Supreme Court denies appeals from military contractor over soldier death and exposure suits

Supreme Court denies appeals from military contractor over soldier death and exposure suits

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [order list, PDF] on Tuesday in three appeals filed by military contractor KBR, Inc. [corporate website], seeking to end lawsuits over a soldier’s electrocution in Iraq, soldier exposure to open-air burn pits for waste disposal and soldier exposure to dangerous chemicals in wastewater treatment. KBR, the largest military defense contractor for the Pentagon during the Iraq war, was responsible for the most basic services provided to soldiers. In Kellogg Brown & Root Services v. Harris, Cheryl, et al., a 24-year-old Green Beret was electrocuted [CNN report] while taking a shower at his barracks in Iraq in 2008. The suit alleges Kellogg Brown & Root Services, a division of KBR, is legally responsible for the sub-standard electrical work that was common in Iraqi-built structures taken over by the US military. Internal military documents also reveal [NYT report] concern over the electrical work among senior Pentagon officials. In KBR, Inc. et. al. v. Metzgar, Alan, et. al., a group of plaintiffs filed 58 consolidated suits [Bloomberg report] alleging harmful exposure to toxic smoke and contaminated water from burn-pits used for waste disposal [Reuters report]. In this case, the claim alleges liability on behalf of KBR and Halliburton for supplying the waste pits. KBR was part of Halliburton until 2007, when the company became its own corporate entity. In KBR, Inc. et. al. v. McManaway, Mart, et. al., soldiers from both the US and UK allege exposure to a potentially dangerous chemical, sodium dichromate, during their service at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in southern Iraq. The contractors maintain they should not be liable because they were operating in war zones as an extension of the military.

Following the Iraq war and prolonged conflict in the Middle East over the past decade, there is heightened awareness of the legal challenges surrounding military contractors, or private military and security companies (PMSCs). In October the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries urged [JURIST report] stronger global regulation of PMSCs. The group also called on governments to hold military contractors accountable for international human rights violations. Also in October a federal jury in the US District Court for the District of Columbia returned a guilty verdict [JURIST report] for four ex-Blackwater security guards, who shot and killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 17 in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad. Blackwater [JURIST news archive] and its employees have faced legal controversy in recent years for activities in the Iraqi war. In August 2012 Blackwater agreed to settle [JURIST report] federal criminal charges dealing with export and firearm violations. Also in 2012 Blackwater reached a confidential settlement agreement [JURIST report] with survivors and families of victims in the 2007 shooting incident. In 2011 two former Blackwater contractors were convicted of involuntary manslaughter [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for their role in the May 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.