Unarmored trucks carrying needed supplies were ambushed, leaving six drivers dead. Records illuminate the fateful decision.
“Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?”
“Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers.”
T Christian Miller The LA Times September 3, 2007
Senior managers for defense contractor KBR overruled calls to halt supply operations in Iraq in the spring of 2004, ordering unarmored trucks into an active combat zone where six civilian drivers died in an ambush, according to newly available documents.
Company e-mails and other internal communications reveal that before KBR dispatched the convoy, a chorus of security advisors predicted an increase in roadside bombings and attacks on Iraq’s highways. They recommended suspension of convoys.
“[I] think we will get people injured or killed tomorrow,” warned KBR regional security chief George Seagle, citing “tons of intel.” But in an e-mail sent a day before the convoy was dispatched, he also acknowledged: “Big politics and contract issues involved.”
KBR was under intense pressure from the military to deliver on its multibillion-dollar contract to transport food, fuel and other vital supplies to U.S. soldiers. At Baghdad’s airport, a shortage of jet fuel threatened to ground some units.
After consulting with military commanders, KBR’s top managers decided to keep the convoys rolling. “If the [Army] pushes, then we push, too,” wrote an aide to Craig Peterson, KBR’s top official in Iraq.
The decision prompted a raging internal debate that is detailed in private KBR documents, some under court seal, that were reviewed by The Times.
One KBR management official threatened to resign when superiors ordered truckers to continue driving. “I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart,” wrote Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation.
Six American truck drivers and two U.S. soldiers were killed when the convoy rumbled into a five-mile gauntlet of weapons fire on April 9, 2004, making an emergency delivery of jet fuel to the airport. One soldier and a seventh trucker remain missing.
Recriminations began the same day.
“Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?” demanded one security advisor in an e-mail. “Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers.”
Reuters at The New York Times Africa June 19, 2012
The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, on Monday accused Eritrea of carrying out torture and summary executions. Ms. Pillay told the United Nations Human Rights Council that there were 5,000 to 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea, which holds a strategic stretch of the Red Sea coast and has been ruled by a single party and president since independence from Ethiopia in 1993. “Credible sources indicate that violations of human rights include arbitrary detention, torture, summary executions, forced labor, forced conscription and restrictions to freedom of movement, expression, assembly and religion,” Ms. Pillay said. She said the Eritrean government had not responded to requests to discuss her concerns.
Bloomberg Tony Capaccio June 12, 2012
A Texas senator is blocking confirmation of the nominee for the Army’s top weapons buyer until the Defense Department pledges to take action against a Russian company supplying arms to Syria’s Assad regime.
Republican Senator John Cornyn has invoked a senatorial prerogative to place a “hold” on Heidi Shyu, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, according to an aide to the senator who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions about the dispute are being held in private.
Cornyn is leading a Senate effort pressuring the Department of Defense to stop doing business with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms trader. The Army has a $375 million, no-bid contract with the company to buy 21 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan’s air force that it says only Rosoboronexport can provide.
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.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Secretly monitored the private emails of staff scientists and doctors who complained to Congress that the agency was approving dangerous medical devices for public use, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the staff members.
Infosecurity January 31, 2012
The current and former employees, who work for an FDA office that approves medical devices, told Congress that the agency was approving medical devices that in fact posed risks to patients.
In response, the FDA began surveillance of the employees’ personal email accounts, which they accessed from government computers, to monitor their communication with congressional staffers, according to a lawsuit filed by the employees. They allege that the information gained from the monitoring was used to harass and, in some cases, dismiss them.
In the lawsuit, the employees allege that FDA managers violated the Constitution by taking their private emails “without due process or just compensation”, conducting unlawful searches and seizures, as well as violating their rights to free speech and association.
The Washington Post has published a large dossier of letters, emails, and memos obtained by the FDA during their surveillance of the employees.
In one of those rare, “perfect storm” of coincidences, three events converge to provide the topic for this column. First, the latest issue of the in-house magazine, the arriviste named “Journal of International Peace Operations,” published by ISOA, a PMSC trade group, is devoted to the topic of “Women & International Security.”
