Company e-mails and other internal communications reveal that before KBR dispatched the convoy, a chorus of security advisors predicted an increase in roadside bombings and attacks on Iraq’s highways. They recommended suspension of convoys.
After consulting with military commanders, KBR’s top managers decided to keep the convoys rolling. “If the [Army] pushes, then we push, too,” wrote an aide to Craig Peterson, KBR’s top official in Iraq.
The decision prompted a raging internal debate that is detailed in private KBR documents, some under court seal, that were reviewed by The Times.
One KBR management official threatened to resign when superiors ordered truckers to continue driving. “I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart,” wrote Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation.
I remember that Two days before, on April 7, 2004, I was going through Baghdad on Sword and the problems we had getting through town. I remember my escorts being VERY on edge and how they were so worried about us being attacked when we were stopped on a “traffic jam” on Sword that they cleared out ALL the civilian traffic around my convoy and refused to take the feeder road. Good thing they refused, because after they pulled a check of the surroundings, they found an IED waiting for us on that feeder road.
“Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?” demanded one security advisor in an e-mail. “Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers.”
Another wrote, “I cannot believe this has happened; the ones responsible should be held accountable for this.”
I remember we had a saying for KBR and that instead of it standing for Kellogg, Brown, & Root it should stand for “Kill ’em, Bag ’em, & Replace ’em”. I did not realize how true that little contractor joke was.
It would turn out to be one of the deadliest months of the war for American soldiers and contractors — and KBR’s truck drivers were caught in the crossfire. Trucking program chief Richard fired off e-mails to superiors in Houston and Kuwait describing the growing risks to his drivers.
“One of my convoys was hit with 14 mortars, 6 RPGs, 5 IEDs and small arms fire,” Richard wrote April 7. Senior KBR management in Iraq suspended travel, with Richard telling one colleague in an e-mail that the roads were “too dangerous.”
Several convoys were canceled that week. Delayed shipments contributed to spot shortages when many supplies were needed most.
Yes, that is the same day that I went thought Baghdad. After reading this, I realize how lucky I and my crew are to have made it thought on that day. I remember how nervous I was. Watching every roof top for snipers, watching my crew behind me and making sure there was no one walking up to their trucks trying to place something on their trailers or trying to shoot them. I remember how nervous We ALL were, escorts included!
That was clear to KBR dispatchers on April 8, when the first convoys that had moved out onto the highways started reporting gunfire.
Vivid reports came in from the field. “We are taking on gun fire, mortared, rocket launch, small arms fire you name it, we got it, we are losing trucks one by one. . . my driver and I were lucky to get out alive.”
By the end of Thursday, one KBR driver was dead and more than 70 had been attacked. Several were seriously injured. Because the next day was a Shiite holiday as well as Good Friday, security advisors worried that sectarian violence might add to the danger. They were of one voice calling for suspension of convoys.
“I say we halt them for a day at least and consider it a safety/security stand-down, and mental health day,” security chief Seagle wrote on April 8. “There is tons of intel stating tomorrow will be another bad day.”
Trucking chief Richard agreed. “Another day like today and we will lose most of our drivers.”
And they did. I am not sure of what the real numbers were of drivers that quit and went home after April 9th, but I know it was in the hundreds.
Despite their mounting fears, KBR security advisors had no authority to halt convoy deployment. They lost that on Monday, April 5, when that power was abruptly limited to Richard and his boss — KBR General Manager Craig Peterson. It angered the security team.
“Yeah, well I have been authorized for a year now to stop convoys now all of a sudden Keith [Richard] . . . is the only one who can. . . . well partner believe me the ball is in his court,” groused one.
I was told that if I felt things were unsafe that I could stand down my crew. But I also heard MANY time how someone would get into trouble if they did. So, I guess the bull they fed us was just that, AND a way to fill the seats of the trucks so they, (THE COMPANY), could make those dollars.
We need to work with the Army without a doubt relative to stopping the convoys. But if we in management believe the Army is asking us to put our KBR employees in danger that we are not willing to accept, then we will refuse to go,” Crum insisted.
Richard also argued that the truckers were not soldiers. “Our drivers did sign up with the understanding of some level of hostility, but they did not expect to be in the middle of a war,” he said in an e-mail.
One of Peterson’s aides sent a note scolding Richard. “[Peterson] says that if the client pushes, then we push,” the message said. It also specified that convoys should stop only if security was not adequate and “doesn’t pass the Common Sense Safety Test.”
I could go on and on, and pull quote after quote from this article and make comment after comment. But I think for now, ya’ll get the jest of what T Miller has written here. So let me get into what I am feeling.
I am pissed, VERY PISSED!! If they were fighting these guys 2 days before the 9th, that was the 7th. That was the day that I was there. That was the day I had problems getting though. That day, because of a COMPANY being so greedy that they couldn’t care less about their employees, me and my crew could have been added to that set of numbers of lives lost in those days.
I feel betrayed! You work for a company and you expect there to be some of the greediness going on, but you don’t expect it to possibly cost you your life. I know this may all sound selfish, but damn it, how can people do something like this. I remember the rumors floating around how it was this person or that person’s fault that the Hamil convoy even rolled. I heard how the reason it was so bad was that Tommy messed up. I heard that Keith Richards was on a suicide watch for a while. I heard that he was even fired over it. I heard so many things during that time, but never the truth. I never heard that KBR was so money hungry that they sent that convoy and others out, KNOWING that they may not all come back alive.
The military conducted its own investigation of the April 9 attack. The 280-page report concluded that miscommunications in the military about the danger of the roads had contributed to the casualties.
The investigating officer noted that he was not allowed to inquire into the actions of military officials in the 13th Coscom, because the unit was outside his chain of command.
For the families and drivers of the Good Friday convoy, however, KBR provided few details. The company has never made public its own investigation. Its attorneys have fought to keep internal communications under seal, arguing that they contain national security secrets.
In 2005, the families filed their wrongful death suit against KBR in Texas.
Last September, U.S. Dist. Judge Gray H. Miller dismissed the lawsuit under a rule that bars courts from jurisdiction in cases related to the routine exercise of military orders.
“Is it wise to use civilian contractors in a war zone? Was it wise to send the convoy along the route [to Baghdad airport] on April 9, 2004?” Miller wrote. “Answering either question and the many questions in between would require the court to examine the policies of the executive branch during wartime, a step the court declines to take.”
Lawyers for the families contend that KBR retained full authority over its civilian convoys and have appealed.
Will we ever know the full truth of what happened behind the scenes in those days? I think not. Halliburton/KBR/Service Employees Int. will never own up to it. They will leave those families wondering if their family member was screwed over by the company they worked for. But I can tell you right now, I feel like I was screwed over. I feel that if it had not been for my escorts on April 7th being the way they were, I might not now be sitting here writing this.
When is our Government going to mandate legislation governing what the contracting companies must do? I do hope that you, the reader, know the difference between the contracting company and the contracting employee. I hope that you know that like Tommy and many others that went to work in Iraq, that we were there to support the Troops. I hope that you now see that the companies are the one that you should spit on. I hope now you will get up and demand that the people on Capital Hill will set guidelines and rules down for contractors working in combat zones. Because if you don’t…. there are going to me more and more body bags filled with your loved ones.
Read T Miller’s article in the LA Times