The Bottom Line on the Halliburton Rape Cases

The Facts

The facts are despicable, criminal, worse than animal, just absolutely ugly. In 2005, 20-year-old Jamie Leigh Jones of Houston, Texas had just signed on to work in Iraq for a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), one of the private military contractors most used by the United States military. Just two days after arriving in Iraq to begin her job, a group of several of her American co-workers drugged her, gang raped her, and left her naked to wake up bleeding and in pain, still groggy from the drugs she had been slipped. Jones writes that she would eventually need surgery because “my attackers tore my pectoral muscles due to the brutality of the attack.”

When she got back from the Army doctors who told her she had been repeatedly raped “both vaginally and anally,” however, Halliburton/KBR’s immediate response was to place Jones under guard inside a shipping container where she was held for over 24 hours without food or water. KBR officials warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, “There won’t be a position here, and there won’t be a position in Houston.” Jones had to be rescued from the container by a State Department official from the Iraq U.S. Embassy, which only happened because one of Jones’ guards had pity on her and lent her a cell phone to call her father, who then contacted his congressman, who then contacted the State Department.

After two years of seeking justice for the crimes committed against her, Jones has been forced to file a civil suit because the justice department claims it can’t prosecute private military contractors in Iraq. The civil suit, however, may end up in arbitration where no public record of the proceedings is allowed under the terms of Jones’ employment contract. Jones’ case is not the only civil rape case filed against Halliburton/KBR, nor is rape of American co-workers the only instance of grossly lawless conduct by private military contractors in Iraq. Earlier this year, the private military contracting firm Blackwater was the center of a scandal when its employees were accused of murdering innocent Iraqi civilians.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot to say about this terrible state of affairs, but we have a responsibility to get to the heart of the matter. Here it is:

If we want to hold the individual rapists accountable, you have to hold the corporations they work for accountable. And if you want to hold the corporations accountable, you have to hold the corporation’s investors accountable.

This is the real bottom line of the lawless culture of Corporate America.

First, let’s be clear what we mean when we say we will hold the investors accountable. We’re not talking about jail time; we’re talking about the complete loss of their investment. We’re talking about the loss of the corporate charter and extremely high damages payments to the victims of companies that make a business of inhumanity, foster a culture of inhumanity among their employees, and then imprison the victims brutally raped by their employees during their leisure time. We’re talking about this investor and that investor waking up in New York City to find that he or she just lost 50 million dollars because Halliburton no longer exists, all its assets have been seized by the government, and the stock he owns in that corporation is no longer real.

Why should thousands of investors suffer for the lawless conduct of a few ignorant, unstable, and violent “Bad Apples”? Investors must suffer because the lawlessness of these individual criminals is a product of the lawlessness of the corporate business structure that has for too long enabled investors to benefit from criminal inhumanity. The lawlessness of the corporate business structure is built upon the financial interests of investors who come to depend on (1) receiving corporate profits, (2) not having to know the criminal, unethical, and harmful conduct that helped generate those profits, and (3) not having to risk the appropriate consequences that follow from being an accomplice after the fact to gang rape and for committing an act of kidnapping.

The question with which the Halliburton Rape Cases confront us is whether corporations should be able to retain their right to do business after participating in brutal crimes of the highest degree? It is not acceptable to avoid this question simply because so much wealth and power is invested in allowing corporations to go on “business as usual,” no matter what crimes are committed with corporate cooperation and protection.

Imagine Jamie Leigh Jones was your daughter, your sister, or your mother? Why should we treat the corporation that participated in her gang rape any differently than the individuals who were selected, conditioned, and sponsored by the corporation when they raped her? Would we find it acceptable to allow these individuals to continue living, working, profiting, enjoying their freedom as usual simply because other individuals had an interest in these individuals’ crimes being ignored?

How would you feel about the corporation that locked your daughter, sister, wife or mother in a shipping container box under threats and armed guards after being drugged and brutalized by the corporation’s employees? Would you not feel rage every time you saw that corporation continue to accumulate profits after this type of criminal conduct? Would you not feel rage every time you saw one of your daughter’s, sister’s, wife’s or mother’s rapists on the job, living free among society, after having paid a mere fine for his crimes?

Allocating Risk

In a report by the news show 20/20, correspondent Brian Ross asks the rape victim, “Weren’t you worried [about going to Iraq to work for Halliburton/KBR]?” No matter what other information Ross hoped to gain by this question, we must appreciate how seriously inappropriate the question is because it implies that the victim of the gang rape “should have known better” and was somehow responsible for the brutal attack she suffered.