Since ISOA, like any good trade group, generally tries to dismiss any criticism of its member companies, as being the ravings of liberal hacks in pursuit of a “spicy merc” story, it is interesting to note that the very first article in the issue states:
Companies need to adopt institutional measures to prevent and address cases of misconduct. Appropriate gender training for PMSC personnel, alongside training in international humanitarian law and human rights law – as recommended by the Montreux Document on PMSCs -will help to create a more gender-aware institution, thus preventing human rights abuses and reputation loss. Having clear rules of behaviour and mechanisms to punish individuals responsible for human rights violations will benefit the host populations, individual companies and the industry as a whole.
Second, the recent release in the UK of last year’s movie, The Whistleblower, a fictionalized version of the involvement of DynCorp contractors in sex trafficking and slavery in Bosnia back in the nineties, serves to remind us that despite DynCorp’s rhetoric over the subsequent years not nearly enough has changed.
For those whose memories have faded, employees of DynCorp were accused of buying and keeping women and girls as young as 12 years old in sexual slavery in Bosnia. Perhaps even more shocking is that none of those involved have ever been held accountable within a court of law. The United States subsequently awarded DynCorp a new contract worth nearly $250 million to provide training to the developing Iraqi police force, even though the company’s immediate reaction to reports of the crimes was to fire the whistle-blowers.
As an article in the Jan. 29, Sunday Telegraph noted:
Most disappointing of all was what happened next: several men were sent home, but none was punished further. No future employer will know what these men were guilty of. I asked DynCorp if its guidelines had become more stringent since 2001 and was sent its code of ethics. It states that ‘engaging in or supporting any trafficking in persons […] is prohibited. Any person who violates this standard or fails to report violations of this standard shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.’ So nothing has changed.
By the way, from a strictly observational viewpoint, given other problems DynCorp has had over the years since that took place, from dancing boys in Afghanistan to the recent settling of an EEOC suit regarding sexual harassment of one of its workers in Iraq, DynCorp is the Energizer Bunny of sexual harassment; it just keeps giving and giving and giving; doubtlessly reporters around the world are grateful.
Charlotte lawyers sought damages in six deaths and injuries in 2007 incident that sparked debate over use of private security contractors.
The Charlotte Observer January 6, 2012
“With respect to the Iraqi families and individuals who were plaintiffs in this lawsuit (it) provides them with compensation so they can now bring some closure to the losses they suffered,” the statement reads.
The lawsuit was the last active civil suit stemming from the incident, in which five Blackwater guards were accused in 14 deaths.
It was the second confidential settlement with the company’s corporate successor, Arlington-Va.-based Academi announced Friday, days after the final U.S. troops left Iraq.
A federal appeals court ended a lawsuit over an episode that produced one of the more disturbing images of the war: the grisly killings of four Blackwater security contractors and the hanging of a pair of their bodies from a bridge in Fallujah.
Families of those victims reached a confidential settlement with the company’s corporate successor, Arlington, Va.-based Academi, and the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit last week. The settlement was first reported Friday by The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va.
The President of the United States: Include U.S Civilian Contractors in Deaths/Injured in Iraq & Afghanistan
Why This Is Important
As Americans, we all feel a sense of patriotism when it comes to our great country. The men and women who chose to go to Iraq and Afghanistan in a civilian capacity to serve our country are NOT included in the numbers when they tally the numbers of Deaths and Injured. Why should they be included you may ask? Why should they be excluded I ask.
When a civilian contractor is killed or injured the American people are paying the bill. Survivor benefits, worker’s compensation, funeral expenses, medical expenses etc are all paid for by the American people. While the multi-billion dollar private military companies like (DynCorp, KBR, Xe, etc.) sit back and continue to reap the benefits of the continued international conflicts.
If you know a civilian contractor who is currently employed, has been injured, has been killed please sign our petition. Although many of these men and women who chose to serve our country in the civilian capacity are retired military personnel, they receive no acknowldgement of their sacrafices when they are injured or killed.
Instead our Government wants to hide these brave men and women and not include these losses in the numbers of Americans who have sacrificed
With the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year looking more likely, absent an agreement to extend legal immunity, a large contingent of U.S. contractors will still remain facing their own legal and logistical ambiguities and challenges.
The complexity of the situation is not lost on top officials at the State Department who are busy preparing to assume control of every U.S. responsibility in Iraq – including contracting operations.
