As news broke of the rape of yet another US military contractor employee in Iraq [see “Another KBR Rape Case” at thenation.com], the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened a hearing April 9 to demand that the Justice Department explain why it has failed to prosecute a single sexual assault case in the theater since the Iraq War began.
“American women working in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be sexually assaulted while their assailants go free,” said Senator Bill Nelson, who called the hearing. Because squabbles about who has jurisdiction in these cases have proliferated, Nelson arranged to have representatives from the Defense, State and Justice departments sit down together in front of him. They were forced to listen while the latest victims testified.
Dawn Leamon, who worked for a subsidiary of KBR and had told her story to The Nation a week before, described–with her back to the packed room and her voice (mostly) steady–being sodomized and forced to have oral sex with a KBR colleague and a Special Forces soldier two months earlier. When she reported the incident to KBR supervisors, she met a series of obstacles, she said. “They would tell me to stay quiet about it or try to make it seem as if I brought it on myself or lied about it.”
Another woman, Mary Beth Kineston, who worked as a commercial trucker for KBR in Iraq, testified that she had been raped in the cab of her truck by a KBR subcontractor employee at night while waiting in line to fill her water tanker truck. She immediately reported the incident to her supervisors; no one did a rape kit test, referred her for medical treatment or even offered to escort her back through the dark to her quarters that night.
Also at the hearing was Jamie Leigh Jones, whose story made the news in December, when she alleged that her 2005 gang rape by Halliburton/KBR co-workers in Iraq was being covered up by the company and the government. Jones, who has formed a nonprofit to support the many other women with similar experiences, says forty employees of US contractors have contacted her with stories of sexual assault or sexual harassment–and accounts of how Halliburton, KBR and the Cayman Island-based Service Employees International Inc. (SEII), a KBR shell company, either failed to help them or outright obstructed them.
As the number of women coming forward rises, Congress has begun to question why these crimes are not being prosecuted. In fact, there are several laws on the books that would allow these cases to proceed: the problem is not a lack of legal tools but a lack of will. “There is no rational explanation for this,” says Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School who specializes in the law of armed conflict. Prosecutorial jurisdiction for crimes like the alleged rapes of Jones and Leamon is easily established under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Patriot Act’s special maritime and territorial jurisdiction provisions. But somebody has to want to prosecute the cases.