Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

Taliban Say They Killed 4 Afghan Interpreters

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban spokesman boasted on Saturday that the group had kidnapped and killed four Afghan interpreters, one on his wedding day, apparently because they worked for the United States military and a Western contractor.

The spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by cellphone, confirmed accounts by villagers in Khost Province that the Taliban had kidnapped six members of a wedding party when they went to the Afghan-Pakistani border to escort the bride to the ceremony; she had been living in Pakistan. Mr. Mujahid said the Taliban found the four interpreters guilty of working as informers for “foreign forces” and executed them on Friday; the Taliban released the other two, he said.

General Nawab, an Afghan Army commander and the director of the Joint Coordination Center in Khost and who like many Afghan uses only one name, said the Taliban had killed the four men after abducting them from the wedding procession on Thursday night and taking them to Pakistan. Their bodies were found the next morning in the Spina Palla region, back on the Afghan side of the border.

Local villagers in the Alisher District of Khost Province identified the bodies and said that one of the dead, Lal Badshah, who worked as an interpreter at the coalition’s Forward Operating Base Salerno, was the groom. Two others, including Mr. Badshah’s brother, Yaqoot Shah, worked for the United States military, while the fourth victim worked for a construction company in Kabul.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, five Afghan security guards escorting a fuel truck convoy on the main highway in eastern Ghazni Province were killed on Friday in an ambush by insurgents, according to a statement from the Interior Ministry.

In southern Afghanistan, two coalition helicopters that had been disabled were recovered Friday. One had a hard landing in Kandahar Province on Friday, causing injuries to several coalition and Afghan military personnel, according to a statement from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. It was destroyed on the site by ISAF members, the military said, apparently to prevent it from falling into insurgents’ hands. The second helicopter was damaged on landing but no one was injured; members of ISAF tried to repair it despite harassing gunfire from insurgents but were unable to do so, the military said. Instead, it was lashed to the underside of another helicopter and lifted out of the area, ISAF said.

The military said both helicopters were damaged accidentally and not from enemy fire, disputing Taliban claims that they shot down helicopters in the area.

The Defense Department announced Saturday that an American soldier — Specialist Denis D. Kisseloff, 45, of St. Charles, Mo. — died at a coalition military base, Forward Operating Base Shank, in Logar Province just south of Kabul. He had been wounded when insurgents attacked his unit the day before using rocket-propelled grenades and small-caliber weapons.

On Friday, two ISAF soldiers were killed, one by a bomb in southern Afghanistan, and the other as the result of an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, the military said. It did not release the nationalities of the victims except to indicate that they were not Americans.

An Afghan employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Khost Province.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties, Defense Base Act, Private Military Contractors | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

T. Christian Miller Wins Special Recognition ICIJ Daniel Pearl Awards

ICIJ Names Winners of 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A gutsy, collaborative series by four European news outlets about toxic waste dumping in Africa and a surprising exposé by a freelancer on payoffs by U.S. military contractors to the Taliban won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.

In addition to the two winners, the judges awarded a special Certificate of Recognition to T. Christian Miller, ProPublica; Doug Smith and Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times; and Pratap Chatterjee, freelance (United States), for their impressive series “Disposable Army,” on how injured civilian contractors working for the U.S. military have been abandoned by Washington.

The Daniel Pearl Awards are unique among journalism prizes in that they were created specifically to honor cross-border investigative reporting. This year’s biennial competition attracted an impressive 85 entries from 40 countries. An international panel of five judges selected seven finalists, from which they chose one U.S. winner and one international winner.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties | , , | Leave a comment

Number of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan Doubles in Just Four Months


The military is increasingly relying on private security contractors as President Obama ramps up the war in Afghanistan, with contractors now making up as much as 30% of the armed force in the country, a just-released congressional report shows.

In the period roughly tracking with President Obama’s first nine months in office, the number of Defense Department armed security contractors soared 236% — from 3,184 to 10,712 between December 2008 to September 2009. The number roughly doubled between June and September 2009 alone.

The new Congressional Research Service report also calculates that contractors in Afghanistan make up between 22% and 30% of the armed U.S. force in Afghanistan.

The news of the surge in private security contractors comes as the total number of contractors — including those who do construction, cook meals, etc — is also soaring, with over 100,000 already in Afghanistan.

It’s worth noting two points here to clarify the role and makeup of the contractor army: first, 90% of the DOD private security contractors in Afghanistan are Afghan nationals, according to the report. Second, contractors are barred by DOD regulations from taking part in “offensive” operations. However, the numbers in this report refers to armed contractors who may well be taking part in combat.

“Many analysts believe that armed security contractors are taking part in combat operations, arguing in part that international law makes no distinction between the offensive or defensive nature of participation in combat,” the report notes.

The congressional report discusses pros (e.g., ease of firing and hiring) and cons of using private security contractors. Some analysts say contractor abuses, allowed in part by lax oversight, can badly damage U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The report says:

U.S. efforts can also be undermined when DOD has ties with groups that kill civilians or government officials, even if the perpetrators were not working for DOD when the killings took place. In June 2009, the provincial police chief of Kandahar, Afghanistan, was killed by a group that worked as a private security contractor for DOD.

An Army Times story in December described how Afghan national security contractors were “wreaking havoc” along a convoy route in Kandahar, including “killing and wounding more than 30 innocent civilians.”

The numbers in this report do not account for security contractors working for agencies like the State Department and the CIA (for example the two Blackwater guards who were killed at a CIA base in Afghanistan earlier this month).

Meanwhile, the number of security contractors is decreasing in Iraq, from 13,232 in June 2009 to 11,162 in September.

Here’s the full report

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Toxic Water in Iraq

NBC News Investigation: Toxic water in Iraq

By Rich Gardella and Lisa Myers

Hundreds of National Guardsmen potentially exposed to toxic chemical at Iraq water treatment plant in 2003

www.mssparky.com for the ongoing story and investigation

Throughout 2003, after the combat phase of the Iraq War had ended, the U.S. military and defense contractors raced to try and fix Iraq’s infrastructure.
Working in a war zone obviously presents unexpected challenges and dangers far beyond the usual ones at industrial worksites.  But this is the story of why some Army National Guardsmen are suing defense contractor KBR because of alleged exposures to a toxic chemical at one such industrial worksite in Iraq.
Video: Soldiers sue over alleged toxic exposure
Web only video: Air had a ‘strange metallic taste,’ says soldier

When specialist Larry Roberta of the Oregon Army National Guard went to Iraq in 2003, he expected sandstorms, physical hardship, perhaps even combat.  What he didn’t expect was the orange dust he encountered, all over the place, at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant, near Basra in southern Iraq.

“You could taste stuff in the air,” Roberta recalled. “It had a really strange metallic taste.”

