Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Above the Law

While the Blackwater case has been highly publicized for shooting Iraqi civilians, the media has been strangely quiet on the issue of violence against women working in Iraq, American women working for American contractors.

The New York Times today highlights a few cases of women working for KBR contractors in Iraq who were sexually assaulted. It's just one more reminder that sexism and sexual discrimination is alive and well.

Many of the same legal and logistical obstacles that have impeded other types of investigations involving contractors in Iraq, like shootings involving security guards for Blackwater Worldwide, have made it difficult for the United States government to pursue charges related to sexual offenses. The military justice system does not apply to them, and the reach of other American laws on contractors working in foreign war zones remains unclear five years after the United States invasion of Iraq.

KBR and other companies, meanwhile, have required Iraq-bound employees to agree to take personnel disputes to private arbitration rather than sue the companies in American courts. The companies have repeatedly challenged arbitration claims of sexual assault or harassment brought by women who served in Iraq, raising fears among some women about going public with their claims.

The issue gained national attention when Jamie Leigh Jones, a 23-year-old former employee of KBR, testified at a Congressional hearing in December that she had been gang-raped by co-workers in Iraq in 2005. She appeared again on Tuesday and talked in detail about the episode, urging lawmakers to make it easier for crime victims to sue employers.

Victims of crime perpetrated by employees of taxpayer-funded government contracts in Iraq deserve the same standard of treatment and protection governed by the same laws whether they are working in the U.S. or abroad,” she said.

I find it appalling that these contractors in Iraq are not subject to US criminal laws. Why are there no rules to govern these mercenary workers? I similarly object to the fact that the US will not allow its citizens to be tried for war crimes in the Hague.

There is a sentiment that exists, particularly among followers of the Right, that Americans are superior to all other nations and by virtue of their citizenship are exempt from the same rules that apply to all others. These rapes and assaults should be punished by the same rules that punish companies that sexually harass and assault their workers on US soil. Just because this American company is operating in a no-man's-land where law has barely taken root doesn't mean they are above the laws that govern them at home.

This is one more example of the ill-effects of this war. I hope fervently that our next president will help to end the madness.

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