Sept. 22, 2006 – One of the most notorious government contractors in Iraq, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, was under scrutiny again this week for allegedly overcharging US taxpayers and risking the lives of civilians.
Before a Democratic Senate committee hearing on Monday examining contracts in Iraq, former Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) employees said the company failed to protect truck drivers, sent them into dangerous conflict zones to deliver supplies and put profit over human safety.
“I was reassured by KBR/Halliburton that I was not going to be a soldier but that I was a civilian – a 'non-combatant,'" New Mexico resident Edward Sanchez wrote in testimony to the Democratic Policy Committee. “I was told that we would not be sent into battles or areas of known attack. Unfortunately, KBR/Halliburton broke that promise.”
Sanchez alleged that the company "never" provided the drivers with maps and asked people with no experience driving in a fuel truck convoy to do just that. In April 2004, Sanchez was with three of those inexperienced drivers when his convoy was attacked on the way to Baghdad International Airport.
“I heard one of the drivers crying on the radio, ‘I’m hit, I’m hit!’” Sanchez recounted. “I heard another driver screaming, ‘I’m burning!’ Then the radio went silent.”
â€œI was told that we would not be sent into battles or areas of known attack. Unfortunately, KBR/Halliburton broke that promise.â€
Sanchez himself was also shot. Six other employees were reportedly killed that day; another went missing and is presumed dead.
Calling Halliburton’s actions “criminal,” former KBR Civilian Convoy Commander Sean Larvenz testified that before Sanchez’s convoy departed, he had warned company officials of the insurgent attacks on the road to the airport.
Halliburton spokesperson Melissa Norcross told The NewStandard that 91 KBR employees and subcontractors have died in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan since 2003.
Scott Allen, an attorney representing truck drivers and their families in a pending lawsuit, provided the committee with evidence that Halliburton tried to convince at least one of its drivers to sign a waiver releasing Halliburton of liability.
Language releasing the company of liability, reviewed by TNS, was included at the bottom of a “Medical Records Release Form.” The document, and a letter accompanying it, promised that Halliburton would provide the information to the Pentagon “for the purposes of awarding the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom.”
Nevertheless, in a statement submitted to TNS by Norcross, the company stated, "It was never KBR's intention to utilize any such release to preclude claims by current or former employees against the company, and we have no intention of doing so in the future."
â€œItâ€™s not easy to stand up to Halliburton,â€ McBride told the committee. â€œAfter I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion."
Norcross would not answer a question posed by TNS about why the company put the liability language in the medical-records release form.
A third employee, Julie McBride, told lawmakers that her job as KBR’s "morale, welfare and recreation coordinator" at Camp Fallujah entailed helping the company exaggerate its costs by over-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities, like an Internet café and fitness center. "Under the contract, the more facilities, equipment, staff and administrators Halliburton can show a need for, the more profit Halliburton makes," McBride testified.
She also said Halliburton employees took supplies for their personal use and threw a Super Bowl party for themselves.
“It’s not easy to stand up to Halliburton,” McBride told the committee. “After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion. My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the US military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country.”
McBride filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Halliburton last year under the False Claims Act, which allows citizens to sue on behalf of the government for contractors engaging in fraudulent billing practices. The Justice Department announced this month that it would not join as a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was just recently unsealed.
Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) spokesperson Barry Piatt told TNS that a Halliburton representative was invited to the hearing, but did not attend.
Senator Byron Dorgan (D–North Dakota), who chairs the DPC, said this is the tenth hearing on contracting practices in Iraq. Though the committee is more than 60 years old, created under the Truman administration to conduct research and publish reports on Democratic policy issues, Dorgan and Senator Harry Reid (D–Nevada) recently expanded its mission to include oversight investigations and public hearings.
The Kuwait-based Aljadaan International General Trading Company also announced this week it was filing a lawsuit against Halliburton and KBR in a US district court in Texas.
Aljadaan alleges that several of its employees were killed or injured while doing work for KBR in Iraq during 2005. The company alleged that contracts with KBR resulted in more than $6 million in unpaid invoices and is suing KBR for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and intentionally interfering with contractual relations.
The suit also claims that corruption within KBR prevented Aljadaan from what it was contracted to do: deliver water, fuel and other supplies to US troops.
Halliburton, of which Vice President Dick Cheney was formerly CEO, has denied allegations of wrongdoing and states it fully intends to "vigorously defend" itself. The company, which has received billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, including many no-bid contracts, continues to receive contracts from the federal government, despite mounting allegations of abuses.