Very exciting news: it has been ruled that Jamie Leigh Jones can take her rape case to trial. Jones is the woman who was raped and held hostage by coworkers while working as a KBR contractor in Iraq, only to have KBR cover up the case, “lose” the evidence and try to force her into arbitration over a hugely violent and serious crime. So far, the U.S. government has totally refused their responsibility to get involved. And even worse, Jones is only one of many women who this has happened to.
It’s hoped that this ruling will open up the door to justice for the numerous other victims who have come forward with similar stories. For this reason, of course, KBR will probably be appealing the decision.
The probability of an appeal is not the bad news, though. The bad news is that I came across the development in the Jones case while looking for further information on another. Iraqis who worked at the British Embassy (one female victim, two men who supported her claims) have alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault by KBR employees (emphasis mine).
An Iraqi cleaner and two cooks claim that a culture of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying exists at the British Embassy in Baghdad.
The middle-aged cleaner told The Times that a British contractor with KBR, the company hired to maintain the embassy’s premises, offered to double her daily pay if she would stay the night with him. When she refused, she said, her pay was cut and she was later dismissed.
The Iraqis accuse the embassy of leaving the abuse unchallenged and failing adequately to respond to complaints against several British managers for KBR. The company was allowed to conduct its own inquiry, an arrangement criticised as a very serious conflict of interest.
The complainants – the cleaner and two male cooks who worked in the embassy canteen – say that some KBR managers groped Iraqi staff regularly, paid or otherwise rewarded them for sex and dismissed those who refused or spoke out.
The British Embassy heard the complaints initially but left KBR to investigate; a KBR report found that there was no case to answer.
KBR couldn’t find anything? Well there’s the surprise of the fucking century.
Here’s a question: how many rapes have to occur before the government cuts off KBR’s contracts?
I know, it’s a ridiculous query. Of course we can’t expect the government to actually hold its contractors responsible.
In a world based on reason and justice, just a few of these kinds of allegations along with appalling insufficient responses from the company would result in the contract being voided and awarded elsewhere. But this is the good old U.S. of A., run by the Bush Administration. On a simply logistical level, when they’re hired to prop up the entire invasion of another country, an invasion that was allowed to occur under false pretenses and without the military backing needed for success, you can’t just replace Halliburton/KBR. They’re one of the few pins holding this shoddily constructed operation together. No matter how many of its employees rape coworkers, soldiers or civilians, no matter how many times the company covers up the crimes, no matter how many times they arrogantly claim “no evidence” while giving the standard “we take sexual assault claims very seriously” response. The level of corruption within the company also became seemingly irrelevant some time ago. God knows that if we can’t get the government, either the Bush Administration or Congress, to care enough about the money to get up off their asses and take some action, a few (hundred) rapes certainly aren’t going to provide the motivation.
And how can we be surprised? So long as this violence and occupation continues, hands are virtually tied — and KBR knows it. We also certainly can’t expect the U.S. government to address rape committed by its contractors when it can’t even be bothered to acknowledge the rape epidemic within its own military.
KBR is utterly unable to police itself. And the entire war machine has a vested interest in making sure that it stays that way.
Thank you to Jamie Leigh Jones for standing up to some of the world’s most powerful forces and refusing to stay silent — and to the other women and men who have also risked so much to speak out. If you want to learn more about Jones’ case and/or ways that you can help her and the other survivors, check out The Jamie Leigh Foundation.