Monday, October 29, 2007

UK security firm sued over US soldier's death in Iraq

7.15pm BST / 3.15pm ET

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington Monday October 29, 2007

Guardian UnlimitedA British private security firm hired to protect the oil installations of post-invasion Iraq is being sued for causing the death of an American soldier.

The case against the Erinys security firm, which reportedly has close ties to the former Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi, is believed to be the first brought against a private security contractor operating in Iraq by a member of the US military.

It comes at a time of rising unease about the actions of private security firms in Iraq after 17 Iraqi civilians were shot dead in Baghdad by Blackwater guards travelling with a convoy of US diplomats.

The suit against Erinys, filed last week in Houston, was brought by the father of Specialist Christopher Monroe, who was struck by an Erinys convoy on October 25 2005. He was on guard duty in southern Iraq when he was struck and killed by a speeding Erinys vehicle, the suit alleges.

"The family just didn't have the answers that they were seeking," said Tobias Cole, a lawyer for the family. "For example, why did their son die on a non-combat mission? There was no reason to have extreme driving, no reason to drive without headlights, no reason to drive at speed through a parked convoy."

Monroe, 19, was the third generation of his family to serve in the US military and was an eager recruit. He enlisted before finishing secondary school at the age of 17.

The lawsuit alleges the four vehicles in the Erinys convoy were driving at an estimated speed of up to 80mph on a dark road using only their parking lights. The Erinys vehicles were not under fire, and they were not carrying high-profile passengers. Monroe's right leg was sheared off by the force of the collision, and he was thrown 40ft into the air.

Erinys employees, who were driving in a four-vehicle convoy, had passed through two US checkpoints moments before Monroe was hit, and they had been warned that more US troops were ahead, the suit said.

But it accuses the Erinys team of ignoring the warnings, and driving so fast that they failed to see Monroe or the five-tonne truck he was guarding.

"Although extreme driving manoeuvres may be appropriate for private security contractors at certain times, driving recklessly at a high rate of speed with no headlights through a parked US convoy after being specifically warned is not," the law suit said. At the time of Monroe's death, Erinys had been providing security to the US Army Corps of Engineeer.

The company denies any wrongdoing and says it was cleared of wrongdoing by a US military investigation. "It was a very tragic accident for which Erinys and its employees have been thoroughly exonerated," a spokesman for the firm told the Guardian today.

The Monroe family's law suit comes at a time when the Bush administration is under growing pressure at home to rein in private security firms and the lucrative business of guarding US diplomats and troops. The Iraqi government last week revoked the legal immunity under which Blackwater and the other firms had operated.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the authorities stepped up their crackdown on private security contractors today, raiding the premises of a British-based firm, Olympus, in Kabul. It was the eighth private security firm to be raided and closed in a month, but the first foreign firm.

Erinys was the subject of a great deal of attention in the summer of 2003, when the firm was awarded an $80m (£39m), 18-month contract to provide security for Iraq's oil refineries and pipelines. The firm created a new entity called Erinys Iraq.

Erinys has also been caught up in controversy closer to home. Shortly before his murder, the former Russian security services agent, Alexander Litvinenko, visited the London offices of Erinys where traces of polonium 210 were found.

The first recruits of the 14,000-strong oil protection force raised by Erinys Iraq were members of the Iraqi Free Forces, the US-trained militia that was headed by Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile who was America's protege in the run-up to the invasion.

Members of Mr Chalabi's inner circle were among the founding partners of Erinys Iraq. Erinys now has about 1,000 employees in Iraq, the spokesman said. Most are UK nationals.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

MoD criticised at 'friendly fire' inquest

Last Updated: 12:12am BST 27/10/2007

A coroner criticised the Ministry of Defence yesterday for withholding information on the shooting of a soldier killed by "friendly fire" in Iraq.

