The New York Times November 25, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — For the replacement Afghan security guards, their new posting — an established traffic checkpoint in a heavily guarded Western enclave in Kabul — would seem to be a decent one, other than the fact that three of their predecessors had just been killed by a Taliban suicide bomber.
The site itself told the story: the blast crater from the attack, on Wednesday, had been covered by two rows of green sandbags stacked 10 feet high, and ball bearings from the bomber’s vest pockmarked the neighboring walls. An excavator shoved dirt loosened from the blast into tidy mounds along the edges of the street, which sits a few blocks from the American Embassy in the city’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood.
The new arrivals, private guards who work for a foreign security contractor, forlornly bear the assignment. Among the dead were friends and co-workers, including a 36-year-old guard named Shamsuddin, a father of two, and Mohammed Homayoun, 28.
The replacements are jittery, clutching their assault rifles as a supervisor stands nearby, scanning the street.
“They’re deeply hurt because they lost their colleagues,” said the supervisor, who would not give his name. “They were like members of the same family.”
The guards may well have the most thankless job in Afghanistan, serving as the first line of defense against bombings and bullets meant for Westerners and high-profile Afghan government officials. In countless cases, such private security guards are the ones killed by thwarted attacks. On Wednesday, the bomber detonated his vest after the guards demanded his identification, police officials said.
Private security companies have had a troubled and controversial history in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has called for them to be banned, concerned that the armed companies, about 50 in all employing about 40,000 guards across the country, were becoming de facto militias. The president eventually made exceptions for embassies and international organizations, but required the firms to be licensed. Mr. Karzai remains committed to handing over security to Afghan government forces.
by David Rohde at Rueters November 16, 2012
Amid the politicking, there’s an overlooked cause of the Benghazi tragedy
For conservatives, the Benghazi scandal is a Watergate-like presidential cover-up. For liberals, it a fabricated Republican witch-hunt. For me, Benghazi is a call to act on an enduring problem that both parties ignore.
One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security.
Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us.
Now, I’m not arguing that this use of contractors was the sole cause of the Benghazi tragedy, but I believe it was a primary one. Let me explain.
The slapdash security that killed Stevens, technician Sean Smith and CIA guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty started with a seemingly inconsequential decision by Libya’s new government. After the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government barred armed private security firms – foreign and domestic – from operating anywhere in the country.
Memories of the abuses by foreign mercenaries, acting for the brutal Qaddafi regime, prompted the decision, according to State Department officials.
Once the Libyans took away the private security guard option, it put enormous strain on a little-known State Department arm, the Diplomatic Security Service. This obscure agency has been responsible for protecting American diplomatic posts around the world since 1916.
Though embassies have contingents of Marines, consulates and other offices do not. And the missions of Marines, in fact, are to destroy documents and protect American government secrets. It is the Diplomatic Security agents who are charged with safeguarding the lives of American diplomats.
Today, roughly 900 Diplomatic Security agents guard 275 American embassies and consulates around the globe. That works out to a whopping four agents per facility.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department relied on hundreds of security contractors to guard American diplomats. At times, they even hired private security guards to protect foreign leaders.
After Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly survived a 2002 assassination attempt, the State Department hired security guards from DynCorp, a military contractor, to guard him. Their aggressiveness in and around the presidential palace, however, angered Afghan, American and European officials. As soon as Afghan guards were trained to protect Karzai, DynCorp was let go.
But the State Department’s dependence on contractors for security remained. And Benghazi epitomized this Achilles’ heel.
US ship dumping of toxic waste provokes outrage in Manila
The SBMA spot report showed that the tanker was carrying some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge water (a combination of water, oil and grease), all of which were hauled from Emory Land, a US Navy ship.
Santiago seeks Senate probe of US Navy contractor
Phillipine Daily Inquirer Saturday November 10, 2012
The United States Navy contractor accused of dumping hazardous waste into Subic Bay last month is not covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.
“The VFA only covers US military personnel and US civilian personnel who are individuals employed by the US Armed Forces or those that accompany them such as employees of the American Red Cross and United Services Organization,” said Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson.
“Since Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc. cannot be considered US personnel, clearly its acts as third-party contractors are not covered by the VFA,” Hernandez said.
The VFA, the 1999 agreement that provides the framework for regulating the presence of US military forces and equipment in the Philippines, allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over US military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are of “particular” importance to the Philippines.