It is seriously inappropriate not just because it inflicts a further wound upon the victim, but also because the risk at issue is precisely the risk that society is protecting investors from having to take responsibility. Implying that this young woman should take responsibility for this risk is absolutely unacceptable.

It is not Jamie Leigh Jones who is responsible for Halliburton/KBR’s inhumane and criminal conduct; it is the investors who own Halliburton/KBR stock. Their responsibility extends not from knowledge of how Halliburton executives were running the business, but from the fact that the investors sought to profit from whatever type of business conduct Halliburton executives chose to pursue. Such investors ought to be responsible for the risk that the executives of the company in which they are invested might through their criminal conduct cause the corporation to be sentenced to loss of its corporate charter and assets, among other penalties.

It is simply unacceptable that a corporation can participate in the gang rape of my daughter, sister, wife or mother and continue to do business. The economic fallout of such conduct may seem extreme, but it is not nearly as extreme as the inhumanity of a world ruled by corporate lawlessness.

Terminating Halliburton/KBR’s corporate charters and seizing their assets so that investors are held responsible for the high crimes of the corporations in which they invest is nothing like a “death sentence.” The corporation is not a living being.

And the living beings who invest in the corporation do not have their capacity to earn a living diminished; they do not even lose any earnings or assets derived from other sources. All they lose are the profits associated with investing in a risky criminal enterprise, which is what Halliburton/KBR have proved themselves to be.

As for the thousands of employees who depend upon the existence of Halliburton/KBR, it is in the interest of American society for its government to provide special unemployment and job retraining benefits for employees of corporations terminated for criminal conduct than to allow such corporations to continue conducting business above the law.

In recent decades, the American worker has learned that his or her job may disappear for any number of reasons handed down from the corporate headquarters: outsourcing, health insurance costs, union wages, mergers, downsizing. It would likely diminish the frequency of such announcements if now and then the reason jobs were being lost was handed down from the criminal justice system and involved even harsher penalties for the executives and investors who usually benefit when the worker loses. Don’t let protecting the worker be used as an excuse for protecting corporate investors who profit from gang rape of your daughter, sister, wife or mother.

Our corporations have for over two hundred years sponsored the evolution of a complex legal structure that protects corporations and their investors from criminal and civil liability at nearly every turn. The Halliburton Rape cases are just the latest, deeply upsetting example of this lawlessness. If they make you want to draw the line on such lawlessness, here is that bottom line we have to draw: We have to make investors suffer the consequences of risking their money on corporations run by criminals. It is not for our daughters, sisters, wives or mothers to bear that burden for the investing class in America.

Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. His blog, “MP3—My Politics and Progressive Perspective,” can be found at: http://hankedson.squarespace.com/ .

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3 Responses to The Bottom Line on the Halliburton Rape Cases

  1. Harold says:

    Hank Edson, may I forward/ share your SUPERB Article please with friends
    please? Harold http://tinyurl.com/3az3et

  2. Darrell Prows says:

    I like the thought, but am still unclear on the details of accomplishing the remedy. You’re using some language that seems geared towards RICO but I wonder if even a combination of civil and criminal RICO would be potent enough to actually reach the end result you favor. On the other hand, it seems to me like some of the jurisdictional stuff might be made easier this way.

  3. Hank Edson says:

    Harold, please share this article. I am pleased to have readers who share this perspective!

    In response to Darrell’s excellent questions, I would say that we should consider all kinds of creative ways to achieve the goal of holding corporation’s accountable for such conduct, especially ways that require us to pass new laws and new legal mechanisms capable of responding to the evolution of extremely complex global corporate activities. The points I am trying to make are general, and hopefully will inspire the kind of detailed problem solving Darrell is anticipating. The first point is that the current situation is unacceptable to a democratic society in which the people have the capacity to make the government protect their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The second point is that these huge corporations have evolved incredible sophistication and it is time for us to evolve a sophistication of our own that will put them back in their place. The hard part is that creating this sophistication may involve unsettling some pretty well established assumptions about how we do business, including those relating to limitations on risk investors in the stock market enjoy. I think it is important to think big on this topic, but assume that the task is enormous and beyond my immediate means to propose a specific mechanism for imposing the kind of risk and liability we are talking about. RICO and civil penalties are good starting points. I would love to see detailed proposals being put forward, critiqued, and refined. Thanks Darrell for calling attention to the need for this kind of specific detail.