Roberta’s unit and other Army National Guard units were at the plant during the spring and summer of 2003, in the months after the U.S. invasion that March.  Their mission was to provide security for workers repairing the plant.  It supplied water to Iraqi oil fields, and was an important part of the U.S. mission to get Iraq’s oil flowing again. The workers were repairing the plant for defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR).

Roberta and other Guardsmen and former KBR employees told NBC News that the orange dust was throughout the plant and the grounds, and sometimes would permeate the air during when the desert winds blew.
“It blew up in my face and on my chicken patty and my mouth and stuff like that,” Roberta said.  “I didn’t really think a whole lot of it other than it tasted really bad and made me throw up and burned.”
Capt. Russell Kimberling of the Indiana Army National Guard told us he asked KBR officials what the dust was.
“What we got from them was,’It’s a mild irritant,'” Kimberling said.

But the dust actually was a highly toxic chemical called sodium dichromate,  which scientists have found can cause lung cancer in humans.
It had been used by Iraqi workers prior to the war to prevent corrosion in the pipes at the plant.  There were hundreds of bags at the chemical at the plant, some of them clearly labeled.
The mission’s official military name was Task Force RIO (“Restoration of Iraqi Oil”).  KBR got the contract.

Six years later, some of the Guardsmen assigned to provide security for Task Force RIO at the plant are dead, dying or suffering from serious health problems–including rashes, perforated septums and lung disease. One of the foremost experts in sodium dichromate, Dr. Herman  Gibb, says the Guardsmen’s symptoms are consistent with “significant exposure” to the chemical.

KBR argues that the company is not to blame. The company says it told the Army about the dangerous chemical as soon as it was identified at the plant.  That, the company says, was on July 25, 2003.

But, international KBR documents contradict that claim, and indicate that the company became aware of the chemical at the site two months earlier.
One internal KBR document notes that “an environmental technician identified the chemical in May.”  The document’s author was a KBR manager who oversaw health and safety for the Qarmat Ali project.
Another KBR document warns not only that the chemical is present at the plant but also that some areas are “potentially contaminated” with it.  The author of that memo, a KBR health and safety employee, suggests testing and cleanup.  That document is dated June 21, 2003.  That’s more than one month before KBR alerted the Army, and more than two months before the Guardsmen became aware of the danger.
Several Guardsmen recall that it wasn’t until late August that they learned of the hazard, and then only because they saw KBR workers wearing white chemical suits.

“They were in full protective chemical gear,” Russell Kimberling told us.   “You know, from head to toe.  I kind of looked at one of my men and just said, ‘this can’t be good, can it?'”

Although KBR did remediation work in mid-August, it wasn’t until several weeks after that, on September 8, 2003, that KBR shut down the Qarmat Ali plant and did a more extensive cleanup – “out of abundance of caution,” it explained in a statement to NBC News. The plant remained closed until mid-October.
In all, during 2003, more than 700 soldiers passed through the Qarmat Ali plant, mostly Guard units from Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina and West Virginia.  Some of these Guardsmen say they began experiencing physical symptoms – headaches, bloody noses, sinus and respiratory problems – soon after arriving at the plant in the summer of 2003.

Larry Roberta’s medical records confirm he reported breathing problems and chest pains during a visit to a medic that July.  The military evacuated Russ Kimberling from the site that summer so a severe sinus infection in his nasal cavity could heal.
Since then, other soliders who served at Qarmat Ali have experienced serious illnesses.  Some have died.  First Sgt. David moore of the Indiana Army National Guard died of lunch disease in 2008 at age 42.  The commander of Kimerling’s Indiana Army National Guard Unity, Lt. Col James Gentry, died of a rare lunch cancer of the day before Thanksgiving.  He had claimed to be a lifelong non-smoker.

Six years later, the commander of Kimberling’s Indiana Army National Guard Unit, Lt. Col James Gentry, is terminally ill with a rare lung cancer.  He says he’s a lifelong nonsmoker.
First Sgt. David Moore of the Indiana Army National Guard is dead of lung disease at age 42.
Roberta, a former police officer who climbed Mt. Sinai before he went to Iraq, now struggles to catch his breath when he walks. He has serious stomach and liver issues, migraines and acute respiratory problems, including reactive airway disorder.
“You almost feel like you’re drowning,” Roberta said, after gasping for breath during a coughing fit captured on video by an NBC cameraman.   “You want to breathe, but you just can’t.”
Roberta, Kimberling, Gentry and Moore’s family are part of a lawsuit by Army Guardsmen against KBR, charging that the company knowingly endangered lives by not informing them of the dangers.  The Guardsmen’s law firm, Doyle Raizner of Houston, Texas, has been gathering testimony and documents in the case.

KBR strongly denies wrongdoing.  The company acknowledges that sodium dichromate was present at the plant, and had contaminated parts of it.  But KBR claims it “acted appropriately and on a timely basis” as information about the chemical at the plant became known.  In statements to NBC NewsKBR also claims that it was the Army’s reponsibility to ensure the site was free of environmental hazards.
What’s more, KBR insists that there is no evidence proving that soldiers suffered illnesses or injuries because of exposure to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali plant.
Former KBR employees previously filed their own complaint against the company, making similar allegations.  An arbitrator denied the employees’ claims for damages, arguing that the company was not liable under the provisions of the Defense Base Act, a federal workers compensation law applying to persons working on U.S. military bases outside the U.S. Without discussion, the arbitrator states that “claimants did not present sufficient proof of an injury compensable under Texas law,” where KBR is based.
We consulted Dr. Herman Gibb, one of the foremost experts on sodium dochromate exposure.  Gibb, an epidemiologist, spent 29 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, much of that time at the National Center for Environmental Assessment. He is the lead author of a 2000 study of the relationship between lung cancer and sodium dichromate exposure. (That study collected data on the exposures of 2,101 workers at a Baltimore factory, who were exposed to sodium dichromate between 1950 and 1974.)
In an NBC NEWS interview, we asked Dr. Gibb about KBR’s statement.
Lisa Myers: KBR says there is simply no evidence that soldiers were harmed by exposure to this chemical.  Do you agree with that statement?
Dr. Herman Gibb: I don’t see how you can say there’s no evidence.  I mean…they experienced symptoms that are consistent with sodium dichromate exposure.  The exposure must have been fairly significant to be associated with these symptoms.

In claiming no proof of harm to soldiers, KBR specifically points to red blood cell blood tests conducted by the Army’s Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM).  KBR told us the Army’s CHPPM had concluded that “no soldier encountered a significant inhalation exposure while guarding the facility.”
But NBC’s review of the Army’s report showed that what the Center actually reported was that the blood tests “appear to show that there was not a significant inhalation exposure,” and that the Army’s medical team “at the time felt that long-term health effects were very unlikely from the exposure as understood.”