The debate over this controversial aspect of the VFA—which many Filipinos see as one-sided and an affront to the sovereignty of the Philippines—has come into play once again after the Malaysia-based US Navy contractor accused by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) of dumping toxic waste in its waters invoked the protection of the VFA.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia Phil., through its politically influential law firm, Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo and Angangco, when confronted with a “show-cause” letter by the SBMA to explain its illegal acts cheekily replied that the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM), not the government agency that administers the free port, had jurisdiction over it.
The Inquirer reported on Friday that the SBMA was investigating the US Navy contractor for allegedly dumping untreated toxic and hazardous waste on Subic Bay last month. The waste was reportedly dumped by the tanker Glenn Guardian, a vessel owned by Glenn Defense, which reportedly collected the waste from US ships that participated in recently concluded joint military exercises in the country.
Hernandez pointed to Article I of the VFA, which defines the term “military personnel” and “civilian personnel” covered by the agreement, as referring only to individuals employed by the US military and those accompanying them.
Will ArmorGroup, AGNA, G4S, finally be held accountable for the deaths of Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare??
The programme-makers heard stories of contractors being forced to work on dangerous missions with inadequate equipment, incident reports sanitised to protect company reputations and numerous deaths of former soldiers.
One security contractor, Bob Shepherd, said: “We know when a soldier dies it’s all over the newspapers, it’s on the TV. But we never know when security contractors die.
“For the companies it’s bad for business, for the government it’s hiding the true cost of these conflicts.
“If the British taxpayers knew the total numbers of people that have died on behalf of British security companies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan they would be shocked.”
BBC News Oct 1, 2012
Security firm G4S was sent warnings not to employ an armed guard in Iraq just days before he murdered two colleagues, a BBC investigation has found.
Private security guard Paul McGuigan, from the Scottish Borders, was shot dead by Danny Fitzsimons in 2009 in Baghdad while on a protection contract.
Another man, Australian Darren Hoare, was also killed.
All were working for UK contractor G4S, which was operating under the name ArmorGroup in the region.
In a BBC documentary, it is revealed that a G4S worker sent a series of emails to the company in London, warning them about Fitzsimons’s previous convictions and unstable behaviour.
The anonymous whistleblower signed one email “a concerned member of the public and father”.
The worker warned G4S: “I am alarmed that he will shortly be allowed to handle a weapon and be exposed to members of the public.
“I am speaking out because I feel that people should not be put at risk.”
Another email, sent as Fitzsimons was due to start work in Baghdad, said: “Having made you aware of the issues regarding the violent criminal Danny Fitzsimons, it has been noted that you have not taken my advice and still choose to employ him in a position of trust.
“I have told you that he remains a threat and you have done nothing.”
Within 36 hours of arriving in Iraq in August 2009, Fitzsimons – a former paratrooper – had shot and killed the two men after what he claimed was a drunken brawl.
An Iraqi colleague was also wounded as Fitzsimons tried to flee the scene.
Fitzsimons had worked as a private security contractor before in Iraq, but he had been sacked for punching a client.
At the time he was taken on by G4S, Fitzsimons also had a criminal record, was facing outstanding charges of assault and a firearms offence, and had been diagnosed by doctors as having PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
In the documentary, the parents of Paul McGuigan call for the company to face criminal charges over the killing.
His mother Corinne Boyd-Russell, from Innerleithen in the Borders, said: “[Fitzsimons] fired the bullets. But the gun was put in his hand by G4S ArmorGroup. They put the gun in that man’s hand.
“I want G4S to be charged with corporate manslaughter and be held accountable for what they did.”
The parents of Danny Fitzsimons, who is serving 20 years in a Baghdad prison after being sentenced for the murders in February 2011, were also shocked to hear about the existence of the emails.
Liz Fitzsimons, from Manchester, said: “And they still took him out there? They [G4S] need to be taken to task for that.
“The people who we feel are responsible, who we hold responsible for putting that gun in Danny’s hand, are without a shadow of a doubt G4S.”
A G4S spokesman admitted that its screening of Danny Fitzsimons “was not completed in line with the company’s procedures”.
It said vetting had been tightened since the incident.
Regarding the email warnings, the spokesman G4S told the BBC it was aware of the allegations but that an internal investigation showed “no such emails were received by any member of our HR department”.
He did not say whether anyone else in the company had seen them.
