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New defense bill requires military to tell Congress when granting immunity to contractors

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New defense bill requires military to tell Congress when granting immunity to contractors

Mike Francis, The Oregonian By Mike Francis, The Oregonian The Oregonian
KBR Inc. enjoyed government-guaranteed immunity from claims that might be brought by anyone claiming the contractor’s actions in Iraq caused injury or death, according to a newly declassified 2003 military contract. 

Doug Beghtel / The OregonianRep. Earl Blumenauer has been a leading voice in the push to force the military to disclose cases when it grants immunity to contractors.

But under the terms of the $662 billion defense appropriations bill Congress sent to the president Thursday, the military will be required in the future to inform the House and Senate Armed Services Committees when it grants immunity in such cases. If such language had been in effect when the KBR contract was signed, it wouldn’t have remained classified for 8-1/2 years.

“By forcing the Pentagon to conduct business with contractors out in the open, we are restoring a sense of public accountability for companies whose operations may endanger our troops,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who along with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., have called for greater transparency in such contracts.

Army lawyers on Wednesday released terms of the amended contract under which the Army hired KBR to perform work to restore Iraq’s oil production in the early years of the Iraq war. Instead of standard language that excludes government liability for cases of “willful misconduct and lack of good faith,” the amended contract contains no such exclusion. Instead it says the government shall shield KBR from liability for claims by third persons “for death, personal injury, or loss of, damage to, or loss of use of property.”

The contract had been classified, but was released to lawyers whose clients include Oregon National Guard soldiers suing KBR after being exposed to potentially dangerous levels of a carcinogen at Qarmat Ali.

“By shining a light on these secret agreements,” Wyden said in a statement, “we are making sure that there will be no repeats of what happened to National Guard troops from Oregon and other states at Qarmat Ali in Iraq or anywhere else that troops are sent to protect private contractors.”

-Mike Francis

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Posted by on Dec 17 2011. Filed under KBR Lawsuits, Oregon Federal Court, Oregon Lawsuits, Oregon Live. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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