And Dr. Gibb told NBC that the red blood cell tests were too insensitive, and conducted too long after exposure, to be conclusive.
“The test wouldn’t have been very reliable…taken so long after exposure ended,” he said.  “It would be like giving a breathalyzer test to somebody three days after they’d been driving erratically.”
KBR also claims that most air and soil sample tests indicate that “there was no danger from airborne contamination of the plant.”  Dr. Gibb noted that KBR had admitted that the Army’s and KBR’s air and soil and blood tests occurred after KBR had remediated the site.
Since our interview, Dr. Gibb has been hired by lawyers representing the Guardsmen to review material for their case.
KBR provided NBC News an executive summary of a report it claims counters Dr. Gibb’s testimony, prepared as part of KBR’s response to the previous claim by former KBR employees.

The trial for the Guardsmen’s case against KBR likely won’t begin until sometime next year.
Meanwhile, Roberta struggles just to get through each day.

“If KBR did know about this, before we were there,” said Roberta, “it should

have been rectified.”
“They said it was a mild irritant,” Kimberling recalled.  “That’s what I told my soldiers.  And suck it up and drive on with the mission.  Don’t whine about it.  You know, we’re here, let’s do our job and let’s go home.  That’s what we did.”
What upsets some of the Guardsmen most of all is that, after serving their country faithfully, they believe the Army and KBR let them down by not fully acknowledging or investigating their exposure to the toxic chemical or their serious health problems.  Some suffered for years and only recently have a possible explanation why.

In the last few months, the U.S. Government finally has begun to acknowledge their predicament.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General has launched an investigation. That was the result of a formal request from seven Democratic senators, including Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, which has been investigating this matter for more than a year.  (The DPC held two hearings on the topic, one in 2008 and one this year.)
In September and October, following a hearing by the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, and the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, Gen. Eric Shinseki, sent letters to Sen. Dorgan describing new efforts to contact and examine the 700+ soldiers who potentially were exposed to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali plant.
All these efforts now should help exposed soldiers like Larry Roberta receive medical care, and perhaps eventually yield more substantive answers about how many were exposed to the toxic chemical, how many have health problems because of it, and why this happened at all.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eight US Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Blast

Eight U.S. Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Blast (Update1)

December 30, 2009, 03:30 PM EST

Original at Bloomberg

By Tony Capaccio

Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Eight U.S. civilians were killed today in a blast at an American military base in Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

Lieutenant Colonel Almarah Belk said the explosion took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province. Belk said she didn’t know what installations or agencies are located at the base.

The U.S. has been expanding the ranks of civilian aid experts in Afghanistan in parallel with the surge of military reinforcements aimed at the Taliban insurgency.

NATO forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician said the nature of the explosion is being investigated. The Associated Press cited a U.S. official in Washington as saying the Americans were killed by an attacker wearing a suicide-bomb vest.

Khost is located in eastern Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan.

–With assistance from Viola Gienger in Washington. Editors: Edward DeMarco, Robin Meszoly

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Capaccio in Washington at +1-202-624-1911 or acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at +1-202-624-1824 or rmeszoly@bloomberg.net

December 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Reality About US Contractors

Richard Fontaine and John Nagl: When Our Nation Goes To War, Contractors Go With It

(CBS) John Nagl is president and Richard Fontaine is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan national security research organization in Washington, D.C.

Many observers reacted with surprise at reports that forthcoming “surge” in Afghanistan will include up to 56,000 private contractors. They should not have.

Contractors have become an enduring feature of modern American conflicts, and the United States cannot now engage in hostilities or in reconstruction and stabilization operations without them. At their peak, there were more contractors on the ground in Iraq than American troops in uniform and there are already more contractors today in Afghanistan than there are U.S. troops on the ground. However, the increased reliance on contractors has exposed a number of problems, including insufficient oversight, inadequate integration into operational planning, and ambiguous legal status.

In order for the United States to adapt to the key role that contractors will play in future hostilities, it must establish new policies and rules of the road.

Contractors on the battlefield are not a modern phenomenon; in fact, they predate the Constitution. The Continental Army relied on support from various private individuals and firms, including logistical support to George Washington’s troops in the field. Japan and postwar Europe under the Marshall Plan saw some of America’s first and largest reconstruction efforts, the size of which was not reached again until 2003 in Iraq.

The aftermath of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq saw an explosion in the number of contractors employed by the United States on the battlefield. The scale of deployment of these contractors, who have engaged in activities as diverse as transportation, engineering and construction, maintenance, and base operations, has been, according to the Congressional Budget Office, “unprecedented in U.S. history.” The U.S. contracting cadre is very much multinational in character.

American soldiers, diplomats, and aid workers have become accustomed to being greeted in battlefield dining facilities by Indian servers, dispensing food prepared by Filipinos, on a base guarded by Ugandans and partially constructed by Iraqis. In this sense, then, the United States has achieved with its contractors precisely the kind of multinational coalition effort that has at times eluded it when it comes to actual combat operations. In Iraq today, third country nationals comprise the largest share of U.S. contractor personnel.

Future conflicts are likely to be more like American engagements in the Balkans, Colombia (via “Plan Colombia”), Iraq, and Afghanistan, and less like Operation Desert Storm. To the extent that future wars involve messy insurgencies and attempts to boost host government legitimacy, rather than conventional battles between massed armies, contractors will continue to play a large and prominent role. To extinguish support for insurgencies, build the security forces of host governments, expand the capacity to provide services to local populations, create jobs, train civil services, and construct (or reconstruct) infrastructure, the U.S. government will rely to an enormous extent on the use of private contractors.

A series of reports have called for reform in the way the government contracts for services on the battlefield and for expanded oversight of the process, but significant additional reforms are needed. The U.S. government is trying to make up for nearly two decades of neglecting contractor management and oversight – and it is doing so in the midst of two ongoing wars that involve unprecedented contractor participation.

The extensive use of contractors, and their presence on the battlefield along with American troops, poses special dilemmas in command, coordination, and discipline. The very existence of private contractors inserts a profit motive onto the battlefield; their primary responsibility is not the national interest but rather fulfilling the terms of their contracts.

Contractors are not in the chain of command; they can be expected to fulfill their contracts but not ordered to do so in the same fashion as military personnel. Nor are contractors are not subject to the same discipline and order procedures that govern U.S. troops; failure to follow orders can result in criminal prosecution for military personnel, but this is not true of civilians. The contractors, rather than commanders in the field, are responsible for ensuring that their employees comply with laws and orders, and these commanders have repeatedly expressed frustration with their own lack of knowledge regarding contractor activities – or even presence – in the battle space. However, as current and former DOD officials point out, not a single mission in Iraq or Afghanistan has failed because of contractor non-performance. Most private contractors appear to make a positive contribution, and to be honest, patriotic, and dedicated to the mission at hand.