An inquest into the death of Paul McGuigan, a former Royal Marine, is due to begin in December.
The revelations in the Fitzsimons case come just weeks after G4S found itself at the centre of a crisis over its inability to meet its commitment to recruit security staff for the Olympics in London.
It is the biggest security company in the world in an industry that is worth about £400bn globally
WARNINGS ABOUT KILLER OF SCOT WENT UNHEEDED October 1, 2012
CONTROVERSIAL security firm G4S ignored warnings not to employ an armed guard in Iraq who went on to murder two of his colleagues, it has been claimed.
It emerged that a whistleblower sent two e-mails to the London-based company, which operates as Armorgroup in Iraq, expressing concerns that Fitzsimons’ unstable behaviour made him unsuitable to be handling weapons in a war zone.
The parents of Fitzsimons were also shocked to hear about the existence of the e-mails.
Mother Liz Fitzsimons, from Manchester, said: “The people who we feel are responsible, who we hold responsible for putting that gun in Danny’s hand, are without a shadow of a doubt G4S.”
The news comes just months after the UK Government was forced to call in 1,200 troops to police the Olympic Games venues after G4S failed to provide enough staff.
The firm recently won a £20million contract to manage the electronic tagging of Scottish offenders.
A spokesman for G4S said: “Although there was evidence that Mr Fitzsimons falsified and apparently withheld material information during the recruitment process, his screening was not completed in line with the company’s procedures.
“Our screening processes should have been better implemented in this situation, but it is a matter of speculation what, if any, role this may have played in the incident.”
New torture flights between Lithuania and secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan & Morocco revealed as European Parliament debates rendition report
Reprieve September 10, 2011
Lawyers for “high value detainee” Abu Zubaydah – who was waterboarded 83 times by the CIA – have today filed a new submission concerning his transfer to and from a prison site in Lithuania. The filing, by London-based organization Interights, comes as Reprieve releases new information showing how renditions contractor Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) arranged covert flights connecting Lithuania to other countries in the CIA’s secret prison network, including Morocco and Afghanistan. The revelation comes ahead of a debate in the European Parliament, led by rapporteur Hélène Flautre, on a new report on the kidnapping – or ‘rendition’ – and illegal detention of prisoners in European countries by the CIA.
The US intelligence agency ran a so-called ‘black site’ outside Vilnius between 2004 and 2007, where detainees were held without charge. In their new report, the European Parliament’s Justice Committee concluded that “the layout of the buildings and installations inside appear compatible with the detention of prisoners” and that “many questions related to CIA operations in Lithuania remain open” despite a judicial investigation which closed in January 2011.
The Oregonian August 30, 2012
Magistrate Judge Paul Papak this week denied KBR’s request to throw out the lawsuit by 12 Oregon soldiers. The 12 in the lawsuit are part of a group who accuse the company of knowingly exposing them to a carcinogen, hexavalent chromium, that was present at a water treatment plant in southern Iraq where the soldiers were assigned to provide security for KBR engineers.
The company denies the charge.
Papak also denied requests by both sides to exclude the others’ expert witnesses, except to limit the extent of the medical opinions offered by Dr. Arch Carson, who said the soldiers’ suffered “genetic transformation injury” as a result of their exposure to the carcinogen. Carson’s testimony will be allowed, but he will not be allowed to argue that the injury persists to the present day. Papak noted that Carson conceded “that he lacks a good scientific basis” for that portion of his opinion.
The family has also been told that Global Security, the company he was working for at the time, had refused to pay out his life insurance
Telegraph and Argus August 20, 2012
Rebecca Lake, said her family was being “kept in the dark” despite an on-going fight for justice for her brother Daniel Saville, 40, a former Coldstream guard, who was among three Britons who perished when Pamir Airways Flight 1102 crashed north of Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 17, 2010.
Mr Saville, who grew up in Wilsden , Haworth and Allerton , Bradford, had been only a few weeks away from his return to Britain from working as a private security contractor for a US government agency trying to combat the cultivation of heroin.
A damning official report blaming the failure of the aircraft’s captain and Afghan air traffic control for causing the disaster has been obtained from the Foreign Office by the Telegraph & Argus using the Freedom of Information Act.
But Mrs Lake, 45, of Clayton Heights , Bradford, has made a fresh plea to the authorities to keep her family fully informed of developments as lawyers continue a compensation battle in the US for the British victims of the doomed plane which had been flying on false documents.
