In Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens




 
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In Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens
 
October 10th, 2006  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: In Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens


In Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens
Media: Reuters
Byline:Bernd Debusmann
Date: October 10, 2006


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The war in Iraq has killed at least 647 civilian
contractors to date, according to official figures that provide a stark
reminder of the huge role of civilians in supporting the U.S. military.

The contractor death toll is tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor on the
basis of claims under an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, that all
U.S. government contractors and subcontractors working outside the United
States must take out for their civilian employees.

In response to questions from Reuters, a Labor Department spokesman said
there had been 647 claims for death benefits between March 1, 2003, and
September 30, 2006. The Defense Base Act covers both Americans and
foreigners, and there is no breakdown of the nationalities of those killed.
The Pentagon does not monitor civilian contractor casualties.

The death toll of civilians working alongside U.S. forces in Iraq compares
with more than 2,700 military dead and, experts say, underscores the risks
of outsourcing war to private military contractors.

Their number in Iraq is estimated at up to 100,000, from highly-trained
former special forces soldiers to drivers, cooks, mechanics, plumbers,
translators, electricians and laundry workers and other support personnel.

A trend toward "privatizing war" has been accelerating steadily since the
end of the Cold War, when the United States and its former adversaries began
cutting back professional armies. U.S. armed forces shrank from 2.1 million
when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 to 1.4 million today.

"At its present size, the U.S. military could not function without civilian
contractors," said Jeffrey Addicott, an expert at St. Mary's University in
San Antonio. "The problem is that the civilians operate in a legal gray
zone. There has been little effort at regulation, oversight, standardized
training and a uniform code of conduct. It's the Wild West out there."

FOG OF LAW

Two court cases slowly making their way through the U.S. legal system have
opened a window on the legal fog hanging over civilians who work alongside
the military and have become an everyday presence in conflict zones.

The legal cases involve Blackwater Security and Halliburton which field
hundreds of civilians in Iraq. The two companies are part of a global
industry estimated to bring in up to $100 billion annually.

The suit against Blackwater, the first of its kind in the United States, was
brought 19 months ago by the families of four civilian contractors who were
shot in March 2004 by insurgents who burned their bodies and hung the
charred remains of two from the girders of a bridge in the city of Falluja.

Television images of the gruesome scene, with jubilant Iraqis shaking their
fists, were beamed around the world and shocked the United States. Some
military experts view the Falluja incident, which prompted a massive U.S.
retaliatory assault on Falluja, as a turning point in the war.

The suit, for fraud and wrongful death, alleges that Blackwater broke
explicit terms of its contract with the men -- Stephen (Scott) Helveston,
Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona -- by sending them to escort a
food convoy in unarmored cars, without heavy machine guns and in teams that
lacked even a map.

The suit against Halliburton stems from the April 2004 ambush of a convoy of
fuel trucks near Abu Ghraib in which six drivers working for a company
subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root were killed and 11 injured. In September,
a federal judge in Houston threw out the suit, saying his court had no
jurisdiction because the decision to send the convoy had been "interwoven
with Army decisions."

"The effect of this ruling is ... a legal gray zone in which Halliburton and
KBR can act in any manner they chose," said T. Scott Allen, attorney for the
families. "We will appeal."

A few days after the Houston decision, a U.S. appeals court in Raleigh,
North Carolina, rejected a Blackwater petition for a rehearing of an appeal
to have the case moved from a state court in Moycock where the company is
based, and have it adjudicated by the Department of Labor, which decides
Defense Base Act claims in the first place.

"The decision was clear: jurisdiction of this case rests with the state
court," said Dan Callahan, one of the attorneys for the families of the four
killed in Falluja. "This paves the way for holding Blackwater liable and
establish guidelines and accountability for contracting firms operating
abroad."

Where the case comes to be heard has enormous monetary implications: There
is no cap on punitive damages in a state court and past judgments have
reached staggering heights. Callahan, for example, won a $934 million jury
verdict in a 2003 corporate litigation in California.

The Base Defense Act provides for maximum death benefits of $4,123.12 a
month.
 


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