The great reliance on contractors in wartime raises foreign policy questions that go well beyond the domain of DOD. To cite one example, the United States has brought to Iraq and Afghanistan tens of thousands of workers from developing countries in which labor costs are low. Given Pakistan’s acute sensitivity to the perception of Indian encroachment in Afghanistan (the Pakistani government, for example, has routinely objected to the presence of Indian diplomats in consulates there), what are the foreign policy implications of hiring Indian nationals in Afghanistan? To address these sorts of questions, it will be necessary to bring the State Department increasingly into the decision making process.

At the same time, the way in which the United States handles contractors in its current conflicts will set precedents and establish norms that will influence not only America’s future behavior, but also that of other countries around the world. Given the high stakes involved, and the reality that contracting in conflicts is here to stay, it is time for a new strategic look at the role they play in hostile environments.

The aim should be a new approach that neither rejects the role played by contractors in wartime nor merely reflects the status quo. This new approach will require changes to the culture and awareness of contracting at DOD, State, and USAID, and will mean calling on policy makers to consider in depth how the increased reliance on contractors can best be leveraged to further American national interests abroad. When our nation goes to war, contractors go with it. We must get on with the task of adapting to this reality.

Original Story here

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Legal Jurisdictions, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Honoring Veterans of the Disposable Army

by T. Christian Miller  ProPublica


Today we honor the veterans who have served in the country’s armed forces. Nobody seriously questions whether they deserve such recognition. The men and women who defended this country and fought its wars made immeasurable sacrifices.

I have spent much of the last year writing [1] about another group of people who suffered losses on behalf of U.S. interests abroad: the civilian contractors injured or killed [1] while doing their jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are not, of course, soldiers. They could quit their jobs and go home any time they wanted. Many were paid far higher wages than their military counterparts. They knew they were signing up to take a specific job in a dangerous part of the world.

And yet, neither are the contractors working in Afghanistan and Iraq ordinary laborers. Civilians compose half the manpower [2] in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have seen and experienced the full horror of war. More than a thousand have been killed. Thousands more have suffered debilitating physical and mental injuries [3]. And yet, the Pentagon does not even know how many have died, nor how many are actually working [4] (PDF).

I have come to see the civilian contractors as a new kind of class in the demography of war. They are quasi-veterans: civilians who have experienced war much as soldiers do. There are tens of thousands of them. And while it’s hard to argue that they deserve ticker tape parades and Medals of Honor, it’s also hard to believe that they should be sent home with little more than a pay stub and a patchy health care system that doesn’t even address basic medical needs [5].

I received a letter from a former KBR contractor which crystallized the strange position of those who work in a war zone. D.A. Corson, who worked at a variety of companies in Iraq until 2008, wrote the following, which I thought worth sharing:

Civilian contactors in combat zones will likely continue to be a staple of military engagements. They cook, clean, make ice, purify water, install housing, do laundry, install and maintain generators for lighting, air conditioning, truck the beans, bullets and bandages, install latrines, wastewater treatment facilities, and as many of the other logistical functions as the military can give them to do so the troops can do their job, i.e., go out and, God willing, win the peace.

They too left their families, homes, and friends. They too labor 84-hour weeks, endure shellings, mortars, and RPG attacks, IEDS, and heat strokes. They too live on three meals a day of four different flavors of noodles or MREs when the convoys cannot get through and rations are running low. Some of them see to it that the bodies of your fallen sons, daughters, husbands, and wives are seen off from combat airfields with proper honors when no military personnel are available to do the honors themselves. They watch helplessly on Armed Forces media as our homes thousands of miles away are blown and washed away in hurricanes, floods and other disasters and wonder if their families are safe. Many die, are injured, captured and held as POWs; some have been beheaded. They too suffer high divorce rates and come home with their own cases of Combat Stress. Many serve for over a year and then came back 2 and 3 times for another year. Many are still there going on 5 and 6 years now. When they come home they have no Veteran’s benefits, indeed, no benefits at all in many instances, save perhaps a very pricey COBRA.

Yes, all go for the money. They too are doing what they think necessary for their families to get a little piece of the American Dream, but they are not all a bunch of money-grubbing, carpetbagging, war profiteers. We are your neighbors, friends, relatives, and fellow Americans. So many are there because they have to be. One young lady had just had a baby. Her husband had cancer, and she had to leave her newborn infant and other children, as well as her terribly ill husband to pay the bills and keep a roof over their head. But more than that, each wanted to serve our troops. They wanted to do their part. So many are Viet Nam veterans. They do their jobs; they serve our troops, proudly. They do it for them. They do it for freedom; they do it for our country. The American contractors all still take off their hats and get tears in their eyes when hearing the national anthem. When they go home their benefits end. Many are having to fight to get their medical insurance benefits for the injuries received and many families are fighting to get their life insurance benefits for their fallen loved ones.

They knew going in that returning to bands playing, flags waving, and such were not part of their bargain. That’s not why they went. However, in your churches and other ceremonies, when you ask your veterans to stand, after you have given them their well-deserved honors, you might want to give a thought to then asking any civilian contractors who served the troops in combat zones to stand up beside the vets too. I’ll bet they’d be proud to do so, again. Maybe there won’t be many in your particular gathering, but they are there: one for every soldier according to the Congressional Budget Reports and one dying for each 3 soldiers killed.

And by the way, you’re welcome. Maligned, appreciated, even counted or not, I am sure most would do it all again. It was an honor.

D. A. Corson
Camp Anaconda, Balad, Iraq –June 2004 through October 2006 B.I.A., Basrah, Iraq –July 2006 through May 2007 Ali Al-Saleem Air Base, Kuwait — September-October 2007

God Bless America !

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pentagon Study Proposes Overhaul of Defense Base Act to Cover Care for Injured Contractors

Pentagon Study Proposes Overhaul of Defense Base Act to Cover Care for Injured Contractorsdba-report-475

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – September 15, 2009 6:52 pm EDT

WASHINGTON, DC – Congress could save as much as $250 million a year through a sweeping overhaul of the controversial U.S. system to care for civilian contractors injured in war zones, according to a new Pentagon study.

In the most extensive review ever of the taxpayer-financed system, the Pentagon suggested that the government could issue its own insurance to cover the skyrocketing costs of medical care and disability pay for injured civilians.

Currently, the U.S. pays more than $400 million annually to AIG and a handful of other carriers to purchase special workers compensation insurance policies required for overseas civilian contractors by a law known as the Defense Base Act, the study found.

By cutting out insurance company profits as high as 35%, the government could self-insure the contractors for less money, according to a copy of the study obtained by ProPublica [1]. The study is due to be released Friday.

The Pentagon’s suggestion would require a massive legislative revision of the government’s 60-year-old system to care for injured civilians, which has been criticized as expensive and ineffective for modern war zones where civilian contractors account for half the work force.