She said that, despite investigations in the war-torn country, it had been “difficult” for the Afghan authorities to fully investigate and bring to justice those who were to blame for causing her brother’s death.
The family has also been told that Global Security, the company he was working for at the time, had refused to pay out his life insurance.
Mrs Lake said: “We really have no idea about what is going on. As far as we are concerned, everything is at a standstill.
“We really do not think that we are going to get any answers. There has been fault admitted somewhere, just not to us. We have not even had an apology or explanation.
The Virginian Pilot-Pilot Online August 11, 2012
Two insurgent fighters were dead, and a third had been taken into the custody of Iraqi security officers. After a showdown in the Iraqi desert some three years ago, Virginia Beach-based Navy bomb-disposal experts were called to the scene to probe the bodies for explosives.
Exactly what happened next – and why – is unclear. The dust-up ended with Iraqi soldiers gunning down the third insurgent after he managed to get his hands on a firearm.
Military prosecutors say Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Harvey C. Fisher is responsible.
The decorated war veteran was in a military courtroom at Norfolk Naval Station on Friday, charged with dereliction of duty and reckless conduct “of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”
The charging documents allege that Fisher “willfully caused the use of an Iraqi detainee to perform dangerous labor.” They also allege that Fisher suggested and permitted the detained insurgent to move the bodies to search them for bombs; and that Fisher suggested and permitted the detainee be allowed “into an area where there were weapons available for him to use.”
Defense attorneys dispute that. They say Fisher, a 29-year-old explosive ordnance disposal
specialist based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, had no responsibility for what happened May 4, 2009, near Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.
Fisher did not enter a plea at Friday’s arraignment. He asked to be tried by a jury that includes fellow enlisted sailors. A court-martial is scheduled to begin Sept. 7.
Fisher was a petty officer 1st class assigned to Explosive Ordnance Mobile Unit 6 at the time of the incident. He still works with the unit and has not been assigned to administrative duties as a result of the charges.
The court documents include few details about the day in question, and Marine Capt. Keaton Harrell, the lead prosecutor, declined to comment.
Fisher’s civilian attorney, Greg McCormack, elaborated on the incident after the hearing.
McCormack said the third insurgent was in the custody of Iraqi military officers. For some reason, he said, the detainee was allowed to go down into a gully where the bodies lay, and there he picked up a firearm. The Iraqi soldiers shot him dead.
“The question is: How and why did he get down there?” McCormack said. “Our position is that my client did not conduct any misconduct.”
Fisher wasn’t responsible for the detainee, said McCormack, who filed a motion asking the government to track down two Iraqi army eyewitnesses to confirm Fisher’s story.
Cmdr. Colleen Glaser-Allen, the judge, told prosecutors to take up McCormack’s request with the Iraqi government but cautioned him against counting on the officers’ testimony. Even if officials are able to locate the Iraqi officers, Glaser-Allen said, the court can’t compel them to testify.
McCormack anticipates calling numerous character witnesses during the trial, he said, many of them from within the close-knit community of explosive ordnance disposal specialists.
Considered one of the most dangerous jobs during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, EODs are trained to find and dismantle bombs before they go off. Fisher is well-respected in the EOD community, McCormack said.
Fisher appeared in court in dress whites, wearing a Bronze Star he received in 2008 for his work clearing bombs in Iraq. He joined the Navy in July 2001 and has been promoted twice since the 2009 incident.
The arraignment was scheduled earlier this year but was delayed to allow Fisher to participate in a “career-enhancing operation,” according to the judge.
RALEIGH, N.C. — The international security contractor formerly known as Blackwater has agreed to pay a $7.5 million fine to settle federal criminal charges related to arms smuggling and other crimes.
Documents unsealed Tuesday in a U.S. District Court in North Carolina said the company, now called Academi LLC, agreed to pay the fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement to settle 17 violations.
The list includes possessing automatic weapons in the United States without registration, lying to federal firearms regulators about weapons provided to the king of Jordan, passing secret plans for armored personnel carriers to Sweden and Denmark and illegally shipping body armor overseas.
Federal prosecutors said it settles a long and complex case against the company, which has held billions in U.S. security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Justice Department plans to bring a new indictment against four Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in a 2007 shooting that killed 17 Iraqis.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina had thrown out the case in 2009, but an appeals court reinstated the charges last year.
