WASHINGTON - Republicans and Democrats alike lambasted the Justice Department yesterday, charging it with failing to promptly investigate allegations that several Halliburton/KBR workers had gang-raped a fellow employee in Iraq.
Jamie Leigh Jones, of Texas, told a House Judiciary Committee panel that she had been drugged, raped and held against her will at Camp Hope, a KBR camp in Baghdad during summer 2005.
Glaring at the empty seat assigned to an absent Justice Department official, Rep. Louie Goh-mert, R-Texas, vowed to "move Justice in the right direction." Goh-mert told Jones that she was giving a voice to victims of rape.
So far, no one has been charged with attacking Jones and holding her against her will inside a storage container in Baghdad's Green Zone.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., called the lack of action an "outrage." He noted that Jones unwittingly signed an agreement when she started working for Halliburton/KBR to take all civil disputes to an arbitrator, before whom they are heard in secrecy, rather than aired in the courts. That sets up obstacles for her to get her case heard in the civil court system.
"This is an absolute disgrace," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the committee. He said the Justice Department could have at least sent an official to explain why no one has been brought to justice in the case.
Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department has given Conyers a detailed explanation of its authority to investigate and prosecute criminal misconduct involving Americans who are contract employees in Iraq.
KBR reissued a statement sent out Tuesday, saying the "safety and security of all employees remains KBR's top priority."
It would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing litigation, said Heather L. Browne, KBR's director of corporate communication. "KBR intends to vigorously defend the allegations . . . which we believe are without merit."
Jones, now 23, testified that she had taken two sips from an alcoholic drink offered by a male colleague and passed out. She said she woke up the next morning with bruises between her legs and on her wrists.
"I was bleeding severely between my legs," Jones told the panel. "At that point in time, I suspected that I had been raped."
Jones was taken to an Army hospital, where a doctor examined her and confirmed her fears. She had been "penetrated both vaginally and anally" and was "quite torn up down there."
"My heart sank on that day," said Jones, who is married to a Navy serviceman.
A female Army doctor collected DNA evidence, including vaginal swabs and scrapings from her fingernails, and placed them in a small, white box for evidence. The doctor gave the box to a KBR security officer, according to Jones, who charged that it then went missing. A State Department diplomatic security agent recovered the kit in May 2007, but the doctor's notes and photographs are now inexplicably missing, undermining any chances of bringing the case through the criminal courts.
Rep. Daniel E. Lungren, R-Calif., found it inconceivable that the evidence could disappear like that.
"I am outraged by this," Lungren said. Anyone who has ever tried a rape case knows how important the evidence is to securing a conviction, he said.
After Jones was treated, KBR security officers took her to a storage container, where she was kept under guard. Jones said she had been denied contact with the outside world and had not been given food or drink. Finally, a sympathetic guard shared his cell phone and she called her father back in Texas, who called his congressman, Ted Poe, for help.
Poe sent State Department agents to rescue her from the storage container.
"I believe he saved my life," Jones said.
She ended up leaving Iraq under the threat of losing her job and returning home to Texas to seek medical and psychiatric treatment for post traumatic stress syndrome.
Jones said she had to undergo surgery because her breasts had been disfigured in the attack and her pectoral muscles had been torn.
Poe expressed frustration that the Justice Department had failed to show up at the hearing to explain why it has failed to prosecute anyone for a crime that allegedly took place 2 1/2 years ago.
"Seems to me we need a new sheriff in Iraq," Poe said. "Those outlaws need to be rounded up."
After the hearing, Jones said she has been contacted by 11 other women who allege they were assaulted by Halliburton/KBR employees in Iraq. She has created a foundation to help these women get through the ordeal of rape.
Jones and her attorneys urged lawmakers to quickly pass legislation sponsored by Johnson that would make binding arbitration agreements ineffective.
L. Todd Kelly, one of the lawyers representing Jones, said he spent 11 years in the Marines willing to die for the freedom in America. He said he didn't spend that time to allow rape victims to be tried in a "secret star chamber" by arbitrators who are selected by Halliburton/KBR. *