Friday, December 14, 2007

KBR's Rape Cover-up and Kidnapping: How Do We Prosecute?

MarkH and I share a question:
Reading about the latest atrocity by KBR that is the cover up of a rape of a US citizen by its contractors (apparently one of many), I ask the lawyers a question. Surely there is enough on KBR (formerly known as the evil wing of Halliburton - now independent) now to get a RICO indictment on them, correct?
(You can read about RICO - The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act here). ABC News has been updating the story as new details emerge, and Pandagon has been discussing the case as well. Yet, it this is the first you're hearing of it, ABC reports that a 22-year-old KBR employee was raped by her coworkers and, after reporting the incident:
...the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.

"Don't plan on working back in Iraq. There won't be a position here, and there won't be a position in Houston," Jones says she was told.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave.
Jones eventually managed to convince one of the guards to grant her one phone call, and called her father. Her father then contacted their congressman, Rep. Ted Poe, who worked with the State Department to rescue Jones:
Poe says his office contacted the State Department, which quickly dispatched agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Jones' camp, where they rescued her from the container.
MarkH cuts to the chase, asking how we can finally get government contracted KBR for the many atrocities they've committed abroad:
I realize they do this all overseas where they apparently enjoy complete immunity from anything ranging from fraud to cannibalism... Where's the law and order? This poor woman gets raped, and then after reporting it imprisoned in a shipping crate by KBR. Probably the only reason she didn't end up in a shallow grave in the desert is she got a cell phone call in to her father who then contacted their congressman and the state department.

And what is with this arbitration nonsense? At a certain point, such as after gang rape, your contract with your company is no longer valid and you get to sue them in federal court for civil rights abuse.

So, feminist lawyers - how should this case proceed? There are obviously criminal charges to be filed against the rapists, and the company has been complicit in covering up the crime. Racketeering - check (kidnapping). Corrupt organization - check. So - RICO?

UPDATE: Here is the AP story about Wednesday's Congressional Hearing. Apparently other women have come forward with charges of rape and sexual harassment by fellow KBR employees, and one woman was fired after filing a complaint. The Justice Department chose not to attend, drawing some criticism from some members of Congress.


Maggie said...

One of the things we lawyers should do is avoid conclusions where we lack knowledge. Personally, I'm not a big expert on RICO and have had little to no experience with white collar crime. But I have some thoughts.

1) Just because the contract requires binding arbitration doesn't mean the Judge in this suit will necessarily let that happen. Again, I'm no contracts expert, but there are situations where these clauses are not upheld.

2) Criminal charges are rough. Since you're dealing with a private contractor and actions that took place outside the country, it's unlikely there's the jurisdiction to file any charges. RICO appears to have a jurisdictional element to it.

There will be a way to take care of this, it's just about finding the proper venue. In my quick perusal of reporting, it seems the House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on the issue next week, which is about as high up as they come, though their power may be limited. (Oh, and to make you feel better, there have been some KBR/Halliburton corruption convictions and more are expected to come.)

La Pobre Habladora said...

Can rape and kidnapping be called 'white collar crime'? Sure, there was a corporation involved, but this very different from, say, tax evasion.

Thanks for the mention of the House Judiciary Committee's Wednesday hearing, and for the (limited) hope it offers. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what comes out of it.

Anonymous said... has a petition you can sign to encourage Congress to find a way to bring rule of law to military contractors.

Maggie said...

Here's a good scholarly look at things. (Warning, it isn't kind to Jones. Not her fault, but because she apparently has an idiot for a lawyer, which could create a problem.)

La Pobre Habladora said...

The above link didn't work for me as-is, but I believe I found the post you mention here.

With the title of blog being "Overlawyerd" and the subtitle being "Chronicling the high cost of our legal system," it is clear that this site has an agenda. Yet, that does not mean that the post might not bring up some valid points. The snarky tone implies that the author of the post doubts many of Jone's claims, though, and some of the language employed throughout the post makes me a bit uncomfortable. For example, this line: "The claims were suddenly of much more outrageous conduct: the original allegation of a single he-said/she-said sexual assault was now an allegation of gang rape by several unknown John Doe rapists who worked as firemen (though she did make a claim of multiple rape to the EEOC, though it is unclear when that claim was made); she claims that after she reported the rape, 'Halliburton locked her in a container' (the EEOC found that KBR provided immediate medical treatment and safety and shipped her home immediately)..." (emphasis mine). From the above, it appears that what the author claims was initially a 'he said/ she said' sexual assault allegation (phrasing meant to make the rape charge sound less serious and sinister - as though the whole thing might be just a misunderstanding)and then 'suddenly' became a charge of multiple rapes might have always been an accusation of rape by multiple men. So, doubt of the consistency of Jones' story is introduced in Overlawyered; but, with the charge of gang rape being undated, it seems like the claim that Jones is revising her story is rather unfounded. Also, with the rather serious injuries mentioned, rape seems much more likely than consensual sex. To my admittedly untrained eye, the accusation that KBR detained her should be easy enough to check. The ABC story reports that agents from U.S. embassy had to free Jones. Surely there must be a record, and the agents who went to KBR to ensure Jones' release could verify. Yet, I guess that is why we have trials and we will have to see what evidence turns up.

La Pobre Habladora said...

I also fail to see how Jones' case is being "...used by attorneys who are pursuing their own agenda to promote the litigation lobby's pet anti-consumer/pro-lawyer legislation." How is trying to ensure that US contractors working abroad (on our tax dollars, remember) do not have complete immunity to commit violent acts 'anti-consumer' in any way?

Prettier Than Napoleon also has a running debate about this case.

natalie said...

"...there have been some KBR/Halliburton corruption convictions and more are expected to come."

Oh, good. The only mention I'd seen of Halliburton corruption convictions was at CultureKitchen - have there been others?

Maggie said...

Well, overlawyered may have an agenda, but they do point out a lot of things that I hadn't heard. Not to be devil's advocate, but it is rather unusual in this kind of situation to have such strong claims made so long after the incident. What they pointed out was that the litigation has been going on for some time and that these claims have just started coming to the surface, which is rather unusual. I think the author wasn't really bashing Jones personally. The problem seems to be that her lawyer may be handling this badly. The early complaints reference a specific person, the later complaints reference several people and a seemingly different act. The reasons for this are unclear.

And you'll have to forgive us lawyers for occasionally sounding jaded. We have seen all kinds of claims in complaints that are total crap and that people throw in there for various reasons. And it isn't the best thing for your client if different claims filed with different agencies have different allegations. I think there may be concern that her lawyer is trumping up stuff is taking advantage of the press attention, which I hope is not true.

And here's some info on the KBR/Halliburton convictions.