“The State Department is doing something that quite frankly we have never done before, this is not going to be easy and I think we all understand that,” Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides told CNN.
“We owe it to the families (who have lost loved ones in Iraq), and to the taxpayers to get this transition done correctly,” he added.
For years, thousands of civilian contractors have worked in Iraq operating in a variety of military and support functions. But they have always lacked the same criminal immunity from Iraqi laws that the U.S. military enjoys under existing agreements between the two countries. And for the most part, they operated under the purview of the Defense Department.
While contractors would be subject to the Iraqi criminal justice system as they always have, ambiguities will still exist as to how they would also be held accountable under U.S. law if a situation similar to the 2007 incident involving contractors working for Blackwater (now operating as Xe Services) were to occur.
The issues surrounding their presence in Iraq are likely to become only more complex when U.S. troops do pull out and leave the oversight of the entire contracting force to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
“What the State Department does is diplomacy, and you’re going to have the State Department managing contractors that are going to be flying helicopters, driving MRAP’s, medevac-ing wounded personnel,” Richard Fontaine, and expert on contracting issues with the Center for a New American Security, told CNN.
“This is the kind of thing that the State Department has very little in-house experience in managing,” he said
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini says officials are working with the Somali government to free Italian sailors held by pirates.
Frattani, speaking on Italian TV, said new measures against the Somali pirates were agreed upon at the United Nations summit in New York last week, ANSA reported. Frattani told the father of one of the captives the government and intelligence groups are taking action along the Somali coast where 11 crew members from two Italian ships are being held.
Frattini said he and Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali have had long discussions and agreed to a joint action. An international agreement reached earlier this year forbids governments from paying ransom to the pirates.
“In the past we have succeeded in freeing other ships with patience and undercover work. Intelligence services have been mobilized,” Frattini said.
Eritrea: Free Political Prisoners 10 Years On – President Isaias in New York to Demand UN Respect His Rights, Denies Them to His People
“Instead of lobbying the UN, President Isaias should allow people to speak freely, to worship as they please, and to leave Eritrea if they want,” said Bekele. “Eritreans will continue to face prolonged, indefinite national service, repression, and torture unless President Isaias changes his abusive policies”
All Africa Human Rights Watch Washington DC September 22, 2011
Ten years after President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea ordered the detention of 21 senior government members and journalists who criticized him, his government should release the detainees or reveal their fate, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today. Eritrea should also open its jails to international monitors, Human Rights Watch said.
Isaias is visiting New York for the United Nations General Assembly in an attempt to rehabilitate his country’s image even as his government labors under UN sanctions for its role in supporting the Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab.
In the past 10 years, Isaias has closed all independent media outlets and turned Eritrea into a country where arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearance, and death are rife and where it is almost impossible to leave. The paper, “Eritrea: 10 Long Years, A Briefing on Eritrea’s Missing Political Prisoners,” outlines what is known about the political prisoners, none of whom has been seen by outsiders since being detained in September 2001.
“Eritrea is effectively a giant prison, and international pressure should continue on Eritrea until President Isaias frees political prisoners and restores the rule of law,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “To start with, President Isaias should end the inhumanity of prolonged secret, silent detention and allow family members and international monitors to see the prisoners.”
In mid-September 2001, Isaias ordered the arrest of 11 high government officials who had written open letters criticizing his rule. He also arrested 10 journalists who had published the letters and other information critical of him and his policies, and closed all independent newspapers.
The 20 men and one woman have never been seen again by anyone outside the penal system, including their families, lawyers, or prison monitoring groups. They have never been afforded a hearing; rather, all 21 were incarcerated in secret detention facilities in solitary confinement. According to former guards whose reports Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm, 10 of the 21 have died in prison and the remaining 11 are physically or mentally incapacitated and emaciated.