Despite the possible savings, it remains unclear whether anyone in Congress will champion such a bill. And the Pentagon hedged its bets by saying that it would pursue reforms to the current system of private insurance while “considering” the pursuit of legislative authority to change to a system of self insurance.

Such a proposal could also improve the delivery of care to injured contractors, the report found. Civilian contractors have faced protracted battles with insurance carriers to obtain medical treatment and disability pay, according to an investigation [2] by ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and ABC News.

“In the long run, the self-insurance alternative may have the greatest potential for minimizing DBA insurance costs, and it has several administrative and compliance advantages as well,” the report said. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined comment since the report has not yet been made public.

Under the proposed system, the U.S. would pay directly for medical benefits and disability benefits rather than relying upon private insurance providers. The government would hire an outside firm to administer the claims to avoid the expense of training and hiring examiners.

The report makes clear, however, that such a fundamental change to the system would face a battle from the insurance industry. AIG dominates the market for the insurance, which exploded from an $18 million a business to more than $400 million per year after civilian contractors flooded into war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report said.

AIG controls about 75% of the market, followed by Chicago-based CNA and Bermuda-based ACE Group. Together, the three firms collect 97% of all premiums paid by defense contractors for the insurance, the cost of which is reimbursed by the government.

Changing to a self-insurance system “has the potential to have the most financial benefit, if implemented government-wide,” the report found. However, under the heading “Cons,” the report said that legislation to change the current private insurance system “has potential for significant political pressure from those most directly affected by such a change (carriers, brokers, etc.)”

AIG and ACE did not immediately return requests for comment. The industry has said that profits are reasonable and that claims are handled fairly.

CNA said it was examining the recommendations. “We are in the process of carefully reviewing and digesting the DOD report. As previously stated, we welcome changes and improvements to the DBA program,” the company said in a statement.

The chance for such fundamental reform is uncertain. The Obama administration has not put forth a specific bill, though the Pentagon and Labor Dept., which administers claims, worked together in producing the report. A Labor Dept. spokesman said Tuesday that the agency was not prepared to comment on the report.

In the House, Rep. Ike Skelton [3], (D-Mo.) chair of the House Armed Services Committee, called the report’s findings “interesting, surprising, and worth considering for next year’s defense authorization bill.”

“The House Armed Services Committee will closely examine the report as we seek ways to lower the costs associated with Defense Base Act insurance,” Skelton said in a statement.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin [4], (D-Mich.) would wait for the Defense Dept. to suggest changes in its spring legislative proposal, a spokesman said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings [5] (D-Md.) has announced plans for cutting costs and improving the delivery of care for contractors, but has yet to offer details. Sen. Bernie Sanders [6], (I-Vt.) has also called for change.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “The current system for providing health insurance and workers compensation for our military contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan is broken and wasting millions of dollars in payments to companies like AIG,” Sanders said in a statement. “If the Pentagon, the Department of Labor and Congress modernize the current insurance system, we can save up to $250 million and finally give these workers and their survivors the basic health care and support they need and deserve.”

In the absence of a major legislative overhaul in the next three years, the report recommends reforms to the current system of paying private insurance carriers for policies. Chief among them is a proposal that the government collect information on how much such claims cost.

Unlike state workers compensation systems, where rates are regulated and based on years of occupational injury data, the federal system for contractors relies upon individual insurance carriers to set rates. In the early years of the war, rates skyrocketed but the government had no way of determining whether such increases were justified.

The Pentagon tried to reduce rates by creating a umbrella program in 2005 in which one carrier, CNA, won a bidding contest to issue insurance for all contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The State Dept. and the U.S. Agency for International Development have similar programs.

While initial studies by the Army Corps found significant cost savings, the current Pentagon report said that CNA’s rates in the umbrella program were higher on average than policies purchased by individual defense contractors.

Using a formula which weighed factors such as the size of the contract, CNA charged contractors in the umbrella program 8.3% of payroll costs on average, while individual contractors paid about 5.3% of their payroll for the insurance, the report found. That means the Army Corps paid $8,300 to purchase worker’s compensation insurance for a civilian contractor making $100,000 a year, compared with $5,300 for a civilian working for a different agency.

“The department’s overall conclusion, based on its comprehensive analysis of the current DBA premium data, is that the open market—when it involves adequate price competition among carriers—results in rates that are lower than those in a single-provider program,” the report said.

No matter which program, however, the report found that insurance carriers “may be achieving significant” profit from selling the insurance.

The Pentagon attempted to determine exactly how much money private carriers made from the taxpayer-financed policies, but insurance companies refused to turn over any data, the report said.

Previous investigations by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that carriers made more than 50% profit from some polices—far in excess of normal workers’ compensation insurance.

Written by the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition and Technology Office, the report was based on interviews and data from industry players, including two insurance carriers, six brokers and seven defense contractors.

The Pentagon has denied [7] a Freedom of Information Act request by ProPublica to release documents submitted by the firms as part of the review, claiming that the information is proprietary business data.

A recent insurance industry study [8] confirmed that companies paid far more for workers compensation insurance in Iraq and Afghanistan than other countries. The higher rates have drawn criticism since the government reimburses carriers for the cost of combat injuries.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Congressman Announces Plan to Reform US System to Care for Injured Civilian Contractors

Congressman Announces Plan to Reform U.S. System to Care for Injured Civilian Contractors

Original Story Here
by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – September 9, 2009 5:20 pm EDT
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation later this year to improve the delivery of medical care to civilian contractors injured while working with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cummings declined to provide details about his proposal but said he hoped it would reduce the $300 million a year paid by defense contractors to insurance companies.

“The system is broken, and the insurance companies have reaped the benefits,” said Cummings, who pushed for hearings [1] earlier this year after investigations [2] by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times found that insurance carriers routinely denied claims by injured contractors.

A new study released today found that insurance carriers charge defense contractors far higher rates in war zones to cover routine injuries and accidents. That baffles congressional officials, who have noted that the government separately pays for all war-related injuries to civilian contractors. Why, they ask, should it cost significantly more to insure an employee in Iraq against a slip or fall then one in Tunisia?

“The industry report underscores the need for major reforms of a very expensive and broken system that ostensibly is designed to help private contract workers in places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” Sen. Bernie Saunders, I-Vt., said in a statement. “Insurance companies such as A.I.G. should not make unjustifiable profits by overcharging the U.S. government for basic workers compensation. During the June congressional oversight hearing, I pressed the Pentagon and the Department of Labor to make the necessary reforms so wounded workers get the support they deserve. The Pentagon has said that the recommendations will be on my desk next week and I will take a hard look at their ideas.”

