KBR’s own Memos Undermine Defense-Good Friday Massacre
KBR Memos May Undermine Defense in Iraq-Convoy Suits
By Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk
April 20 (Bloomberg) — KBR Inc., the largest U.S. military contractor in Iraq, sent six civilian drivers to their deaths in a battle zone in April 2004 hours after warnings of escalating violence, according to families of the men suing the company.
Company officials said in court filings and in an interview that they were required under the terms of their contract with the U.S. Army to send out the fuel convoys. Undermining that argument, KBR officials warned of danger to the unarmed drivers and said the contractor was within its rights to call off the fuel runs, according to memos and e-mails filed by the families in Houston federal court.
KBR’s Iraq project manager said in 2003 that supervisors could “stop any activity which you believe to be unsafe,” according to the documents. Tom Crum, the top Middle East company executive, wrote on the day of the attacks, April 9, 2004, that “we will refuse” to expose drivers to unacceptable risk. The documents were filed as part of three lawsuits over the deaths and injuries of 19 drivers.
“We need to work with the army without a doubt, relative to stopping convoys,” Crum wrote after the convoys had started, in an e-mail filed with U.S. District Judge Gray Miller. “But if we in management believe the army is asking us to put our KBR employees in danger that we are not willing to accept then we will refuse to go.”
Crum added that Houston-based KBR “cannot allow the army to push us to put our people in harm’s way.”
KBR argues that only the Army had the information to decide whether convoys were safe, and the company was forced to rely on that intelligence. The families are seeking unspecified damages in the three lawsuits before Miller.
Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Mark Ballesteros, at the multinational force command in Iraq, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Halliburton Co., from which KBR was spun off in 2006, is also a defendant. It will ask to be dropped from the litigation, company spokeswoman Cathy Mann said by e-mail April 17. She declined to comment on the merits of the suits, saying Houston- based Halliburton, the world’s second-largest oilfield-services provider, isn’t responsible for anything alleged in the cases.
KBR officials debated what to do as 28 KBR employees were killed and injured April 8 and 9, 2004, the one-year anniversary weekend of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s fall. Fuel convoys, some more than two miles long, were attacked by insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and roadside bombs.
The company argued it couldn’t refuse an Army order to roll in court papers and an interview with Chief Executive Officer William Utt.
“The Army determines where we go, when we go and the route we take,” Utt said last week. “And we don’t have the ability to say no.”
KBR’s Iraq military project manager ordered company drivers to deliver fuel among bases near Baghdad International Airport because he relied on the Army’s promise that it could protect the drivers, Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said April 16.
“KBR can delay or stop the deployment of a convoy when we determine that the level of force protection provided by the military is less than what was originally promised to us or originally determined by the Army as necessary,” Browne said in a statement.
On whether the e-mails contradict KBR’s defense that it had no choice about sending the convoys, she said, “No civilian contractor is privy to the level of exact intelligence the military has prior to making the decision to run a convoy. The Army solely determines if threat conditions on supply routes are too dangerous to deploy a convoy.”
Craig Peterson, an Army brigadier general before taking over KBR’s military-contract operation in Iraq and Kuwait, made the same case to colleagues after the first day of attacks.
“Only the army leadership can stop convoy movements,” he wrote on April 8. That prompted the message from Crum saying “we will refuse” if necessary.
Peterson said after the second day of attacks he was ordering trucks off the roads.
“No KBR convoys will move tomorrow, 10th April 2004,” he e-mailed his bosses and security personnel. “I will inform the military chain of command.”
Peterson declined through his lawyer to be interviewed for this story.
A January 2003 memo circulated to the contract team members says KBR puts employee safety ahead of its contract obligations.
Stop Unsafe Action
“There is not one thing that we do that is worth injury to an employee,” John Downey, then the project general manager, wrote on Jan. 22, 2003. “Each of you has my personal authority to stop any activity which you believe to be unsafe.”
Professor Jonathan Turley at George Washington University Law School said KBR isn’t required to put its people “in a clearly dangerous situation.”
“If there was no forewarning and no intelligence, these drivers would be in a very difficult position in suing KBR,” Turley said. “In this case, the information suggests that they were clearly driving into harm’s way. To send civilian trucks into an area of active combat speaks of gross negligence.”
After one driver was killed and several injured by militants on April 8, 2004, George Seagle, Middle Eastern security director for KBR’s government-contracting operations, suggested stopping all convoys until they could be made safer.
‘Another Bad Day’
“I say we halt them for a day at least and consider it a safety/security stand-down,” Seagle wrote to supervisors and fellow security officers. “There is tons of intel stating tomorrow will be another bad day.”
After the second day’s attacks, Ray Rodon, the deputy project manager, sent a message to his boss saying he “directed” that no trucks roll the next day.
“I asked that we do this yesterday, and was overridden,” he wrote. “Today was worse than yesterday. Body count not in yet from fuel convoy.”
Some drivers who sued say KBR promised them non-combat jobs like delivering supplies and laundry when they were recruited to work in Iraq, according to their lawyer Scott Allen of Houston.
“People always say these guys knew what they were getting into when they signed up to work in Iraq,” Allen said last week in an interview.
His clients “were hired right after President Bush declared victory,” Allen said. “They were told they were going over to engage in civilian reconstruction work and would not be sent into combat.”
The court documents describe an anguished week-long debate among managers responsible for the drivers as ominous intelligence reports were followed by outbreaks of violence.
Keith Richard, top transportation manager of KBR’s Iraq transport division, voiced alarm April 8 when the Army ordered drivers to leave a safe haven north of the airport and convoys were already under attack.
“I am starting to question their decisions,” Richard wrote his supervisors and colleagues. “Our guys are not armed and we cannot rely on the military to protect us.”
“It is only a matter of time before we take serious casualties,” Rodon, the deputy project manager, wrote back. “We need to be sensitive to the overall mindset of the drivers, as they are civilians in a full-up conflict. Don’t know how much they can take without walking away.”
Later that night, Richard said convoys wouldn’t go out the next day if the roads were too dangerous and that he had asked security managers for additional intelligence.
To Lose Drivers
“Another day like today and we will lose most of our drivers,” he wrote.
Richard an hour later retracted his decision to keep the drivers off the road. “If the military pushes, we push,” he wrote.
Seagle, the regional security director, urged management to put driver safety ahead of contract fulfillment.
“Understand the pressure and think we will get people injured or killed tomorrow,” he wrote shortly before midnight April 8. “I am only recommending, and the decision is the project general manager’s. Big politics and contract issues involved and I understand.”
The convoy attacks of April 8 and 9 marked the start of an Iraqi insurgency that to date has claimed the lives of 40 KBR employees.
Browne, the KBR spokeswoman, said the attacks were an “obvious escalation” that led Peterson to “inform the Army that KBR would not participate in any further convoy missions until the Army upgraded its agreed-upon force protection.”
Once security was improved, KBR convoys went back out again, she said.
KBR is seeking court permission to tell jurors the Army shares responsibility for deaths and injuries to the drivers.
A military investigation of the convoy attacks produced a report that hasn’t been made public. The probe “demonstrates that the conduct of the United States was a legal cause in fact of the injuries to the plaintiffs,” KBR lawyer Robert Meadows said in court papers in January.
Allen, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told the judge in February the report was on “an investigation about the Army.”
“The Army report is not in any regard an investigation into the events at KBR,” he said.
A trial is set for March of next year.
The cases include Fisher v. Halliburton, 05-cv-01731 U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at email@example.com; Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: April 20, 2009 18:41 EDT (Click HERE for original article)