Larry Roberta, one of the 12 Oregon plaintiffs, with his medications. Photo by Rob Finch/The Oregonian. Front photo of Cheney by Gage Skidmore/Veteran by U.S. Marines Corps.
Proving there is no level of low Dick Cheney and his cronies will not go, Halliburton-linked, scum-sucking defense contractor KBR is suing 12 Iraq veterans who had the audacity to seek and win $85 million in damages for the cancer they got from burn pit smoke while guarding a toxic water treatment plant for KBR – a company which, the jury ruled, acted with “reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm” to them. The legal battle began when the veterans, part of a contingent of 300 Oregon members of the National Guard, were sent to Iraq in 2003 by KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, which was run by former VP and current war criminal Cheney. The Guardsmen were tasked with providing security at Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. They were conveniently not told the site was full of the powerful corrosive hexavalent chromium, a highly toxic orange-yellow crystalline powder linked to lung cancer and breathing problems; it is banned in the U.S. but was omnipresent at the plant, stored in bags and drifting loose, sometimes visibly on soldiers’ dinners. When they started having breathing and other health problems, their KBR bosses said they had “sand allergies” and not to worry. When the health issues kept escalating, a KBR safety manager finally shut the plant down.
Back home and increasingly sick, 12 of the Guardsmen sued the company; another 21 are reportedly waiting to join them. In November 2012, a Portland jury found KBG negligent and awarded $85 million to the soldiers, ruling KBR showed “conscious indifference to (their) health, safety and welfare.” The decision was celebrated by corporate watchdogs as an unprecedented call for accountability, and by the ailing, wheezing veterans as “a little bit of justice.” It sent the message, said a relieved Aaron St. Clair, that, “We’re not disposable…People are not going to make money from our blood.”
But the ever-greedy KBR didn’t want to have to account for their behavior during a war that netted them $39 billion in profits, more than any other defense contractor; when he left as head of Halliburton in 2000, Cheney himself had earned $12.5 million, with $39 million more in stock options. KBR appealed the ruling, which was overturned on a bizarre technicality that found, not that KBR hadn’t poisoned people, but that Oregon veterans had to sue the company in their home state of Texas. Not content with that questionable legal victory, KBR took their corporate bullying and other scorched-earth tactics to a whole new level by filing a motion seeking $850,000 in legal fees from the sick veterans whose painful and likely dramatically shortened lives they’ve already ravaged.
The kicker: Even if they lose on appeal, KBR will likely get off scot-free thanks to an indemnity clause in their contract with the Defense Department, which would be held liable for any corporate malfeasance. Meaning that, once again, taxpayers would be left to bail out another massive amoral corporation guilty of greed, gross and in this case fatal negligence, and the blithe ruination of many lives. As one critic puts it, “By burying these veterans in litigation and possibly crushing debt, they will have poisoned U.S. veterans, on the U.S. government’s dime, and have gotten away with it.” In an outraged letter to the Defense Department, Democratic Oregon lawmakers likewise protested KBR’s extortion attempts with the understatement of the decade: “Our soldiers have a right to expect better.”