Andrew Walker, the Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner, said the family of Cpl John Cosby had to "fight every step of the way" for documents surrounding his death in Basra last year.
Cpl Cosby, 28, of the Devon and Dorset Light Infantry, was shot in the head as his platoon raided a house. The inquest at Oxford Old Assizes has heard it was believed the fatal shot was fired by Cpl Dean Newark, of the Royal Anglian Regiment, who was returning fire from an Iraqi insurgent.

Mr Walker told the inquest: "Cpl Cosby lost his life during a terrorist attack all the more tragic as he fell under fire from British soldiers.

"I have no doubt that his loss will be keenly felt by his family. If this were not enough to bear they have had to fight every step of the way to have sight of documents to help them understand what had happened.

"I would have thought that it would not be necessary yet again to draw attention to the fact that at the heart of this inquest, and every inquest, there is a grieving family who simply want to understand what happened."

Mr Walker described the Army's investigation into Cpl Cosby's death as "heavily flawed". A bullet fragment from his body armour was lost during the investigation, which was carried out by a sergeant who admitted that he was not properly qualified.

Cpl Cosby's clothes were burned in Iraq and investigators were unable to interview witnesses as they were given no armed protection to go into Basra.

Mr Walker made no criticism of Cpl Newark who, he said, fired in self-defence and had followed the Army's rules of engagement for such an operation. He recorded a narrative verdict.

• The US army has agreed to pay $650,000 (£318,000) compensation to three British military police injured when their Land Rover has hit by an American lorry in Iraq in 2003. It is the first time that allied troops have claimed compensation for injuries sustained in a "non-combat situation".

reprinted with permission

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Soldier's father sues British company over wreck in Iraq


By KELLEY SHANNON / Associated Press

The family of an American soldier killed in Iraq when a private security vehicle collided with his 5-ton truck is suing the security company in U.S. federal court claiming gross negligence.

The British private company, Erinys, has made more than $150 million in Iraq and has contracts to protect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to the lawsuit filed by the father of Army Spc. Christopher T. Monroe.

Monroe, 19, of Kendallville, Ind., died in October 2005 in Basra, Iraq, after his unit recovered a disabled vehicle and stopped to help an Iraqi citizen who'd been in a car accident, the lawsuit states.

Monroe's father, Perry Monroe II of Texas, filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Houston on Wednesday.

A representative of Erinys did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press for comment Friday.

Private security companies operating in Iraq have come under increased scrutiny since a deadly shooting Sept. 16 involving Blackwater USA guards. Congress is taking steps toward putting all armed contractors operating in combat zones under military control.

The Texas federal court lawsuit states that Erinys was on a non-combat trip when the wreck in question happened.

Though an Erinys team had been warned that Monroe's Army convoy was ahead and was told to proceed with caution, the team was traveling fast in the dark with headlights off when the collision occurred, the lawsuit contends.

An armored Suburban struck Monroe and his truck, tearing off Monroe's right leg and throwing him 30 to 40 feet in the air, causing fatal injuries, the suit states.

"Christopher fought valiantly for his life for almost two hours and after receiving emergency care from his fellow soldiers, he died on a Medavac helicopter en route to Shalib Airbase," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit contends the Erinys team's actions were negligent and that the company's employees "failed to exercise ordinary care," which led to Monroe's death.

Erinys "had actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of others," court documents state.

Christopher Monroe followed his grandfather and father into military service when he enlisted at the age of 17, having been moved by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the lawsuit states. He completed basic training between his junior and senior year of high school and finished high school as an Army reservist.

In 2005, he volunteered to join an understaffed unit that was being deployed to Iraq, since he was too young to join his original unit when it deployed to Cuba while he was still in high school. The vehicle collision occurred about four months after Monroe arrived in Iraq.

He left behind his mother, father and two younger brothers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

British security co. sued over death of U.S. soldier

By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters) - A British private security company is being sued in the United States over the death of a U.S. soldier hit by one of its convoys in Iraq, according to court documents.
The case, believed to be the first of its kind, comes six weeks after Iraq accused the U.S. security company Blackwater of using excessive force in an incident where 17 Iraqis were shot dead in Baghdad.

