendant’s head. So the evidence that the government would have collected would show that this was consistent with a game that is sometimes played with a semiautomatic handgun among Marines, a game sometimes referred to as a “Trust Me” game, where a loaded handgun is pointed at a friend and the friend is expected to trust the possessor of the weapon not to shoot him.
After that pointing of the weapon at the defendant, the defendant and Pope began wrestling, although not wrestling for possession of the gun, but friendly wrestling. After that wrestling concluded, the defendant at some point took the firearm from Pope. Then, as Pope had done, the defendant at some point took the firearm from Pope. Then, as Pope had done, the defendant pointed the gun at Justin Pope’s head. Witnesses are prepared to testify that Pope then said, in substance and in part, either ‘Do it’ or ‘Pull the trigger’ or something in that manner.
The defendant, still extremely intoxicated, pulled the trigger of the gun without checking to see whether the gun was loaded. The gun discharged a bullet, and the bullet struck Justin Pope in the head. Justin Pope collapsed on the bed. Although others in the room immediately provided medical assistance and attention and Justin Pope remained alive for a short period of time, he died soon after without regaining consciousness.
Pope’s family members say the official version of Justin’s death is as far-fetched as the stories that he’d possibly killed himself, or that his gun had accidentally misfired while being cleaned.
Which is why, after their first lawsuit had been dismissed (which they are appealing, acting as their own lawyers), they found new attorneys and are trying to get back in court again. Because this, in essence, is what they are being asked to accept: that a stone-cold sober Justin Pope — a guy who had never been anything less than intense about handling firearms safely — danced around waving a loaded pistol, and then “playfully” wrestled with another man while holding the weapon. And then, the most incredible part: that he would take that gun, knowing it was loaded, and hand the weapon to a guy wasted on alcohol and, with that gun maybe three feet from his face say, “Go ahead, pull the trigger.”
Aside from the family’s disbelief based on Justin’s character, there is an autopsy — conducted by the Armed Forces Institute of pathology in Rockville, Md. — that appears to call into doubt that official version of events.
As part of the first lawsuit, forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz reviewed the autopsy report and a CD containing photographs of the body. In a sworn affidavit, Spitz reported that “in addition to the injuries directly associated with the gunshot wound, Justin suffered bruising in the upper eyelid, bridge of his nose, inside of his upper lip, outside of his left arm and the back side of his right hand as well as two fractured teeth.”
That raises the possibility that the “playful wrestling” described by the prosecution may really have been a fight.
Also of concern to the family is a conversation they say took place with State Department investigator Scott Banker and prosecutor David Jaffe at the U.S. federal building in Detroit just before the official version of events was presented to the court in Mississippi.
The family was told in that meeting that the truth of what happened might never be known because the DynCorp employees present when the shooting occurred either weren’t talking or were providing conflicting stories.
If the government wasn’t sure what the truth really was, why didn’t they press on with the investigation? The family says they have never been given an answer to that question.
The fact that it makes no sense is what has the family searching for a more plausible explanation.
One possibility says Pope’s mother, is that her son had a problem with something that had occurred among members of the security detail, or was concerned about something improper involving DynCorp.
She says that, shortly before his death, Justin told her he was considering asking for a transfer to a new assignment in Pakistan, even though that job would pay less than the one in Iraq. She says too that he seemed troubled by something on his last visit home a few weeks before he died.
Meanwhile while many people who worked with Kyle Palmer wrote letters testifying to his good qualities there is, however, another side to Palmer that isn’t revealed in these letters. It is a side of him captured on a video camera while he was still working for DynCorp in Iraq. Kevin Pope found it on his brother’s laptop computer when it was returned to the family after Justin’s death. It is a video posted on YouTube showing yet another party taking place among DynCorp employees at their Ebril quarters. Kyle is in that video — which features some raucous beer-bonging — even though alcohol consumption was, officially anyway, strictly prohibited.)
The video found on Justin’s computer was provided to the judge in Mississippi. It too is part of the court record. At the start of the five-minute recording, Palmer is clearly pictured. The cameraman sounds to be drunk, hiccupping frequently before putting the camera down before leaving the room because he has to “go pee.”
The camera continues to roll, but the screen goes dark. What gets captured, however, is the audio, resulting in a sort of theater of the absurd.
Palmer is clearly wasted, and one of his co-workers is trying to assist him.
There are two voices, one of which Pope’s family says is clearly Palmer’s. It’s not known who is trying to help him as he lays in bed, a trash can placed alongside in case he has to vomit.
“Stop touching me now,” Palmer says.