The study by insurance broker Aon Corp. was an anonymous survey involving 18 defense contractors which purchase the specialized workers compensation policies required under a federal law known as the Defense Base Act [3]. Most of the firms said they were charged higher rates for workers compensation insurance in Iraq and Afghanistan than for comparable workers hired in other foreign countries.

In some cases, defense companies in Iraq and Afghanistan paid more than double for the insurance, which covers medical costs and disability benefits for injured civilians. One defense firm paid 18 percent of its payroll for insurance — meaning that the company had to spend $18,000 to purchase a single worker’s compensation policy for an employee making $100,000 a year.

The cost of such policies became controversial after 9/11, when rates skyrocketed as civilian contractors flooded into Iraq and Afghanistan. An arm of troubled insurance giant AIG, recently renamed Chartis, sold the bulk of the policies, turning an obscure and lightly regulated insurance line into a billion-dollar business.

Taxpayers ultimately pay for the insurance as part of the cost of federal contracts.

Congressional investigators and government auditors have accused AIG and other carriers of exploiting a market with limited competition to overcharge for the insurance, pointing to profit margins as high as 40 percent on some policies [4]. Insurance firms, however, have said that higher premiums reflect heightened risks of routine injury in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Aon study found that AIG continued to control “significant” market share, but was facing increased competition from ACE Group and Zurich Financial Services Group. Aon concluded that “key factors” driving rates included things such as market competition, the type of work performed by employees and local conditions.

Charlie Skinner, the Aon managing director in charge of the market survey, noted that Iraq’s roads are in poor shape after six years of war, raising the possibility of more road accidents. The survey did not directly examine, however, whether underwriters factored in war hazards in determining policy rates. “You might need to talk to underwriters to drill into that. We don’t get inside their rating models,” Skinner said.

The study, the largest of its kind to date, mirrors earlier findings by the GAO and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It comes as the Defense Department prepares later this fall to release recommendations on ways to overhaul the system.

One option under consideration would replace private insurance with government insurance — a potential blow to Aon and other firms in the industry. Skinner said Aon had contributed “factual” material to the Defense Department, but he declined to say whether the firm had recommended a course of action.

“As in most insurance and risk management decisions, there’s often not a black and white answer,” he said.

Cummings said the new legislation would “create some cost containment and improve the care for the brave men and women assisting the military.”

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Contractor Electrocuted in Shower in Iraq

By KIMBERLY HEFLING (AP) – 34 minutes ago

WASHINGTON — A State Department contractor apparently has been electrocuted while showering in Baghdad even as U.S. authorities in Iraq try to remedy bathhouse wiring problems that have led to the deaths of American troops there.

The contractor, Adam Hermanson, 25, died Sept. 1, his wife, Janine, said Tuesday. She added that a military medical examiner told her that preliminary findings indicate her husband died from low voltage electrocution.

Electrical wiring has been an ongoing problem in Iraq. At least three troops have been electrocuted in the shower since the start of the Iraq War. Inspections and repairs are under way at 90,000 U.S.-maintained facilities there.

Hermanson grew up in San Diego and Las Vegas. He joined the military at age 17, and did three tours in Iraq with the Air Force before leaving at the rank of staff sergeant. He returned to Iraq as an employee of the Herndon, Va.-based private contractor Triple Canopy.

Jayanti Menches, a spokeswoman for Triple Canopy, said in an e-mail that the company was saddened by his death but would not be commenting further until an investigation was complete.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood also offered condolences to the family, but would not elaborate further on the cause of death, pending an investigation.

Janine Hermanson said her husband took the contracting job so they would have money to buy a house in Muncy, Pa., where they were planning to live. She said she’d already moved there and was living with her parents.

The two would have celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary on Sunday.

“He was supposed to come back and we had a lot of plans,” said his wife, who also served in Iraq with the Air Force.

Besides three Iraq tours, Adam Hermanson served in Uzbekistan with the Air Force. His mother, Patricia Hermanson, 53, of Las Vegas, said everyone in her family was struggling to understand how he could survive four war tours, then die suddenly in a seemingly safe place.

“We all know that Adam was as strong as a tank,” his mother said. “He was in good health.”

September 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Labor Day Message to Hilda Solis, Secretary, Department of Labor

Having just read your  Labor Day Statement,  we are convinced that Injured Overseas Contractors and their imagesfamilies are nowhere on your radar screen.

You say that over the last seven months you have met with many individuals and organizations.   We were disappointed that you did not respond to our requests to meet with you.   We had asked to discuss, in a helpful and positive way, the inequities these Injured Contractors suffer under the Defense Base Act which your department oversees.

You ask us in your statement to personally commit to play a role in the recovery of our economy and our nation.  To reach out to those needing help.  To do the work that will keep America Working.

Hilda Solis we ask you to personally commit that your/our Department of Labor allow us the opportunity to recover physically, mentally, and economically as the law provides under the Defense Base Act.

Reach out to your Department of Labor who is charged with ensuring that Defense Base Act Workers’ Compensation benefits are provided for covered employees promptly and correctly.

Do the work, get to know your OWCP/DHWLC/DBA,  your OALJ’s, and BRB’s.

Open your eyes to who is standing in the way of ensuring that DBA benefits are provided for covered Injured Contractors promptly and correctly.

Read some of the decisions your ALJ’s make based on the testimony of questionable doctors, witnesses, and evidence.

Question  the person who was put in charge of Policy, Regulations and Procedures for the Defense Base Act who cut her teeth with AIG and CNA’s defense lawyers and helped promote their biased book via this position of public service.

Look into the knee jerk, biased recommendations that come from some of your District Directors and some of their Claims Examiners.

Do they work for you, the injured contractor, the taxpayer or do they serve their own purpose?

Ask why CNA and AIG are never fined as the law requires for multitudes of blatent infractions of the law year after year.

Ask why CNA, AIG and the lawyers get away with relentlessly continuing hearings, thus dragging claims out for six years and longer while refusing to pay for medical and disability to the injured worker but buffing up their own financial award.

Some of these hearings will make public record of damning information vital to many other claims, including many that were already denied and will have to be re-examined.

Is your DoL helping to keep this information in the dark?

Will your legacy be the continued abuse of thousands of Injured Americans and Foreigners working on US Contracts when you personally could have stepped in and made this CHANGE?

What a stimulus to the economy it would be to get Injured Overseas Contractors and/or their families back to being the contributing members of America that they were working on behalf of when they were injured or killed working in countries all over the world.

The only stimulus the DBA currently provides is to insurance companies like  AIG and CNA, hoardes of lawyers,  and your department facilitates it.

You came to us with the promise that there was a new sheriff in town and that you would be heard.

Make our Labor Day, be heard, speak up about these abuses to Injured Contractors and demand that they stop.

