Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Justice Department Reweighs No-Show Policy

What? The Justice Department has indicated that it will send an official to testify before Congress about what, if anything, is being done to investigate alleged sex crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan? This is quite a reversal of their previous policy of snubbing the House Judiciary Committee hearings on these matters.

And here we thought that blindfolded woman with the scales had been thrown out of the Justice Department for having her hair too short.

UPDATE/EDIT: Feministing reports that, in addition to the Jamie Leigh Jones case, KBR stands accused of covering-up another brutal rape of a woman working in Iraq, as a paramedic. These two women, and all women assaulted while working for defense contractors abroad, are facing strange barriers as they seek to have their cases investigated. As The Nation explains:
The first is the battle to have the perpetrators prosecuted in criminal court--which, because of Order 17, may be nearly impossible. According to the order, imposed by Paul Bremer, US defense contractors in Iraq cannot be prosecuted in the Iraqi criminal justice system.
Even more appalling, the Justice Department, which can and should prosecute most of these cases, has declined to do so. "There is no rational explanation for this," says Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School who specializes in the law of armed conflict. Prosecutorial jurisdiction for crimes like the alleged rape of Jones is easily established under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Patriot Act's special maritime and territorial jurisdiction provisions. But somebody has to want to prosecute the cases.
To further complicate matters, many women working as contractors with Halliburton had to sign a document as part of their contract agreeing to settle disagreements with the company through a company dispute-resolution program:
Since Jones alleged she was gang raped in 2005, while KBR was still a Halliburton subsidiary, her case is covered by an extralegal Halliburton dispute-resolution program implemented under then-CEO Dick Cheney in 1997. The program has all the hallmarks of the Cheney White House's penchant for secrecy. While Halliburton declared the program's aim was to reduce costly and lengthy litigation (and limit possible damage awards in the process), in practice it meant that employees like Jones signed away their constitutional right to a jury trial--and agreed to have any disputes heard in a private arbitration hearing without hope of appeal. (While two lower courts declared the tactic illegal, in 2001, the Texas Supreme Court overturned those rulings.)
While not investigating the KBR rape cover-ups is certainly the most egregious example, this Justice Department policy of not prosecuting companies regardless of the evidence against them seems to be an across-the-board policy. It seems like the Justice Department has a decision to make -should its duty be to defend the freedoms and protections we enjoy as people, or the freedom of private companies to enjoy executive protection while committing whatever crimes they want?

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