[Marxism] Blowing the whistle on murder

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 17 18:29:48 MST 2006

U.S. Contractor Fired On Iraqi Vehicles for Sport, Suit Alleges

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006; A20

A man who worked in Iraq for a Herndon-based security company is 
accused in a lawsuit of firing twice into Iraqi civilian vehicles 
last summer without provocation, possibly killing at least one person.

Two co-workers who witnessed the shootings say in the suit that there 
has been no investigation, even though they reported the incidents.

All three men worked for Triple Canopy, a corporation formed in 2003 
by former military men to provide security in the Middle East for the 
United States government and private companies. Triple Canopy was the 
ninth-largest contractor for the U.S. State Department in fiscal 
2005, with payments totaling more than $90 million, government records show.

That sum does not include what Triple Canopy is paid by private firms 
such as KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of 
Halliburton Co. that is involved in rebuilding in Iraq. Former Army 
Ranger Shane Schmidt, former Marine Charles L. Sheppard III and their 
shift leader were all working on an assignment for KBR when the 
shootings occurred near Baghdad on July 8, alleges the suit, filed in 
Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Schmidt and Sheppard say they reported the shootings to Triple 
Canopy. Instead of investigating, the men allege, Triple Canopy fired 
them and prevented their being hired by other companies in the Middle 
East. The lawsuit alleges wrongful termination and wrongful 
interference with their professional future.

Triple Canopy and KBR declined comment on the suit. Defense 
Department officials did not respond to numerous inquiries, and State 
Department officials said they were unaware of the incidents that are 
being alleged.

Schmidt and Sheppard allege that Triple Canopy did not report the 
shootings to KBR or the government. They say that no one has ever 
contacted them about the shootings.

In court papers, Triple Canopy has not denied that the incidents 
occurred. The company has tried to have the case dismissed on the 
grounds that no violation of Virginia law occurred and that Schmidt 
and Sheppard were "at-will" employees and could be fired for any reason.

At a hearing last month, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge M. Langhorne 
Keith said the state's "at-will" legal doctrine has exceptions, 
including "when people allege that they reported a murder, two 
murders or maybe more than two murders, conducted by a fellow 
employee, and were fired for making that report."

The lawsuit does not name the person accused of the shootings, a 
shift leader. Schmidt and Sheppard's attorney, Patricia A. Smith of 
Alexandria, declined to name the man. The case is scheduled to go to 
trial July 30.

Smith said Schmidt and Sheppard were not available for interviews 
yesterday. Schmidt lives in Herndon, and Sheppard resides in Destin, 
Fla. Both have private security jobs in this country, far removed 
from the high-adrenaline, $500-a-day work they did for years in Iraq 
and Afghanistan, Smith said.

Schmidt was a Marine from 1995 to 2003 and was one of the first 
Marines deployed to Afghanistan, Smith said. He began working for 
Triple Canopy in Iraq in 2004.

Sheppard served in the Army from 1995 to 2002, including time as a 
Ranger, and was deployed in Albania and Kosovo. He worked in Iraq and 
Qatar for other private security companies and began working for 
Triple Canopy in April.

"These guys are tremendously experienced and well-respected in the 
field," Smith said. They assert that Triple Canopy has given other 
companies false reasons for firing them.

On July 8, according to their lawsuit, Schmidt and Sheppard were 
riding with their shift leader in a convoy to pick up a KBR employee 
at the Baghdad airport.

As their vehicle approached the airport, their shift leader declared 
that he was "going to kill someone today," the lawsuit states. The 
man then stepped out of the vehicle and fired several shots from his 
M4 rifle into the windshield of a stopped truck.

Schmidt and Sheppard were horrified, Smith said. According to the 
lawsuit, the shift leader told them, "That didn't happen, understand?"

After their convoy picked up the KBR employee, the crew headed to its 
next destination. At this point, Schmidt and Sheppard allege, their 
shift leader declared, "I've never shot anyone with my pistol 
before." The man then opened his door and fired seven or eight rounds 
into the windshield of a nearby taxi. Schmidt and Sheppard later 
heard that a cabdriver was found shot to death in the area, according 
to the suit.

Schmidt and Sheppard initially hesitated to report the two seemingly 
unprovoked shootings, especially because their supervisor told them 
that they would be fired if they did, their lawsuit claims. The men 
also feared for their safety, they said.

But the next day, the shift leader was returned to the United States 
at the end of his three-month contract, Smith said. The two men 
reported the shootings, were suspended, then were fired. Smith said 
Triple Canopy told them they were fired for not reporting the 
shootings quickly enough. Schmidt asserts that when he asked who was 
investigating the incidents, Triple Canopy told him no one was investigating.

Smith said she does not know how many people might have been wounded 
or killed in the shootings. She said that Schmidt and Sheppard could 
not see into the truck that was fired on but that they did see a 
cabdriver in the second vehicle.

Attempts to oversee American contractors in Iraq, including the 
thousands who have been hired to provide security, have "gone from 
completely absent to spotty," said Peter W. Singer, a specialist in 
warfare and the Middle East at the Brookings Institution. Most 
oversight is focused on how U.S. money is spent, Singer said. But as 
to the regulating of contractors' conduct, "that part of the 
discussion is pretty much missing still."

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