On Wednesday, after fighting tooth-and-nail in the lower courts to keep the case from going to trial, KBR announced that it was dropping its Supreme Court appeal in the case. (The company actually withdrew its petition to the court on March 11, according to KBR spokesperson Heather Browne. This was less than two weeks after it was awarded a new $2.3 billion logistics contract by the Army.) Jones, who says she was raped by coworkers and then imprisoned in a shipping container for three days by KBR staffers who wanted to keep her complaint quiet, had been barred from pursuing her sexual harassment case in the courts by a provision in her employee contract: The fine print said all such issues must be resolved via the company’s own binding arbitration process.
I first reported on the case for The Investigative Fund, in partnership with The Nation, as part of an expose on the rash of rape and sexual harassment allegations lodged against Halliburton, KBR, and its subsidiaries. One Houston firm alone was representing more than fourteen women with similar rape or harassment complaints. But Jones, like the other women, was hit with a double-whammy of obstruction.
First, there was the contractual requirement that Jones pursue her complaint in an extralegal Halliburton dispute-resolution program implemented in 1997 under then-CEO Dick Cheney. Instead of taking their case to the US courts, employees agreed, before they were hired and shipped to Iraq, that all disputes would be resolved via the clandestine arbitration process.
Second, the US Justice Department is charged with pursuing criminal investigation of US defense contractor employees in Iraq, but seems disinclined to do so. Even though the alleged rapes took place in Iraq, they occurred on the quasi-US soil of a military base. That means the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction act and the Patriot Act’s special maritime and territorial jurisdiction provisions put the US Department of Justice in charge of prosecutions.
But the DOJ wasn’t being very aggressive in its pursuit of these crimes. At the time of Jones’s rape, approximately 180,000 American civilians were working for defense contractors there–a small city of people–and the DOJ had not convicted a single one in a violent crime.