“Why are you so fucked up?”
“I’ll kill you now,” Palmer says.
“I’m going to fuckin’ fuck you up now.”
It goes on in that vein for a few minutes, with Palmer telling the man who’s trying to help him that he “smells like a nigger.” The man starts jabbing him.
“Goddam it, quit hitting me in the ribs,” Palmer yells.
“It’ll be a lot worse if you keep that up,” is the reply.
After a few more minutes someone else enters the room and you hear Palmer say, “Ah, shit, the boss man. We’re fucked now.”
“Just hit the can,” says the new voice, apparently that of a supervisor.
“Leave me alone,” Palmer says.
“It’s happened to me more than once,” the supervisor says, laughing.
And then, apparently referring to the assignment completed earlier, “Good fucking job tonight guys. Good fucking job.”
He then notices the camera.
“Don’t leave that on,” he says.
“Oh, shit,” says the other man.
And then it ends.
The article concludes with this, “Avoiding a trial has been the sole objective of DynCorp and they have changed their explanation of this tragedy several times. They continue to resist any testimony that might reveal the truth.”
Even if one believes that Pope was killed due to the horseplay between him and Palmer that leaves other questions unanswered. For example, why would DynCorp even hire someone with two drunk driving arrests on their record? Is that what DynCorp calls doing due diligence when vetting prospective employees? And what were DynCorp supervisors doing in terms of checking for alcohol, which never should have been there in the first place?
Also, I am not a lawyer, but Pope’s employment agreement with DynCorp (as mentioned in the case dismissal last September) states:
The Employee understands and accepts the fact that he or she will be exposed to dangers due to the nature of the mission. The Employee agrees that neither Employer nor its affiliates will be liable in the event of death, injury, or disability to Employee. Employer will obtain the insurance described in Attachment A on behalf of the Employee and the Employee agrees to accept these insurance benefits as full satisfaction of any claim for death, injury, or disability the Employee or the Employee’s representatives and heirs may have against Employer and its affiliates.
But if DynCorp supervisors were negligent in allowing alcohol use at their facility when it was banned is that not a “danger” that DynCorp created? After all, even the judge, while dismissing the suit, conceded that Pope’s death occurred during the course of DynCorp employment:
With respect to whether his death occurred in the [*25] course of employment, Pope was in Iraq at DynCorp’s premises based on the “obligations” and “conditions” of his Employment Agreement. See O’Leary, 340 U.S. at 507. Pope had just returned from his shift for the day and was positioned in his room provided by DynCorp on DynCorp’s premises. He was placed in a “zone of special danger” in which an accidental shooting by Palmer occurred based on such “obligations” and “conditions” of Pope’s employment with DynCorp. See id. Whether Pope and other DynCorp employees were participating in recreational activities is irrelevant as it is not necessary that Pope be engaged in an activity for the benefit of DynCorp at the time of his killing. See id. Therefore, Pope’s death occurred within the “course of his employment.” Accordingly, Pope’s death is one which is covered by the DBA.
Furthermore, even though this suit was dismissed it raises important questions, which to my mind have yet to be answered, such as:
a. Failure to ensure that the gun was properly unloaded and stored away from individuals.
b. Improperly allowing DynCorp individuals to consume alcohol and be under the influence of alcohol on DynCorp property.
c. Improperly allowing DynCorp to pull their loaded weapons on DynCorp property.
We should also note that even though that the federal suit was dismissed it didn’t exactly absolve DynCorp of wrongdoing. It didn’t say that Pope was at fault or that DynCorp was innocent. What it did say was this:
Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment are essentially identical with respect to their substantive arguments. They seek dismissal of Plaintiff’s action for two reasons. First, Defendants argue that the DBA and Longshore Act bar Plaintiff’s wrongful death suit against DynCorp and Palmer. Second, Defendants alternatively argue that the Employment Agreement contains a liability waiver provision barring Plaintiff from bringing any claim against DynCorp and Palmer for the death of Pope.
The government decided that contractors are eligible for public honor as civilians, through awards such as the Defense of Freedom Medal. This is described as the “civilian equivalent” of a Purple Heart, as both require the recipient to have been injured or killed. But the contractor is honored as victim; not hero.
