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Hillary Clinton to Ban Private Security Contractors in Iraq ? March 17, 2008

Posted by Aaron Walter in Uncategorized.
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We try to stay away from the political debate over Iraq, but this tidbit is quite topical in our ongoing discussion of the Defense Base Act (DBA). Private security contractors have been controversial addtions to the U.S.’s contractor forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on the nature of their positions in this dangerous arena, it is no surprise that a large number of these contractors have had to rely on Workers’ Compensation under the DBA. Maybe those days are numbered:

Speaking this morning, Hillary hits Obama for not ruling out continuing to use armed private contractors in Iraq. She wants to ban such contractors.

Read more from The Campaign Spot.

UPDATE: Bloomberg.com has a good article on this now.

The Pentagon has about 137,000 contract workers in Iraq, of which about 7,300 work in security. One contractor in particular, Blackwater Worldwide of Moyock, North Carolina, has come under scrutiny by Congress and the courts after a series of violent incidents involving its employees, including a 2007 shooting that killed at least 17 Iraqis.

KBR May Have Provided Tainted Water to US Troops in Iraq March 16, 2008

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And the hits keep coming for KBR. Click – KBR – in case you missed their previous antics.

US contractor may have provided tainted water to soldiers in Iraq

A spate of illnesses among US troops at several bases in Iraq may have been caused by untested and possibly tainted water supplied by a private contractor then owned by Halliburton, according to a Pentagon audit to be released today.

The inspector general of the US defence department found a rise in diarrhoea, cellulitis and skin infections reported by troops who used the polluted water for personal tasks such as shaving and laundry at US bases, including three serviced by the defence contractor KBR.

The audit said the military provided water of questionable quality at two further bases.

Until last year KBR had exclusive rights to provide food, shelter, laundry services and transport to US forces serving in Iraq. At the time of the outbreaks KBR was controlled by Halliburton, the former employer of vice president Dick Cheney.

Independent Pentagon auditors found that at camp Q-West, a base 40 miles south of Mosul, KBR added chlorine to wastewater before distributing it for personal hygiene. At another base, Camp Ar Ramadi in Anbar province, 45% of soldiers surveyed said their personal hygiene water had an unusual odour or colour. The tests were carried out between March 2004 and January 2006.

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Security Contractor Blackwater Being Investigated For Tax Evasion? March 16, 2008

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For more, see the March 12 post from the “Ataxingmatter’ Blog

House chairman asks agencies to probe Blackwater

In letters sent to the Internal Revenue Service, Small Business Administration, and Labor Department on Monday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requested investigations into whether Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor involved in the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians last year, is complying with federal tax, small business and labor laws.The committee says that Blackwater might have failed to withhold $50 million in taxes from workers’ paychecks while receiving $1.25 billion in federal contracts since 2000.”I request that the Internal Revenue Service initiate an inquiry into whether Blackwater has complied with federal tax laws and take any appropriate action,” Waxman wrote in his letter to the IRS.In March 2007, the IRS concluded that Blackwater had improperly designated security guards working in Iraq as independent contractors and not company employees to sidestep its obligation to withhold taxes on wages, Waxman said in a public statement accompanying the letters.”As a result, Blackwater obtained small business contracts without competing with other qualified bidders that properly designated their guards as employees,” said Waxman. His committee reported that Blackwater has won at least 100 small business contracts totaling more than $144 million since 2000.Waxman also said that Blackwater refused to cooperate with a Labor Department audit to determine whether the security company violated equal employment opportunity laws.
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Sad News Regarding Several Security Contractors Missing Since 2006 March 14, 2008

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This disappointing story was reported yesterday by the Washington Post:

Five Severed Fingers Identified as Belonging To Guards Held in Iraq

 “The four Crescent contractors whose fingers have been identified are Jonathon Cote, 25, of Getzville, N.Y.; Paul Reuben, 41, of Buffalo, Minn.; Joshua Munns, 25, of Redding, Calif.; and Bert Nussbaumer, 26, of Vienna, Austria. The fifth finger belonged to Ronald J. Withrow, 40, of Lubbock, Tex., a contractor and computer specialist for JPI Worldwide who was abducted Jan. 5, 2007, near Basra.”

 Our prayers go out for these men and their families.

Iraq Contractor KBR Has Dodged $500 Million in U.S. taxes March 10, 2008

Posted by Aaron Walter in Uncategorized.
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Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) sure is a piece of work.  Lets recap a week or so of posts concerning KBR.

 1. KBR has been passing along to the American taxpayer, AIG’s inflated premiums for Defense Base Act coverage, so that KBR (and other contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan) could be insulated from liability for injuries to its employees.

2. KBR is presently being sued in Federal Court for allegedly intentionally causing the deaths of six KBR truck drivers in 2004.

3. Now we discover that the 10,000+ Americans working for KBR, were really working for a Caribean company, not an American one, saving KBR as much as $100 million a year in U.S. Medicare and Social Security Taxes. By claiming its own employees, many of which were hired in Texas and shipped directly to Iraq from there, to be employees of the Cayman Islands corporation Service Employers International Inc, KBR also avoids having to pay for unemployment insurance. That means KBR employees coming home from Iraq are ineligible to recieve unemployment. I bet that wasn’t part of the orientation movie. I also bet it wasn’t part of the pitch to the Department of Defense before they were granted a no-bid contract for work in Iraq.

Fisher v. KBR – Fifth Circuit to Consider Jurisdiction Over Contractors in Iraq March 7, 2008

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The sad back story of this court case has come to be known as the “Good Friday Massacre.” Friday, April 9, 2004, hundreds of insurgents attacked a KBR convoy, killing 6 civilian drivers, injuring 14, and leaving another driver still missing to this day.

To make a long story short, KBR a former subsidiary of Halliburton has been accused of knowing that this particular convoy would be attacked, but sent these civilians into the firefight in a risky attempt to pad its bill to the Department of Defense. However, the factual arguments are on hold while a bitter fight ensues concerning jurisdictional questions.

The case, titled Fisher v. Halliburton, 454 F. Supp. 2d 637 (S.D. Tex. 2005), brings up a rarer situation than most Defense Base Act cases. The plaintiff(s) here allege that the Defense Base Act does not bar a traditional tort suit in federal court because the defendant, KBR, intentially harmed the injured and deceased drivers. The plaintiff is right, and though difficult to prove, this is a common exception in most workers’ compensation schemes, including the Defense Base Act and even the state laws here in Georgia.

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