The case against Erinys, filed in a court in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday and also in London, was brought by the Perry Monroe, father of Christopher Monroe, a U.S. soldier who was struck by an Erinys vehicle while on duty in southern Iraq in October 2005.

The lawsuit accuses the Erinys convoy of ignoring warnings and traveling at excessive speed after dark without lights fully on, leading to an accident in which Monroe was hit, suffering severe injuries that led to his death.

"Even though warned that the remainder of the U.S. convoy was ahead, the Erinys PSD team employee with reckless disregard accelerated to a high rate of speed and struck Christopher with his armored Suburban, tearing off his right leg.

"Mr. Monroe has been compelled to file this lawsuit to require the Erinys PSD team to account for its action that led to the death of his 19-year-old son," reads the suit, which also seeks unspecified damages.

Erinys, which provided security to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the time of the incident, denied any wrongdoing.

"This was nothing but a very, very tragic accident," its chairman Jonathan Garratt told Reuters in London on Friday.

"There was a full and very thorough investigation by the U.S. military into the case at the time, and both Erinys and its employees were fully exonerated."

The case is the latest to shine a critical light on the work of the two dozen or so private security companies operating in Iraq, some of which have earned hundreds of millions of dollars from contracts awarded by the U.S. government.

While Blackwater, which the Iraqi government wants to ban from Iraq, has received the most high-profile criticism, other companies have also been accused of using excessive force or of having little regard for Iraqi civilians.

The case filed in Houston is the first time that a private security company has been accused of negligence in the case of the death of a U.S. soldier, lawyers said.

Asked why the suit was being brought now, Tobias Cole, the lawyer who filed it, denied it had been motivated by the Blackwater incident.

"There's not necessarily some strategic timing to this lawsuit," he said. "The family wanted answers and under Texas law you only have a certain amount of time to seek those answers."
Garratt said he believed the case had been filed within one day of the expiry of the statute of limitations.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Linkage Between War Profiteering and Non-combat Deaths

From CLG News:

Suicide Is Not Painless By Frank Rich 21 Oct 2007 The $26,788 [Charles D. Riechers, who 'committed suicide' in October] received for two months in a non-job doesn’t rise even to a rounding error in the Iraq-Afghanistan money pit.

So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone...

There will be a long hangover of shame. Its essence was summed up by Col. Ted Westhusing, an Army scholar of military ethics who was an innocent witness to corruption, not a participant, when he died at age 44 of a gunshot wound to the head while working for Gen. David Petraeus training Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in 2005...

Colonel Westhusing’s death was ruled a suicide, though some believe he was murdered by contractors fearing a whistle-blower, according to T. Christian Miller, the Los Angeles Times reporter who documents the case in his book "Blood Money." [A must read]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Report Confirms 'E&P' Claims of Upsurge in 'Noncombat' Deaths Among U.S. Troops By E&P

Staff Published: October 16, 2007 11:00 PM ET

NEW YORK For several weeks, E&P has documented what appears to be a surge in non-combat deaths among U.S. troops in Iraq. These fatalities come from vehicle accidents, illness, suicides and friendly fire.

The military always states that they are under investigation and it is local newspapers that usually first get word, often from families, about what might have really happened.

Now today comes confirmation of these concerns. A team of U.S. army safety experts are in Iraq studying this trend, which has coincided with extended 15-month deployments for troops, a senior military official said this week.

Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, operations director of the Joint Staff, said commanders in Iraq were concerned enough about the spike in non-combat deaths that it has asked for an assessment by the army team, according to an Agence France Press report.

According to Pentagon figures, 29 soldiers died in August for non-hostile reasons, and another 23 died of non-combat causes in September.

Shockingly, this compares with seven in August last year and 11 in September 2006.

The military has official confirmed more than 125 suicides in Iraq with many others under investigation. "We don't yet know what may have caused an increase in the non-battle casualties," Ham said." That's why the commanders in Iraq have asked for the Army Safety Center to come analyze that and to map out the way ahead, to maintain focus on safety for all the troops on the ground," he added.

