[Marxism] Blowing the whistle on murder
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
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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