While this Medal is available the majority of injured contractors will not receive it
David Isenberg at Huffington Post May 24, 2012
Please see David’s blog The Isenberg Institute of Strategic Satire
How should one recognize an act on the battlefield that gets you wounded? If you are a soldier, marine, sailor or airman the answer is easy; you get a Purple Heart. That medal, originally created by General George Washington, is awarded to U.S. soldiers wounded by the enemy in combat. It was ordered by the Continental Congress to stop giving commissions or promotions, since the Congress could not afford the extra pay these entailed, so Washington drew up orders for a Badge of Military Merit made of purple cloth. In 1782 he directed that “whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”
In short, Washington gave cloth because he could not give money. But if you are a private contractor and you get wounded you don’t get a Purple Heart. You, hopefully, will get medical care and benefits which your employer is required, at least theoretically, to provide under the Defense Base Act.
To Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo Law School this raises the question as to whether they are forms of value which can be substituted one for the other.
In an essay he wrote, “Value of Valor: Money, Medals and Military Labor,” published earlier this year he explores the divide between money and medals. This raises interesting questions about motivation.
Project on Government Oversight May 7, 2012
For Vinnie Tuivaga, the offer was the answer to a prayer: A job in a luxury hotel in Dubai–the so-called Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf–making five times what she was earning as a hair stylist in her native Fiji.
She jumped at the chance, even if it meant paying an upfront commission to the recruiter.
You probably know how this story is going to end. There was no high-paying job, luxury location or easy work.
Tuivaga and other Fijians ended up in Iraq where they lived in shipping containers and existed in what amounted to indentured servitude.
Journalist Sarah Stillman told Tuivaga’s story and that of tens of thousands of other foreign workers in acute detail almost a year ago in her New Yorker piece, “The Invisible Army.”
In some cases, Stillman found more severe abuses and more squalid living conditions than what Tuivaga and her fellow Fijians experienced.
But like Tuivaga, thousands of foreign nationals in the U.S. government’s invisible army ended up in Iraq and Afghanistan war zones because they fell victim to human traffickers.
Let that sink in.
This human trafficking pipeline wasn’t benefitting some shadowy war lord or oppressive regime. No, these are workers who were feeding, cleaning up after, and providing logistical support for U.S. troops—the standard-bearers of the free and democratic world.
In its final report to Congress last year, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said it had uncovered evidence of human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan by labor brokers and subcontractors. Commissioner Dov Zakheim later told a Senate panel that the Commission had only scratched the surface of the problem. He called it the “tip of the iceberg.”
In essence, despite a 2002 presidential directive that set a “zero tolerance” on human trafficking, modern-day slavers have been operating with impunity under the aegis of the U.S. government.
Nick Schwellenbach, who until last month was the director of investigations at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and author David Isenberg also wrote about the conditions some of these foreign workers endured in Iraq.
Nick and David uncovered documents that showed how one U.S. contractor—in this case KBR—was well aware that one of its subcontractors, Najlaa International Catering Services, was involved in trafficking abuses.
David Isenberg Huffington Post April 30, 2012
Today the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) has released its latest quarterly report. Here is what happening with private contractors in Iraq.
As of April 3, 2012, the Department of State (DoS) reported that 12,755 personnel supported the U.S. Mission in Iraq, down about 8 percent from the previous quarter. Current staffing comprises 1,369 civilian government employees and 11,386 (U.S., local national, and third country national) contractors. (89 percent of the total).
Of these contractors, DoS estimated that about 2,950 provided security-related services for DoS sites, down more than 22 percent from last quarter (3,800).
In February, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said that DoS will continue to reduce the number of contractors over the coming months in an attempt to “right size” Embassy operations.
The Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) manages U.S. security assistance to the Government of Iraq. OSC-I is staffed by 145 U.S. military personnel, nine Department of Defense (DoD) civilians, and 4,912 contractors.
But according to SIGIR, DoS tends to undercount the number of contractors working in Iraq. It found that:
In early April, DoS asserted that only 6 U.S. government employees and 48 contractors work on what it considers reconstruction programs. This total does not include any of the several hundred personnel working under the auspices of the PDP, [Police Development Program] which remains the single-most expensive ongoing initiative financed by DoS for the benefit of Iraq. Nor does it include any of the hundreds of employees and contractors supporting the missions of OSC-I and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), though both agencies oversee projects paid for with U.S. reconstruction funds.
According to the Defense Department, if you include the OSC-I contractors, the total for private security contractors rises to 3,577.
The takeaway is that after all these years the U.S. government still has problems tracking the number of contractors working in Iraq. The SIGIR report found that:
While SPOT [Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker database, administered by DoD] data provides SIGIR with a comprehensive view of contractor and grantee personnel in Iraq, significant apparent differences exist between agency-reported contractor numbers and SPOT data. For example, DoS reported to SIGIR that there were almost 11,400 contractors supporting Mission Iraq as of April 3, 2012, while SPOT data shows 5,172 working for DoS.276 In addition, USAID reported that 1,854 contractors are currently working on USAID projects in Iraq.277 However, SPOT data shows only 110 USAID contractor and grantee personnel in Iraq as of April 1, 2012. SIGIR intends to investigate these discrepancies and provide an update in the July 2012 Quarterly Report.
