Judge Dismisses Halliburton Suit

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 23, 2006

A federal judge in Texas yesterday threw out a lawsuit against Halliburton Co. that had been brought by survivors and the families of those killed when a fuel convoy was assaulted by insurgents outside Baghdad in April 2004.

The suit had claimed Halliburton bore responsibility because the company knew the proposed route was the scene of a pitched battle but decided to send the drivers anyway. U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller ruled that the Army had played a key role in sending the convoy and that it was not his place to second-guess that decision.

"The contracts show that the Army, not the defendants, was responsible for the security of the convoys," he wrote.

Miller, appointed by President Bush, added that the court "cannot try a case set on a battlefield during war-time without an impermissible intrusion into powers expressly granted to the Executive by the Constitution."

T. Scott Allen Jr., who represented the plaintiffs in the case, said that logic gives Halliburton carte blanche in Iraq, where it has been the United States' largest contractor.

"We disagree with the court's decision and intend to appeal," Allen said. "The way I read this decision, anything Halliburton does in Iraq is not subject to oversight or review."

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who held a Democratic Policy Committee hearing on the truck drivers' claims on Monday, said he had similar concerns. "This appears to give very broad immunity to the contractor," Dorgan said. "That's an unfortunate result from the standpoint of the rights you would expect an American citizen to have. It's very troubling."

Halliburton denied wrongdoing in the case, and it had argued it could not be sued because it was operating under orders from the Army. The company issued a statement yesterday pointing to language in the ruling saying that the court could not hear the case because it "would have to substitute its judgment for that of the Army."

Since the war began, Halliburton has been the target of frequent criticism by Democrats, who feel the company benefited unfairly from its connections to the Bush administration. Much of that criticism has focused on charges that the firm, which was once run by Vice President Cheney, has earned lucrative profits in Iraq at the expense of taxpayers and soldiers.

The truck drivers' case was among the first to raise the question of whether Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR Inc. are doing enough to protect employees. KBR and its subcontractors have lost 91 employees to violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

This case revolved around an incident on April 9, 2004, when insurgents attacked a KBR fuel convoy, killing seven civilians and injuring at least seven more. Drivers who survived the attack, as well as other former Halliburton employees, later said the company should have known the convoy would face extreme danger because of intense fighting along the convoy route over the previous two days. Sean A. Larvenz, who was in a different Halliburton convoy that day, said he had warned his bosses about the fighting but that they sent the doomed convoy anyway.

"As long as trucks rolled," he told senators this week, "they got paid."

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