Halliburton Plays Patriotism Card for Legal Immunity

By Laurie Beacham, Communications Director, Center for Justice and Democracy


Here at the Center for Justice & Democracy, it seems the efforts to strip injured citizens of their legal rights is unending, and comes in all shapes and sizes.  But sometimes even we're shocked. This time it is courtesy of Halliburton.


Halliburton's subsidiary KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root) is reportedly the largest US military contractor in Iraq. Halliburton has been accused of overcharging the government for food, transportation, fuel and even recreational services. But it gets worse.


Former Halliburton employees told a Senate subcommittee hearing on September 18 that the company knowingly places unarmed civilian truck drivers into violent war zones in Iraq. The hearing addressed claims made in a lawsuit by families of Halliburton employees killed or injured in a 2004 ambush of its fuel convoy on a road near Abu Ghraib prison on April 9, 2004. The tragic event has come to be known as the "Good Friday Massacre." Six KBR drivers were killed, one is presumed dead, and 26 employees were injured.

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Fighting Back Against the Attacks on Legal Services

Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog


by Laura K. Abel & David Pedulla, The Brennan Center for Justice


We're going to use this space each month to discuss events affecting the ability of low-income people to access the courts.  Our first post, and many others, will focus on civil legal aid programs, which represent low-income people in cases concerning child custody, eviction, public benefits and other basic human needs.  These programs play an essential role in ensuring that low-income people are able to go to court to defend their rights.  They also play a crucial role in helping the courts satisfy their mandate of providing equal justice for all.


Proving the maxim that no good turn goes unpunished, a legal aid program that for decades has represented rural Californians is being forced to fight for its very survival.  Earlier this month, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. ("CRLA") came under attack from the Legal Services Corporation's Office of the Inspector General.

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Federal and NYC Governments Make It as Hard As Possible for 9/11 Victims

Every time I write about how the response to the 9/11 illnesses caused
by exposure to Ground Zero are being handled in a way which follows a
profits over safety model and the tort "reform" movement, it is harder
to believe that it is actually happening.

But it is happening. It is very much happening.

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Congress Rejects Aid For Sick 9/11 Responders: Puts Financial Safety Over Human Safety

Yesterday, Republican Senators blocked Senator Clinton's proposal to fund almost 2 billion for medical treatment for sick 9/11 responders. As reported in NYC's Daily News:

Senate leaders invoked parliamentary rules, saying Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) amendment to a measure funding port security was not "germane." - NY Daily News

As I have repeatedly explained this past week (1,2,3), the federal government's response to the environmental effect of the WTC Ground Zero site almost precisely follow the profits over safety business model sometimes adopted by corporations.

This recent denial of comprehensive funding by the Senate further supports this characterization of the governmental response. In the wake of 9/11, federal officials downplayed and affirmatively misrepresented the danger of exposure to the WTC Ground Zero site.

I have previously gone into detail about just how reckless federal officials' conduct appears to have been. Others have also provided additional details. Congressmembers are urging criminal that charges be brought against Christine Todd Whitman, the Bush appointed former EPA chief who made the most forceful public misrepresentations that the site was safe. Indeed, A NY federal court recently found that her conduct "shocked the contemporary conscience" and waived the usually granted governmental immunity.

In short, it is clear that federal officials misrepresented the danger at ground zero, and I and others have argued that they did so, at least in large part, to save money.

So, after it is clear beyond a doubt that government officials are responsible for knowingly endangering the public health, this same federal government refuses to pay for the effects of its error.

Why?

How can you not pay to undue a wrong that you committed? Clearly, the EPA can't blame anybody else. Christine Todd Whitman said, and I quote:

"As we continue to monitor air and drinking water in and around New York City, and as EPA gets more comprehensive analysis of this monitoring data, I am relieved to be able to reassure New York and New Jersey residents that a host of potential contaminants are either not detectable or are below the Agency's concern levels....Results we have just received on drinking water quality show that not only is asbestos not detectable, but also we cannot detect any bacterial contamination, PCBs or pesticides."Christine Todd Whitman Sept. 21, 2001.

Even while her agency's own testing directly contradicted that statement.

In her more than 80 page decision, Federal Judge Deborah Batts denied Whitman immunity against the class action lawsuit and said:

"No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws....The allegations in this case of Whitman's reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks are without question conscience-shocking."

What about the usual conservative mantra of personal responsibility?

What about governmental responsibility?

No, it's too expensive.

As I have said before, this approach to governance follows the profits over safety business model currently being advanced by the tort "reform" movement. An alternative description of this model can be "the political economy of the tort 'reform' movement."

This model is described in detail here, but a summarized version is below.

In short, an entity which makes a decision on account of profits or savings which it knows will likely endanger human life.

However, when human health and well being is negatively affected as the entity knew was likely to occur, this entity cries foul and says that righting this wrong (even if a worthy cause) would be "too expensive."

In denying this 1.9 billion in federal funding for treatment of 9/11 responders, the Republican controlled Congress did exactly that.

I'm tired of hearing about personal responsibility.

Let's talk about collective responsibility.

Let's talk about a responsibility to some of our nation's greatest heroes, as well as to all Americans who are put in harm's way by the reckless choices of government officials.

Let's talk about putting human safety..... over financial safety.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about or working on these types of civil justice issues, please feel free to contact me at cdugger@drummajorinstitute.org.

Cyrus Dugger
Senior Fellow in Civil Justice
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

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Devalued Suffering & The Problematic Aspects Of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

In the wake of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 we all have a lot of remembering to do.

First and foremost, we must remember the lives we lost on that horrible day.

Second, and perhaps at this point, even more urgently, we need to remember and take steps to assist those first responders, cleanup workers, and downtown residents who have become sick from exposure to the contaminants released by the WTC site.

However, after remembering these two points, we should also think further about the larger implications of the 9/11 attacks, and our nation's response to them. In the days before, the day of, and the days after the fifth anniversary, many commentators have and will focus on the national security and political undertones and implications of this anniversary.

Which political party and which politicians are using the anniversary to their advantage? How will these tactics affect the midterm elections? Are we safer as a nation?

Despite the importance of these questions, there is another "political" aspect to 9/11 that has as yet received little attention in the media. This issue is the tort "reform" aspects of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund ("VCF").

Although many critiques of it have been made, the VCF was in many ways beneficial to victims' families. The VCF allowed suffering families to get immediate financial compensation for their losses. In rendering speedy compensation, the fund may have helped families avoid a heartbreaking and drawn out litigation process.

At the same time, the VCF is unprecedented in that although it was primarily portrayed as humanitarian relief for victims families, it primarily served as a liability shield for airlines which was paid for by American taxpayers.

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Diaries

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