Congressmen: Iraq lawless like the Wild West

 

Jamie Leigh Jones appears before a House subcommittee Wednesday looking into her rape allegations.

CNN | Dec 20, 2007

(CNN) — Government contractors in Iraq face lawlessness reminiscent of America’s Wild West of the 1800s, lawmakers said Wednesday at a House hearing into a contractor’s rape allegations.

“We need a new sheriff in Iraq to enforce federal laws,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, while testifying in support of Jamie Leigh Jones, a constituent of his who alleges that fellow employees raped her while she worked for KBR Inc. two years ago in Iraq.

No government entity has stepped up to look out for Jones’ interests in the case or to ensure that the constitutional rights of contract employees are protected, congressmen said.

Jones, appearing before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, said sexual harassment is an overwhelming problem among contractors in Iraq and that “the laws have left us nowhere to turn.”

“Jamie’s case is not unique,” Poe said, adding that three other former KBR employees have come forward with allegations of rape and sexual assault in Iraq. “For American contractors, Iraq seems reminiscent of the Old West days,” he said.

Rep. Artur Davis, D-Alabama, said contractors are given a blank check to commit crimes in Iraq.

“The wrongdoers know very well that they’re not going to be prosecuted,” Davis said.

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-California, called the government’s response to Jones’ allegations “totally unacceptable.”

“This sounds like the way we handled sexual assault cases 50 years ago,” Lungren said.

Committee members ripped the Justice Department for not appearing at the hearing, where a chair at the witness table was left empty for a department employee.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, said questions the committee put to Jones about her case at Wednesday’s hearing should have been handled by a Justice Department representative.

“I’m embarrassed that the Department of Justice can’t even come forward,” Conyers said. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee vowed to hold more hearings into the case.

Jones is suing her former employer, Halliburton Co., and its former subsidiary, KBR Inc.; her alleged attackers; and the U.S. government.

Jones’ federal lawsuit claims that a KBR representative, after an alleged gang rape, placed her in a trailer without access to food, water or a phone with which to call her family.

Later, according to the lawsuit, KBR officials gave Jones two options: Stay and “get over it,” or return home without the “guarantee” of a job in return.

Jones’ allegations are “without merit,” KBR said.

“KBR remains committed to providing a safe working environment for all employees,” the company said in a statement.

Jones’ lawsuit said the alleged rape was the culmination of mistreatment that included being forced into a sexual relationship with a supervisor. The suit also said the assault “never would have occurred but for the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that permeated the environment.”

Jones said earlier this week that the alleged rape occurred on her fourth night in Iraq at the U.S.-controlled Camp Hope in Baghdad. She said she had met with some co-workers, one of whom gave her a drink. She said she believes it was laced with the date-rape drug Rohypnol.

“After two drinks, I went blank,” Jones said.

The woman said she awoke the next morning, still feeling the effects of the drug, with bruises on her inner thighs, stomach and wrists.

“I was hurting so bad,” Jones said. Video Watch Jones describe what she says happened »

A U.S. Army medic treated her, Jones said, and then called KBR security. She was taken to an Army hospital.

“They confirmed that I was raped in more ways than one,” Jones said. A rape kit was completed and turned over to KBR security, she added.

Jones’ attorney, Todd Kelly, said Monday that KBR has not made the rape kit evidence available.

KBR said it responded to Jones’ allegations by placing her in a secure facility, with a company representative offering her counseling, food and an opportunity to call her parents.

Jones calls that assertion “extremely inaccurate.”

“The HR woman did not let me get food, she did not let me get a drink, and she did not let me get a cell phone,” Jones said.

Jones said a security guard provided her with a cell phone, which she used to call her father. Her father then contacted Poe, her congressman, “to get me out of Iraq,” Jones said.

In a statement, KBR said it investigated Jones’ allegations but was “instructed to cease by government authorities because they were assuming sole responsibility for the criminal investigations.”

The Justice Department has said it is investigating the case but will not comment further on it, according to The Associated Press.

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