The 21 are the most prominent victims of Isaias’s denial of basic rights, but hundreds of thousands of others in the country of 5 million have been victimized during the past decade. The briefing paper recounts that thousands of Eritreans are incarcerated because they are suspected of not fully supporting the regime or have attempted to flee Eritrea’s compulsory and indefinite national service. They are given no access to a court and no means to appeal to any impartial body. Thousands more Eritreans are incarcerated because they are members of religious groups that the Eritrean government refuses to recognize as legitimate: Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelical Christian churches, and reformist wings of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Statement Concerning Filing of Amended Class Action Tax Misclassification Against Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) on Behalf of Personal Security Specialists for Loss of Benefits and Withholding, Expenses, Penalties, and Treble Damages
Washington DC September 21, 2011
Scott Bloch files Amended Complaint against Blackwater on behalf of thousands of former employees for unlawful, fraudulent and unconscionable treatment of employees in fraudulent misclassification as independent contractors
Since 2007, Blackwater Industries, which has changed its name to Xe Services, has employed over 10,000 personal security specialists to perform operations in Iraq and Afghanistan under lucrative contracts with departments of the United States Government including the State Department and CIA. While employing these individuals, many of whom are decorated veterans of the armed services including Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Blackwater sought to avoid millions of dollars in taxes, withholding, and payments of benefits to these employees by classifying them improperly as independent contractors.
Yesterday, Scott Bloch filed an amended complaint in the class action lawsuit on behalf of four former security specialists, who were injured while working for Blackwater, in order to recover their payment of social security, unemployment insurance, and unpaid benefits and state and local withholding and unemployment insurance, and other unspecified damages. The action is brought on their own behalf and thousands of others who have worked for Blackwater and its newly named Xe Services. The action seeks $240,000,000 in damages for lost benefits, overtime, treble damages and punitive damages, as well as additional amounts as proved for the class of specialists.
The suit also states that one of the representative plaintiffs already had a determination from the IRS that Blackwater misclassified him as an independent contractor. “The IRS already determined in the case of one of my clients that he should have been classified as an employee,“ said Bloch. “Now thousands of people will have to file amended returns. Thousands of people will likely be entitled to benefits they were denied due to the misclassification, including payment of their employer share of pension, health and disability insurance premiums, and other plans that Blackwater filed with the government for its employees, promising it would not discriminate against those employees as they did here.”
“Blackwater made hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers and hired thousands of former veterans of military service and police officers. They also had in their ranks Federal Agents, such as current employees of the FBI on leave of absence. They were hired as security specialists in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Bloch. “It is a grave injustice to them who were mistreated and left without any health insurance or other benefits for their families, and left to fend for themselves in paying into Social Security and Medicare. They laid down their lives to protect dignitaries and carry out duties in support of wars for America, and they deserve better than this. Many of these same men risked their lives to protect everyone from the President of the United States to U.S. Senators, Congressman, U.S. Diplomats, to Foreign Presidential & Diplomatic Figures in one of the most dangerous places on the planet.”
One of the Plaintiffs guarded such dignitaries as the just assassinated Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani as well as current Secretary of State and then Senator Hillary Clinton.
“Blackwater acted illegally and unconscionably toward these brave individuals,” said Bloch. ”Through their fraud as pointed out in the Amended Complaint, they avoided overtime for security workers who worked sometimes 12-16 hours a day 6 days a week. They were forced to sign agreements they never read and were not given time to read and not given copies, which took away valuable rights and were unlawful in their terms.”
Read full PRESS RELEASE Amended Complaint against Xe Blackwater here.
Contact Scott J. Bloch, PA:
Scott Bloch, 202-496-1290
Attorney Gary Pitts is pictured here only by circumstance. We would never endorse using him as an attorney.
BBC News Africa September 16, 2011
They were detained at the airport in the country’s third city, Nampula, police say.
The men reportedly say they work for the US security firm GreySide. The US embassy says the group has no connection to the US government.
GreySide has not commented.
Nampula provincial police spokesperson Inacio Dina told the BBC that the weapons include an FN 5.5mm rifle, as well as ammunition and communications equipment.
The police have named the leader of the group as 42-year-old US citizen Michael Ferguson. He has not commented to the press.
The group had reportedly flown from the United States via Ethiopia and Kenya, where they picked up the weapons.
Mr Ferguson reportedly said their plan was to catch small boats in the northern Mozambican coastal city of Pemba before joining a larger vessel and trying to free the boat from pirates – it is not clear which ship they were allegedly trying to rescue.
They expected further weapons to reach them in Pemba, which they had not been able to load on the plane, police say.
Somalia-based pirates have attacked ships across the Indian Ocean, earning millions of dollars from ransom payments.
Four Britons, who say they were trying to provide protection from pirates, were released by Eritrea in June after six months in captivity.