Urbina, who has since retired, said prosecutors built their case on sworn statements the guards had given under a promise of immunity.
A Justice Department attorney told Judge Royce Lamberth on Wednesday that a special team will ensure that prosecutors working on the new indictment don’t have access to “privileged statements.” Prosecutors say they will seek a superseding indictment after gathering additional evidence.
The guards are accused of opening fire in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.
The body of an Oklahoma contractor who was found dead in Baghdad is being flown back to the U.S. after a two-week bureaucratic debate over whether the Iraqi government would perform an autopsy on his remains.
Tulsa World June26, 2012
Officials say Michael David Copeland, 37, of Colbert in southern Oklahoma, is one of the first Americans working for the U.S. government to die in Iraq this year. He was found unresponsive June 9 in his living quarters. Foul play is not suspected in his death.
Copeland previously served in the Marines and later with the Oklahoma Air National Guard. He was a contractor with DynCorp International at the time of his death.
Copeland’s case is a snapshot of the new reality of working in Iraq for Americans who, over the years, were accustomed to vast privileges and influence that disappeared when U.S. troops left last December.
Iraq agreed to release the remains of the Oklahoma man after negotiations with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. His body was flown out of Iraq Tuesday afternoon.
Mike Copeland spoke with his son, Michael, for the last time Friday night. About 12 hours later, he was told his son had died. On top of dealing with their loss, they said the Iraqi government will not release his body. And now, they’re struggling with the U.S. Government to bring Michael home.
Angela Copeland found out Saturday that her husband, Michael, was dead of unknown causes.
“Sure enough I opened the door and they came in and told me they found Michael deceased in his living quarters,” she said.
Michael Copeland worked for DynCorp International doing aircraft maintenance in Iraq for less than a week before he died.
His father, Mike, said after the company notified them about Michael’s death, they were told his body will remain in Iraq.
“I don’t look for us to go to war over a thing like this but I see no excuse at all for the Iraqi government to hold his body. That doesn’t make sense to us,” he said.
“Of course I felt sad, but mostly I felt angry because I know for a fact that’s not something that Michael would agree with. We as a family don’t agree with that,” Angela said.
Mike Copeland said he contacted the State Department and DynCorp for help, but was told that because U.S. military presence has ceased in Iraq the Iraqi government is in charge.
“Everyone I’ve spoke with is always sorry for our loss, but they say there’s nothing they can do. I find it very difficult to believe that my government…there’s nothing they can do to bring my son home from Iraq?” Asked Copeland.
“If someone comes into the United States and they were to die, it would be the same thing. We’re basically under the Iraqi law.”
U.S. Congressman Dan Boren said they are working with the State Department to get Michael’s body back to the U.S. but it may take a long time because it’s the first death in Iraq since the troops were pulled out.
“We’re actually looking at three different options: one by a U.S. Citizen, one by the Iraqis but are having a U.S. Citizen watch and the other is to bring the body back to the U.S. to do an autopsy,” said Boren.
“He was a good man and we loved him. And we don’t feel like he’s being treated fairly by his country that he served and we want them to take steps to bring him home. We want them to bring him home,” said Mike Copeland.
“We’re not doing good. Because not only are we having to deal with the loss but, we’re having to deal with the battle to get him back home,” said Angela Copeland
DynCorp International released a statement saying:
“We are currently waiting for the Iraqi Government to approve the release of his remains for transport back to the U.S., where the U.S. Government will conduct an autopsy.”
Congressman Boren said the State Department found no signs of foul play while investigating Copeland’s death.
The family is asking the public to help them bring Michael’s remains back home by contacting state representatives
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.
Reuters Tripoli June 4, 2012
A Libyan military court on Monday handed down long prison terms to a group of men from the former Soviet Union accused of serving as mercenaries for ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi in last year’s war.
One Russian man, deemed the group’s coordinator, was sentenced to life in prison, the court heard. Another Russian, three Belarussians and 19 Ukrainians were handed sentences of 10 years with hard labor. They had denied the charges.
The military trial was the first of its kind in Libya since a popular revolt ousted Gaddafi last year. The new government is trying to prove its judicial process is robust enough to try high-profile Gaddafi loyalists including his son Saif al-Islam.
“This is the worst kind of sentence,” said Belarussian ambassador Anatoly Stepus who was present at the hearing. “We thought that even if they were sentenced it would not be so strict. They have suffered a lot.”