Maybe then, hopefully together, we can assure that the Defense Base Act is implemented as Congress intended.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops

Despite Surge in U.S. Deployments, More Civilians Are Posted in War Zone; Reliance Echoes the Controversy in Iraq


Even as U.S. troops surge to new highs in Afghanistan they are outnumbered by military contractors working alongside them, according to a Defense Department census due to be distributed to Congress — illustrating how hard it is for the U.S. to wean itself from the large numbers of war-zone contractors that proved controversial in Iraq.

The number of military contractors in Afghanistan rose to almost 74,000 by June 30, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point. As the military force in Afghanistan grows further, to a planned 68,000 by the end of the year, the Defense Department expects the ranks of contractors to increase more.

[Military Contractors]

The military requires contractors for essential functions ranging from supplying food and laundry services to guarding convoys and even military bases — functions that were once performed by military personnel but have been outsourced so a slimmed-down military can focus more on battle-related tasks.

The Obama administration has sought to reduce its reliance on military contractors, worried that the Pentagon was ceding too much power to outside companies, failing to rein in costs and not achieving desired results.

President Obama has repeatedly called defense contractors to task since taking office. “In Iraq, too much money has been paid out for services that were never performed, buildings that were never completed, companies that skimmed off the top,” he said during a March speech.

In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to hire 30,000 civilian officials during to cut the percentage of contractors in the Pentagon’s own work force, and last month he told an audience of soldiers that contractor use overseas needed better controls.

Military contractors’ personnel for a time outnumbered U.S. troops in Iraq. The large contractor force was accompanied by issues ranging from questionable costs billed to the government to shooting of civilians by armed security guards. A September 2007 shooting incident involving Blackwater Worldwide guards working for the U.S. State Department, in which 17 Iraqis were killed, forced the U.S. to aggressively rework oversight of security firms.

Yet in Afghanistan as in Iraq, the Pentagon has found that the military has shrunk so much since the Cold War ended that it isn’t big enough to sustain operations without using companies to directly support military operations.

“Because of the surge, we’re trying to get ahead of the troops,” said Gary Motsek, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Program Support, who helps oversee the Pentagon’s battlefield contractor efforts. “So we’re pushing contractors in place, doing it as fast as we can, and trying to be responsible about it.”

The heavy reliance on contractors in Afghanistan signals that a situation that defense planners once considered temporary has become a standard fixture of U.S. military operations.

“For a sustained fight like our current commitments, the U.S. military can’t go to war without contractors on the battlefield,” said Steven Arnold, a former Army general and retired executive at logistics specialists Ecolog USA and KBR Inc., military contractors formerly owned by Halliburton Co. He added, “For that matter, neither can NATO.”

That poses a challenge for military planners who must keep tabs on tens of thousands of people who are crucial to their operations yet are civilians outside the chain of command.

In Congress, there’s a particular concern about security contractors who might upset diplomatic and military relationships. “We’ve had incidents when force has been used, we believe, improperly against citizens by contractors,” said Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This creates huge problems, obviously, for those who have been injured or killed and their families, but it also creates huge problems for us and our policies in Afghanistan.”

In Iraq, as of June 30 there were 119,706 military contractors, down 10% from three months earlier and smaller than the number of U.S. troops, which stood at approximately 132,000. But as the Pentagon has been drawing down contractors in Iraq, their ranks have been growing in Afghanistan — rising by 9% over that same three-month period to 73,968. More than two-thirds of those are local, which reflects the desire to employ Afghans as part of the counterinsurgency there.

Many contractors in Afghanistan are likely to face combat-like conditions, particularly those manning far-flung outposts, and are exposed to possible militant attacks — blurring the line between soldier and support staff.

The reliance on contractors has prompted a shift in the defense industry, sending more money to logistics and construction companies that can perform everything from basic functions to project engineering.

A recent contract is worth up to $15 billion to two firms, DynCorp International Inc. and Fluor Corp., to build and support U.S. military bases throughout Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, government auditors have repeatedly uncovered military mismanagement of contractors. The Wartime Contracting Commission reported finding during an April trip that the military had accepted a new headquarters building in Kabul hobbled by shoddy construction. Officials in Iraq and Afghanistan were unable to give the commission complete lists of work being contracted out at the bases they visited.

Coordination of security contractors, one of the most charged issues in Iraq, is being beefed up for Afghanistan, said Mr. Motsek, the Pentagon official. A new umbrella contract planned for later this year is designed to make awarding work speedier and to help oversight and vetting.

As well, he said more Defense Department civilians are being sent to oversee all types of contracts, and they will stay longer overseas than their predecessors did in Iraq.

Video conferencing and other remote management tools had fallen short as a substitute. The Army is also adding hundreds of civilian contracting personnel, among the measures being put in place.

Write to August Cole at august.cole@dowjones.com

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway

Washington Post Opinionsphoto_1927

By T. Christian Miller

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway

To outsource the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has turned to the cheapest labor possible. About two-thirds of the 200,000 civilians working under federal contracts in the war zones are foreigners. Many come from poor, Third World countries. Others are local hires.

In the Philippines, I spoke to a woman who received a cellphone message when her son’s father died: “God took him.” She, too, had never been told of her rights to benefits by the employer or the United States. Her partner’s wages were so low that the death payment would have amounted to about $14,000. Not much, perhaps. But on the day I met her in a slum of tin shanties and reeking sewage, she did not know where she would find food that night for her three 3-year-old son. She still has received no payments.

These are not isolated examples. They are part of a pattern of neglect by the U.S. government and its contractors to inform civilian workers of their rights or even to deliver care that has already been purchased by taxpayers. While about two-thirds of the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are foreigners, only about 15 percent of claims are filed by foreigners, according to an analysis of Labor Department and Pentagon records by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom.

Since foreigners work many of the same jobs as Americans, albeit for far less money, the reasons for the disparity seem obvious. Their care has been entrusted to an overwhelmed bureaucracy and the machinations of insurance firms and multinational corporations. And the government has so far shown little interest in helping them out.

Seth Harris, the deputy secretary of labor, said at a congressional hearing in June that the program has “systemic problems,” and he urged Congress to enact new legislation. “The program is not designed for the circumstances we’re in right now,” Harris told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “We are trying to meet a complex, 21st-century challenge with a program from World War II.”

Harris’s history lesson is spot on. Congress, corporate America and individual laborers banded together 60 years ago to create the program for wounded war workers after what is perhaps one of the most forgotten chapters of World War II.

On the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing, Japanese forces also attacked the South Pacific outpost of Wake Island. At the time, about 1,200 American construction workers were beefing up the island’s defenses. Most were employed by an Idaho construction company, Morrison Knudsen. Aided by the contractors, who manned gun batteries in some cases, U.S. Marines repelled the first attack, but they fell to a second assault on Dec. 23, 1941.