Ham said morale remains high, but added, "I think there is a general consensus, and several leaders have said this, that for the army 15 months is a long hard tour. It's hard on the soldiers, it's hard on the families."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Our Tears/American Tears

This is an excerpt from Naomi Wolf's essay, "American Tears":

I read the news in a state of something like walking shock: seven soldiers wrote op-eds critical of the war — in The New York Times; three are dead, one shot in the head. A female soldier who was about to become a whistleblower, possibly about abuses involving taxpayers’ money: shot in the head. Pat Tillman, who was contemplating coming forward in a critique of the war: shot in the head. Donald Vance, a contractor himself, who blew the whistle on irregularities involving arms sales in Iraq — taken hostage FROM the U.S. Embassy BY U.S. soldiers and kept without recourse to a lawyer in a U.S. held-prison, abused and terrified for weeks — and scared to talk once he got home. Another whistleblower in Iraq, as reported in Vanity Fair: held in a trailer all night by armed contractors before being ejected from the country.

Friday was the sixth anniversary of my son's death. He was also shot in the head while lying on the ground. He was executed. Fabrications were fed to the media by the Army and the civilian police which made his death appear justified.

According to written statements by some of his superiors, he had made "at least five IG (whistleblower) complaints" prior to his death.

Not a single complaint is retained in the DoD IG Database. A senior person in that office told me that even unfounded complaints are supposed to remain in the database. However, I did receive his request for information about whistleblower protection, which was retained by the DoD.

Not a single document, investigation report, or verbal bit of information has been freely given out by the Army, Department of Defense, FBI, or civilian police authorities. Only by means of ceaseless effort on my part and money paid to lawyers has anything at all been gleaned.

What reason can there be for such secrecy? What rights to information do next of kin have? This is pretty much the same for all the families of military personnel killed in non-combat incidents. Aren't we citizens of the United States, with full rights to know the circumstances surrounding our children's/spouses'/parents' deaths?

Right now, it is the forensic reports that are being kept away in the giant game of hide the ball. I have a good lead as to where they are and even possibly the investigation code number, but it is very important to someone not to release them.

The pattern of non-combat deaths related to whistleblowing is emerging clearly enough for outside reporters to be commenting on it. I have a feeling that the numbers will be very high.

Sub patterns include death shortly before discharge, including many which occurred the day before going home. Many, many deaths officially listed as suicides were actually murders staged to look like suicides. The implausibility and evidence that they were murders is blatantly ignored. Officials will not do serious, proper investigations that rule out murder and prove suicide.

Isn't individual life precious enough, and taking life serious enough, to do proper investigations? Are military personnel just cogs in the giant Killing Macine we call the Military?

This has gone on long enough. We need public recognition of the problem and support to address it. Otherwise, many more families will be drawn into the culture of tears. America will drown in tears if we don't do something.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Media Reveal Disturbing New Twists in Death of Soldier in Afghanistan

By E&P Staff Published: October 03, 2007 11:35 AM ET

NEW YORK Newspapers in Massachusetts have been doggedly digging into the case (covered by E&P on Monday) of a Quincy woman who died in Afghanistan under mysterious circumstances last week.

The military first reported that Ciara Durkin, 30, who served in the National Guard, had died “in action,” then revealed that she was killed in a “noncombat” incident that was being investigated.

Her family was told that she had been killed by a single gunshot near a church. They are charging that the military has been dragging its feet in giving them more details. They reject any chance of suicide and suspect friendly fire or murder.

A new twist emerged today in a Boston Globe article: Her family says she had told them to push for an investigation if anything ever happened to her.

She was in a finance unit and may have found some improprieties, according to a story in the Patriot-Ledger, which also disclosed that her family had notified the military about her concerns about her safety three weeks ago.

The Globe reported that the family wondered if, as a lesbian, she may have been targeted.
Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Ted Kennedy are pushing for answers.