With regard to security contractors the Government of Iraq (GOI) announced in February that 124 private security firms were registered to work for foreign government entities and private firms engaged in activities in Iraq, but the GOI has taken steps to minimize the presence and scope of these firms. According to the GOI, the Security and Defense Committee of the Council of Representatives has drafted legislation to reduce the number of PSC firms working in Iraq from 124 to 63. Of the remaining firms, 15 to 20 would be foreign firms and the rest would be Iraqi.
On the fraud front, some of SIGIR’s noteworthy investigations were:
Three former officers of a U.S. defense contractor, the wife of one of the officers, and four foreign nationals were indicted for their alleged roles in a fraud and moneylaundering scheme involving contracts for reconstruction projects in Iraq. The defendants were also are charged with an aggregate of 74 wire-fraud offenses.A British citizen and his company were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay kickbacks in exchange for receiving more than $23 million in DoD subcontracts from April 2006 to August 2008. The British contractor allegedly paid more than $947,500 in unlawful kickbacks to two employees of a prime contractor to the U.S. government in order to obtain these subcontracts for work performed in support of the Coalition Munitions Clearance Program (CMCP).
David Welch, a former U.S. civilian contract employee, pled guilty to conspiring to steal 38 U.S. military generators and sell them on the Iraqi black market.
As of April 10, SIGIR is continuing to work on 110 open investigations.
There are a number of PSC firms working on the Police Development Program; especially in providing security at the Baghdad Police College Annex (BPAX). At BPAX, Triple Canopy, Inc., contractors provide protective details and escort PDP convoys. Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, LLC, provides perimeter security, with Iraqi Security Forces guarding the outer perimeter. EOD Technology, Inc., operates the counter-mortar and counterrocket system, and three U.S. military personnel are attached to the RSO explosive ordnance disposal unit. Another U.S. contractor provides a computer technician who manages the classified email system used by PDP personnel.
On January 30 I wrote a post regarding sexual violence by private contractors. Though the most flagrant instances have occurred in the past, it is still a problem.
Although I was not singling out any company in particular I did mention DynCorp because it served as the inspiration for the movie The Whistleblower that came out last year. This relates to the infamous cases of sex trafficking and slavery in Bosnia back in the Balkan wars of the nineties.
Okay, stuff happens. Although other things have happened with DynCorp, more specifically the DynCorp International division, over the years, it is a big company and employs lots of people. One should not tar every company with the sins of a past employee.
As big corporations go DynCorp, in my limited experience, is very decent. Full disclosure: years ago, I worked three years for one of its arms control units, not DynCorp International, and found the people there highly professional and very ethical.
Still, my past post evidently did not go down well at DynCorp HQ. I was emailed a response by one of their vice presidents taking me to task for my presumed sins. At the request of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in London, which had listed my post in their weekly update, they emailed a similar response to them.
I fully understand that DynCorp wants to put the best possible face on this issue but I feel its response is a little too self-serving so let me just do some parsing of some of its statement.
With regard to the movie it writes,
‘The Whistleblower’ centers on allegations of human trafficking, a serious crime and global problem. Although the Company was never contacted by the filmmakers to obtain even a basic description of past work in Bosnia, to fact-check allegations or to obtain our position on these issues, when the Company reached out to the representatives for the filmmakers to gain more information about the movie, we were informed that the film, in the distributor’s words, ‘is a fictionalized, dramatic presentation.
I realize that in times long past it was popular to kill the messenger but that is supposedly out of fashion nowadays. DynCorp seems to think the filmmaker, who is Larysa Kondracki, had an obligation to contact them to get their spin. She did not…..
So here it is: A contract dispute led to a major development in a major war of the United States – and that is Paul’s point.
Reduced to its essentials every argument and debate about the use of private military and security contractors comes down to two words; outsourcing and privatization. The argument is simply whether they are good and bad.
Personally I think that, like most other things, the answer is maybe. Hey, if you want absolutes take up physics.
But lately, partly I suppose, in response to the predictable quadrennial Republican party blather about the glories of the free market – cue the inevitable segue into why America needs a purported businessman like Mitt Romney to “fix America” – my repressed academic side has been pondering the pitfalls of privatizing the battlefield.