The Japanese sent both civilians and soldiers to prisoner-of-war camps in China. But a contingent of 98 contract workers was kept on the island as forced labor. They were all men, mostly white, from towns across America. Photos show them with pomaded hair and fedoras. When the U.S. Navy attacked the island in October 1943, the Japanese lined up the workers and executed them, dumping their bodies in a mass grave.

A single, unknown man escaped, only to be recaptured a few weeks later. In a macabre echo of the fate that would befall several contractors in Iraq, the Japanese commander, Adm. Shigematsu Sakaibara, later confessed to personally beheading him, according to an account by Mark Hubbs, a retired Army Reserve officer who researched the incident. All told, more than 150 civilian contractors from Wake Island were killed, executed or died in prison camps.

The civilians’ entanglement in the war caught the military and the contracting firms unprepared. Earlier in the year, Congress passed the Defense Base Act, requiring defense contractors to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for employees building overseas bases as the U.S. girded for war. But it was a law for workplaces, not war zones. The law did not deal with hostile acts. Nor did it cover employees killed outside the workplace, such as civilians who died in prison camps. The families of the Wake Island men were left without income.

“These people were just coming out of the Depression. There were young wives with children, dependent parents,” said Bonnie Gilbert, an Idaho writer whose father was an imprisoned worker. “They were between a rock and a hard place.”

The families’ plight spurred action. Led by Morrison Knudsen, contracting firms lobbied Congress and financed a charity to help the families with mortgage bills and doctors visits. Each Christmas, the men’s children were given a check for around $9, according to a report published by the firms. The War Department directed emergency funds to the cause.

Congress, meanwhile, created the outlines of the current benefits system. The Defense Base Act was amended to require employers to provide coverage on a nearly 24-hour basis in war zones. To persuade insurers to write policies, Congress also passed the War Hazards Compensation Act in December 1942. The act reimburses carriers for injuries or deaths due to combat, lowering their risk for catastrophic expenses.

In creating the system, Congress recognized that civilian contractors played a vital part in fighting the war. Sen. Elbert D. Thomas (D-Utah), then chairman of the Senate’s Education and Labor Committee, urged passage by telling fellow lawmakers that the war was everybody’s business. “When once total war . . . is undertaken, the sooner we bring home to our people the fact that all are responsible for the war, all might suffer by the war and therefore all should sustain the losses, the better off we will be in a social and governmental way,” he said.

The sympathetic response to the Wake Island tragedy contrasts with the attitude toward contractors today. They are now often labeled as mercenaries or war profiteers. Their contributions to the war efforts are lost amid reports of six-figure salaries, murdered Iraqis and substandard construction. Last Sunday, a British security guard working for ArmorGroup was arrested by Iraqi authorities after allegedly gunning down two colleagues in the Green Zone — an action that would amount to a contractor version of fratricide.

Nearly 1,600 civilian workers have died in Iraq, and more than 35,000 have reported injuries. Since 2001, Congress has held scores of hearings for injured veterans, but only two for injured contractors. The Government Accountability Office has published more than 100 studies on veterans’ benefits since March 2003. It has done two on the Defense Base Act.

Nor, with a few exceptions, have the contract firms stepped forward for their employees. No company leads a charge to fix the system. Notably silent is Washington Group International, a major contractor in Iraq. The company, which has reported 19 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, was once known as Morrison Knudsen. Now part of URS Corp., the company declined to answer questions about contractor deaths.

It’s not surprising that neither the government nor the firms have felt much pressure to act. Many of the foreign workers and their families do not speak English. They do not have a senator to argue their case or a corporation to lobby for them. The result is an invisible, disposable army suffering its wounds in silence.


T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica and author of “Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq.”

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mission Essential Translators Expendable

Mission Esential Translators Expendable

by Pratap ChatterjeeSpecial to CorpWatch
August 11th, 2009

Basir “Steve” Ahmed was returning from a bomb-clearing mission in Khogyani district in northeastern Afghanistan when a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-filled vehicle nearby. The blast flipped the military armored truck Ahmed was riding in three or four times, and filled it with smoke. The Afghan translator had been accompanying the 927th Engineer Company near the Pakistan border on that October day in 2008 that would forever change his life.

“I saw the gunner come out and I followed him. The U.S. Army soldiers helped pull me out, but I got burns,” says Ahmed, who had worked as a contract translator with U.S. troops for almost four years. “The last thing I remember was the “dub-dub-dub” of a Chinook helicopter.” A medical evacuation team took the injured men to a U.S. Army hospital at Bagram Base.

Three days later Ahmed regained consciousness, but was suffering from the shrapnel wounds in his scalp and the severe burns covering his right hand and leg.

Full Story here

August 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danny Fitzsimons Diagnosed with PTSD

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq ‘suffering from stress’danny-fitzsimmons_599739a

The parents of an ex-Paratrooper who allegedly shot two fellow security guards in Iraq have said he was suffering from a stress disorder triggered by his experience of conflict.

In a statement the family appealed for assistance to ensure that Daniel Fitzsimons, who faces the death penalty, is granted a fair trial in Baghdad.

The former soldier has reportedly said that colleagues, Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare were shot after he received a “beating” from the two men after a drinking session in the city’s Green Zone.

He is being held at a jail in central Baghdad under Iraqi law and could be the first Westerner to go to court on criminal charges since immunity was lifted earlier this year.

“We are seeking funding in order to get a fair trial for Daniel, who served his country in Afghanistan and Iraq and left the Army suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” the statement from father Eric and stepmother Liz, from Whitworth, and mother Beverley, from Blackley, said. “This situation is every parent’s worst nightmare. We have been unable to speak directly to Daniel and are currently in contact with the Foreign Office, Fair Trials Abroad and our local MP, Jim Dobbin.”

Mr Fitzsimons was born in Rochdale and grew up in New Moston, Manchester. He went to school at Our Lady’s Catholic school in Royton, Oldham, before joining the Army.

Friends have revealed Mr Fitzsimons lived by himself in a flat in Rochdale and that he had told only his father and doctor about the trauma he had suffered.

Mr Fitzsimons had returned to Iraq as a private security contractor, ‘on and off’, for around three years. “I got into a fight with two colleagues and they had me pinned down. I received a real beating,” he told the Times. “They beat me and that’s when I reached for my weapon. I was drunk and it happened very quickly.”

An Iraqi military spokesman, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said the circumstances of the fight were well established. “It started as a squabble. The suspect is facing a premeditated murder charge,” he said. “The matter is now in the hands of Iraqi justice.”

Another British man was questioned by police and later released, the Foreign Office confirmed.

A friend of Fitzsimons told ITV News that the former soldier had struggled to recover from serving in Iraq. “He’s not a cold-blooded murderer, he’s just someone that has basically been in a war zone and is reaping the effects,” he said. “He’s been through some very tragic and hard-core events and you know, seeing friends killed and colleagues killed has an effect on you.”

Original Story here

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment