12.24.2007

more on jamie leigh jones's struggle for justice

If you haven't been following the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, the young woman who was gang-raped by KBR employees in Iraq, here's an update.

Last week, the US Department of Justice couldn't be bothered to attend a hearing on Jones's case.
The Department of Justice refused to send a representative to answer questions from Congress today on the investigations into allegations of rape and sexual assault on female American contractors.

"I'm embarrassed that the Department of Justice can't even come forward," said the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers, D-Mich.

"This is an absolute disgrace," said Conyers. "The least we could do is have people from the Department of Justice and the Defense over here talking about how we're going to straighten out the system right away."

Among the witnesses who testified today was Jamie Leigh Jones, who appeared on "20/20" last week.

Jones, now 23, says that after she'd been raped by multiple assailants in her room at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, she was warned by company officials that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.

To date there has been no prosecution of the men who Jones says gang-raped her.

Jones' congressman, Ted Poe, R-Texas, also testified at the hearing and told the committee how he has not been given any answers as to the status of the investigation by DOJ or the State Department.

"The Department of Justice has not informed Jamie or me of the status of a criminal investigation against her rapist if any investigation exists," Poe said today. "It is interesting to note that the Department of Justice has thousands of lawyers but not one from the barrage of lawyers is here to tell us what if anything they are doing. Their absence and silence speaks volumes about the hidden crimes in Iraq. Their attitude seems to be one of blissful indifference to American workers in Iraq," said Poe.

Jones told Congress that it wasn't until after she was interviewed by "20/20," that an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida questioned her about her case.

While the DOJ is ignoring the case, many women have been paying close attention. Jones's courage has inspired other women to come forward about the sexual assault and harassment they endured while working for KBR in Iraq.
A woman who claims she was raped by a fellow employee while working for a U.S. contractor in Iraq told House lawmakers Wednesday that her case is far from unique.

A Texas congressman agreed, saying several other women have come forward with reports of sexual harassment and assault while employed in Iraq for Halliburton's former subsidiary, KBR.

The women have given lawyers and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, accounts similar to the allegations of Jamie Leigh Jones of Conroe, Texas, who says she was raped in July 2005 by a co-worker who drugged her. She said she awoke groggy and confused the next morning, bleeding and bruised. She said a KBR representative kept her in a shipping container for a day so she wouldn't report the assault.

"This problem goes way beyond just me," Jones told the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

Poe said three women — including Tracy Barker, who submitted written testimony of her account and was at the hearing — had contacted him.

The Associated Press does not usually identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Jones and others named here have made their identities public.

Ten others reported their stories through a foundation Jones began to help women with similar experiences.

These stories should come as no surprise, as all reports from Iraq paint a picture of a violent, lawless world, where only force matters and brutality is the order of the day. In an atmosphere of rogue warfare, women will always suffer.

But why has Jones been unable to get justice at home? Stockwell Day recently told us that the US is a democratic country that supports the rule of law. (That's also the Harper government's principal excuse for not granting asylum to AWOL US soldiers.) So even if she endured a violent assault "over there", she should be able to access that lawful, democratic system back "here". Right?

Well, no. Stephanie Mencimer, writing in Mother Jones, explains.
Cheney Justice?

Why can't Jamie Leigh Jones, who says she was raped in Iraq by her coworkers at Haliburton's KBR, sue her former employer for damages? Ask Dick Cheney.

On Wednesday, Jamie Leigh Jones told a House Judiciary Committee her now-famous story about having been allegedly drugged and gang-raped two years ago by several coworkers shortly after arriving in Iraq as a contractor for KBR, an engineering and construction firm contracted with the military to provide logistical support to the troops. Jones' story has prompted widespread outrage, partly because the Justice Department and the military failed to prosecute her attackers, but also because it appears that Jones can't sue KBR for placing her in harm's way.

When Jones went to work for KBR in Texas, and later for its subsidiary, Overseas Administrative Services, she signed contracts containing mandatory binding arbitration clauses, which required her to give up her right to sue the companies and any right to a jury trial. Instead, the contracts forced Jones to press her case through private arbitration, which she did in 2006. In that forum, the company that allegedly wronged her pays the arbitrator who is hearing the case. For that she can thank Dick Cheney.