Before going any further let me acknowledge the contribution and sacrifice of PMSC personnel. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never has so much depended on such an unacknowledged few.
That said, let’s turn to one of the iconic contractor moments of the U.S.involvement in Iraq; the killing of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in 2004.
Our answer is that some Government Contractors are exploiting workers overseas by not filing Defense Base Act Insurance Claims on deaths and injuries of foreign workers. Where is the investigation of this?
by David Isenberg at Huff Post November 7, 2011
The following is an excerpt from the congressional testimony I gave yesterday. You can find the entire testimony on my blog (free registration required).
Testimony of David Isenberg Publisher, PMSC Observer and Author, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform, on “Are government contractors exploiting workers overseas? Examining enforcement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act“November 2, 2011
Chairman Lankford, Ranking Member Connolly, other Members of the Subcommittee,
Thank you for the opportunity to testify at this hearing.
I commend you for examining the issue of whether government contractors exploit workers overseas. It is unquestionably a problem. Though it has come up elewhere it has not yet received the sustained attention it merits. As the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan noted in its final report:
U.S. contingency contractors, opportunistic labor brokers, and international criminal organizations have taken advantage of the easy flow of people, money, goods, and services to capitalize on this source of revenue and profit. Their actions bring discredit to the United States and act as a barrier to building good diplomatic relations.
The subject also means you have to look at the relationship between prime contractors and their subcontractors, which is another problem. It is often, to cite Winston Churchill, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
I am pleased to be here to discuss the The Najlaa Episode Revisited report that I co-authored, which was published by the Project on Government Oversight this past June. I have a prepared statement which I ask be included in the hearing record in its entirety, along with the POGO report. In the interest of time I will just summarize some of the main points.
But first, let me outline where I stand on the ongoing debate over the outsourcing and privatization of functions that used to be considered inherently governmental. I am not an opponent of private military and security contractors. Nor am I am a fervent supporter. Over the years I have documented problems with the claims of both sides. Personally, I think most contractors, especially those operating in the field, are decent, honorably men and women, doing necessary, even vital work, under harsh and demanding conditions. Some of them, I believe, especially on the security side, are underpaid. But in the end I am simply an interested observer and chronicler, who, like the Mr. Spock character on the Star Trek television series, finds it a “fascinating” phenomenon worthy of continued study and analysis.
Speaking of science fiction we might note that the use of private actors in war and conflict is something that sc-fi writers have long written about, as in Gordon Dickinson’s Dorsai novels. So, in one sense, the subject of today’s hearing is an example of life imitating fiction.
First, let me address why this is important. For years industry advocates have been claiming that thanks to private military contractors (PMC) U.S. military forces have the best supported, supplied military in any military operation in history. It is inarguably true that PMC are now so intertwined and critical that the U.S. military simply can’t operate without them.
But that is not an unmitigated benefit. Many PMC have had problems implementing contracts. Some have committed outright fraud, thus wasting U.S. taxpayer’s money, and indirectly, negatively affecting U.S. military operations.
While the seven plus years has seen increased attention paid to the oversight of and accountability of PMC most of that attention has been at the level of prime contractors. Only now is government beginning to turn to the issue of subcontractors. This attention is long overdue. As the Center for Public Integrity noted last year
Please read the rest of David’s testimony at his blog The PMC Observer
by David Isenberg at CorpWatch June 27th, 2011
Najlaa International Catering Services won a $3 million five-year contract in February 2010 to prepare food for the U.S. Agency for International Development compound in Iraq. The deal was approved despite the fact that Bill Baisey, CEO of the Kuwaiti company, faces numerous complaints and court actions for non-payment of bills and alleged fraud in Kuwait and Iraq.
U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been plagued by private military contractors that have performed poorly or failed miserably in fulfilling their contracts. Some overstated their capabilities or were badly managed and under-skilled, while others committed outright fraud.
Past investigations concentrated on major contractors such as Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), but recently the smaller companies – such as Najlaa – to which these giants subcontract have drawn fire.
“The government has limited visibility into subcontractor affairs and limited ability to influence their actions,” said former U.S. Congressman Christopher Shays at a July 2010 hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. “This fact presents a challenge to transparency and accountability for the use of taxpayers’ dollars. Poorly conceived, poorly structured, poorly conducted, and poorly monitored subcontracting can lead to poor choices in security measures and damage to U.S. foreign policy objectives, among other problems.”
The United States, however, has become so dependent on contractors who do the laundry, feed the troops, and build and run facilities that it would be difficult if not impossible for the military to continue without them.