Since Durkin is a native of Ireland, the Irish Echo newspaper is also covering the case widely."She did say to us that she had concerns about things she was seeing when she was over there," her sister, Fiona Canavan, told WGBH-TV in Boston. "She told us if anything happened to her, that we were to investigate it."

In a letter, Kerry urged Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates "to deploy your staff on this matter immediately, so that the answers and circumstances around Specialist Durkin's death are uncovered, expeditiously and thoroughly."

Canavan said the family was wondering whether Durkin might have been singled out because she was gay. " Ciara was a lesbian, and that's bound to come out," Canavan said. "It is possible that someone over there found that out, and, you know, maybe they were very homophobic."

The Globe article observed: “Kerry said the Durkin family desperately needs answers to three questions: Why has the Army not responded to the Durkin family's request for an independent autopsy? Why, after not responding to the family's request for an independent autopsy, did the Army fail to contact the Durkin family with the Army's autopsy results?

The family was told to be available to receive a phone call between 1 and 3 p.m. on Oct. 1, and the Army never called.

Why has the Army refused to make Durkin's will and paperwork available to her family, so they can respect her wishes as they plan her funeral and burial?”

An editorial in the Patriot-Ledger today declares: "The initial reports of Ciara Durkin’s death in Afghanistan are a byproduct of the Bush administration’s wrongheaded intent to shape the public perception of this fight and the war in Iraq."

But it is a disgrace that grieving families of those killed in service to their country have to endure painfully slow trickles of information - and misinformation - that pose more questions than answers."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

OUR VIEW: Truth is a combat casualty


By The Patriot Ledger

The initial reports of Ciara Durkin’s death in Afghanistan are a byproduct of the Bush administration’s wrongheaded intent to shape the public perception of this fight and the war in Iraq.

But it is a disgrace that grieving families of those killed in service to their country have to endure painfully slow trickles of information - and misinformation - that pose more questions than answers.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard told Durkin’s family and released a statement that the 30-year-old finance specialist from Quincy was ‘‘killed in action’’ last Friday, traumatic news to anyone but not wholly unexpected when a loved one is serving in a combat theater.

But on Monday, family members learned she was killed by a single gunshot wound and her death was termed non-combat related. Suddenly, the Durkin family’s grief was compounded with the unspeakable pain that their daughter and sister, who felt fate intervened in her choosing to enlist in the military, may have been killed either by accidental friendly fire or, even more horrendous, murdered.

Family members immediately dismissed thoughts of suicide and the area where her body was found is deemed very secure and an unlikely spot for sniper attack.

A spokesman for the National Guard said the KIA term was used initially because Durkin died in Afghanistan and she was not at home. That, however, conflicts with the definition of ‘‘killed in action,’’ laid out in the Department of Defense dictionary.

‘‘A casualty category applicable to a hostile casualty, other than the victim of a terrorist activity, who is killed outright or who dies as a result of wounds or other injuries before reaching a medical treatment facility,’’ is how the military defines KIA.

Given the history of this administration’s selling of the war on terror, it is not beyond the pale to make the leap that the choice of that phrase was an intentional attempt to mislead either the family or the public or both.

The bungled public relations attempts over the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman while on patrol with his Army Ranger unit and the false hero picture painted of Army PFC Jessica Lynch are two of the more prominent cases.

There’s also the inflationary claims of Saddam Hussein housing weapons of mass destruction and tying Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks as rationales for involving our military in this growing quagmire, all showing that those in charge of this war are portioning out information ‘‘from a public relations mindset not a principled one,’’ as Durkin’s brother, Pierce Durkin, said.

Complete answers are hard enough to come by during times of war and news of a loved one’s death are painful enough to receive. But when a young person volunteers for and dies in service to her country, it is an act that should be honored with the highest commitment to truth. To do less dishonors them and their families.

Your Views

How much information should the military release when a soldier dies?

Write: Your Views, The Patriot Ledger, 400 Crown Colony Drive, Quincy, MA 02169

Call: 781-340-3156


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Copyright 2007 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reprinted with permission.