Halliburton Rolled In Money Over Drivers' Dead Bodies, Then Asked Survivors to Sign Away Their Rights to Sue for a Medal

Apart from the withering criticism from the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, with a Pentagon rubber-stamp in its hand and no Truman Committee (or any Congressional committee) willing to subpoena them, the only time Halliburton and other war profiteers have been forced to respond to their critics has been when they have been forced into court.

Even then, the Bush administration has thrown up some serious roadblocks, according to Alan Grayson, an attorney who has represented dozens of whistleblowers in cases brought against contractors who have defrauded the government.

The Civil False Claims Act was established after the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln denounced the war profiteers of his day:

"Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the Nation, while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the South, and their countrymen moldering the dust."

Seven score and three years later, Grayson says the Bush Administration has held up dozens of False Claims Act cases by sitting on them for nearly three years, even though the Act provides just 60 days for the administration to determine if it will join the suit, or let the whistleblowers go it alone on behalf of U.S. taxpayers. Only two False Claims Act cases have been allowed to proceed, while dozens molder on a desk at the Department of Justice.

While Justice tries to keep taxpayers in the dark (the names of the companies remain under seal as long as Justice refuses to act), we got another hint of who and what's at issue yesterday when Senator Byron Dorgan and the Democratic Policy Committee held their TENTH hearing on the Iraq war profiteering, with a new set of whistleblowers that have come forward. (If you didn't see the hearings on C-SPAN, you can catch most of the witnesses in Robert Greenwald's new movie, Iraq for Sale).

The issue this time: Why Halliburton chose to send convoys of fuel delivery trucks down a road where there had been an ongoing battle for two previous days - a decision that Edward V. Sanchez, a former KBR/Halliburton truck driver says cost seven of his colleagues their lives.

"One question haunts me," Sanchez told the packed room. "Why would KBR/Halliburton knowingly send unarmed non-combatant civilians in military tankers down a closed road where there was an ongoing battle, when they knew that we would be injured or killed?" Unless Sanchez and the families of the dead truck drivers get their day in court, we may never know the answer.

One of the most appalling moments during yesterday's hearing came when a memo surfaced that Halliburton had sent to its ex-employees, stating that the company would help them obtain a Secretary of Defense Medal of Freedom, which they were entitled to receive for being wounded by hostile action while serving on a government contract, if they signed and returned a medical records release form. A tacit admission by Halliburton that the Bush administration is too incompetent to figure out how to award the medals without help from their cronies?

No, as we learned at the hearing, it was a ruse. Buried in the "medical records release form" the company asked the employees to sign if they wanted the medal was a clause asking them to sign away any right to sue the company.

This despicable ploy is not the first time the company has screwed its own employees (those who came back alive) after they returned from Iraq. As Senator Dorgan noted, they've also structured their operations to escape liability. Halliburton/KBR set up a Cayman Islands subsidiary called Service Employees International, Inc., which hires many of the contract workers, making it all the more difficult for them to seek any type of compensation when they return since Cayman Islands employers are not required to abide by Texas or U.S. laws.

Meanwhile, Griff Witte at the Post reports today that the company says decisions about convoy activity are out of its hands. "The U.S. military has command and control of all KBR convoys in Iraq . . . and is required to provide security for KBR's employees through the company's contract with the Army," the company said in a statement obtained by Witte.

Well if that's true, one might ask, then why would the company resort to ham-handed ruses designed to get the employees to sign away their rights to sue?

T. Scott Allen Jr., the attorney representing the drivers and their families says that, in fact, the statement is flatly untrue. At the hearing he stated: "In short, under [Halliburton's contract] although the Army can certainly request Halliburton/KBR to supply truck drivers to deliver goods, including fuel, between various locations in Iraq, it is Halliburton/KBR, not the Army, who has the authority, and more importantly the responsibility to ensure that their employees do not drive trucks in areas of known combat."

Sean A. Larvenz, another former Halliburton driver who testified at the hearing about traveling in another convoy on the day of the attacks, said he notified his bosses at Halliburton after getting fired on by insurgents, but Sanchez's convoy was sent later that day.

Why? As Larvenz said, "As long as the trucks rolled," he told senators, "they got paid."

To learn more about yesterday's hearing and other Halliburton misdeeds, go to HalliburtonWatch.org

And be sure to learn more about what Sanchez had to go through by ordering a copy of "Iraq for Sale" - the new movie by Robert Greenwald.