At the time of the alleged attack on Jones, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the behemoth military-contracting and oil-technology firm. (KBR was sold off earlier this year.) So Jones is covered by the Halliburton dispute-resolution program, which was implemented when Cheney was Halliburton's CEO. The system bears the markings of Cheney's obsession with secrecy and executive power. On his watch, Halliburton, in late 1997, made it more difficult for its employees to sue the company for discrimination, sexual harassment, and other workplace-related issues.

One day, Halliburton sent all its employees a brochure explaining that the company was implementing a new dispute resolution system. The company sold the new program as an employee perk that would create an "open door" policy for bringing grievances to management and as a forum for resolving disputes without expensive and lengthy litigation. In practice, it meant that anyone who had a legitimate civil-rights or personal-injury claim signed away his or her constitutional right to a jury trial. Anyone who showed up for work after getting the brochure was considered to have agreed to give up his or her rights, regardless of whether the employees had actually read it. In 2001, the conservative and pro-business Texas Supreme Court overturned two lower courts to declare that this move was legal.

Dallas lawyer John Wall has something of a franchise suing Halliburton on behalf of employees in civil-rights and other workplace cases. He says there hasn't been a year since 1986 that he hasn't had at least one case against Halliburton. He's represented dozens of the company's employees and won numerous settlements and jury trials in civil lawsuits against the company. The reason, he says, is that Halliburton targets "the old, the injured, and the ill" when it makes layoff decisions, and it has a history of firing people for making workers compensation claims. Under the arbitration process, he says, Halliburton has fared much better, winning many more cases. When it loses, he says, the company pays significantly lower damages, which he says rarely exceed $50,000.

. . .

This week, I asked the American Arbitration Association (AAA), which handles many of Halliburton's arbitrations, if I could review all the complaints filed against the company by its employees in arbitration over the past three years—complaints that would be public if they had been filed in a courthouse. I received the following response:

"The AAA adheres to strict Standards of Ethics and Business Conduct, guided by our core values of Integrity, Conflict Management, and Service. As part of these ethical standards, we avoid any conflicts of interest that may jeopardize our impartiality. The AAA's rules protect the confidentiality of the arbitration process by restricting the disclosure of information related to cases filed with the AAA by AAA employees and arbitrators."

When I protested, noting that simply releasing the complaints would not affect anyone's impartiality, an AAA spokesperson sent me to Richard Naimark, a senior vice president at the company. He explained that while arbitrations aren't necessarily confidential—though many are—they are technically owned by the two parties, who can release the information if they want to, but AAA cannot. Naimark insisted that employees like the confidential nature of arbitration. "Americans value their privacy," he said.

Rather than privacy, employment lawyers routinely say that most employees they represent crave a jury trial. Texas lawyer Barbara Gardner challenged the way Halliburton forced arbitration on its employees, but, after losing the case in 2001 before the Texas Supreme Court, she has taken a dim view of mandatory arbitration in employment contracts. "Employees don't fare very well in arbitration," she says "It's not a level playing field. It's all set up to make sure the employer wins." Her firm will no longer handle employment cases forced into private arbitration because they are considered so hopeless.

You can read the rest of this excellent story here.

So on one hand we have a lawless frontier where anything goes (as long as its perpetrated by Americans), and on the other, a bought-and-sold "justice" system covering it up. I keep thinking of movies about South American countries after a military coup.

* * * *

One last note on Jamie Leigh Jones.

I'm painfully aware - and I don't choose the word "painful" as a figure of speech - that for Iraqi victims of the US occupation, there exists not even the attempt at justice for which Jones fights. No Congresspeople campaign on behalf of Iraqi rape victims. No American lawyers are defending the Iraqi men and boys who are swept up in the daily raids - and then disappear.

In no way do I imply that Jamie Leigh Jones is somehow the worst casualty or the "biggest victim" of this awful war.

But she doesn't have to be. It's not a contest.

Jamie Leigh Jones's pain is real. She was drugged, gang-raped and held prisoner, and the government of her own country protects her assailants. The suffering of Iraqi women under the same occupation doesn't make that any less traumatic. Our sympathy for Jones shouldn't blind us to Iraqis' pain, but surely that equation shouldn't work in reverse.

2 comments:

Godammitkitty said...

Thanks so much for the updates, and for your extremely thoughtful post.

Best wishes to you!
GDK

L-girl said...

Thank you, GDK! And thanks so much for the link at Hope and Onions. All best to you too.