E-mails indicate KBR officials expected casualties

November 19, 2009 9:14:17 AM PST
Officials with contractor KBR were concerned about possible casualties but still sent a convoy of fuel trucks through an Iraq combat zone where an ambush killed six of the civilian drivers, according to e-mails presented in court. The e-mails sent the night before the attack, many of which were under seal in the court for the past year, were presented in a hearing Wednesday to determine whether a jury should hear three lawsuits against KBR. Two injured drivers and relatives of one of those killed allege KBR put profit above life. The company says it was acting on the basis of military decisions not subject to civilian courts.

In one e-mail, George Seagle, director of security for KBR government operations, suggested KBR halt the convoys that were set for the first anniversary of the day Baghdad fell in the U.S.-led invasion.

"There is tons of intel stating tomorrow will be another bad day," Seagle wrote. He said that he understood the pressures of big politics and contract issues might cause the convoys to be sent out anyway, but "we will get people injured or killed tomorrow."

On the day of the ambush but before it happened, Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation in Iraq, e-mailed KBR's Houston headquarters saying: "we need to expedite the hiring of drivers. We need drivers in theater soon."

The drivers were delivering fuel under a multibillion-dollar contract for KBR to transport supplies, build bases, serve meals and provide other logistical support services for American troops.

The plaintiffs argue that KBR and its former parent, Halliburton Co., put profit above life. They say that drivers were promised safety, but their supervisor put them in harm's way to show the civilian company could handle tough jobs.

"They were sacrificed for the profit of KBR," said Tommy Fibich, whose client is still in a coma.

KBR lawyers argued that the e-mails are beside the point and that the case should be thrown out. The military and the civilian company were intertwined and federal law prohibits courts from second-guessing military decisions, they say.

"While KBR of course knew about the threats, the company ultimately relied on the judgments and representations of the military," KBR attorney Ray Biagini told U.S. District Judge Gray Miller.

Miller earlier threw out the lawsuits on the grounds that the court could not try a case questioning wartime military decisions. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the cases back, ruling it may be possible to try them without reviewing the military's decision-making.

Biagini argued that nothing has changed since the appellate court's decision. The plaintiffs argued a jury should hear the case because the e-mails show that KBR bosses did know drivers would be injured or killed.

Miller could throw out the case or could remove Halliburton as a defendant. Halliburton argues it is improperly named in the suit and it had no control over the events. If Miller lets the case stand, it is scheduled for trial in May.


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