Nov 17, 2006

"Hearts and Minds" Not An Objective Here

A man who worked in Iraq for a Herndon (Virginia)-based security company is accused in a lawsuit of firing twice into Iraqi civilian vehicles last summer without provocation, possibly killing at least one person.

Two co-workers who witnessed the shootings say in the suit that there has been no investigation, even though they reported the incidents.

All three men worked for Triple Canopy, a corporation formed in 2003 by former military men to provide security in the Middle East for the United States government and private companies. Triple Canopy was the ninth-largest contractor for the U.S. State Department in fiscal 2005, with payments totaling more than $90 million, government records show.

That sum does not include what Triple Canopy is paid by private firms such as KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. that is involved in rebuilding in Iraq. Former Army Ranger Shane Schmidt, former Marine Charles L. Sheppard III and their shift leader were all working on an assignment for KBR when the shootings occurred near Baghdad on July 8, alleges the suit, filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Schmidt and Sheppard say they reported the shootings to Triple Canopy. Instead of investigating, the men allege, Triple Canopy fired them and prevented their being hired by other companies in the Middle East. The lawsuit alleges wrongful termination and wrongful interference with their professional future. ...

Schmidt and Sheppard allege that Triple Canopy did not report the shootings to KBR or the government. They say that no one has ever contacted them about the shootings.

In court papers, Triple Canopy has not denied that the incidents occurred. The company has tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that no violation of Virginia law occurred and that Schmidt and Sheppard were "at-will" employees and could be fired for any reason.

At a hearing last month, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge M. Langhorne Keith said the state's "at-will" legal doctrine has exceptions, including "when people allege that they reported a murder, two murders or maybe more than two murders, conducted by a fellow employee, and were fired for making that report." ...

On July 8, according to their lawsuit, Schmidt and Sheppard were riding with their shift leader in a convoy to pick up a KBR employee at the Baghdad airport.

As their vehicle approached the airport, their shift leader declared that he was "going to kill someone today," the lawsuit states. The man then stepped out of the vehicle and fired several shots from his M4 rifle into the windshield of a stopped truck.

Schmidt and Sheppard were horrified, Smith said. According to the lawsuit, the shift leader told them, "That didn't happen, understand?"

After their convoy picked up the KBR employee, the crew headed to its next destination. At this point, Schmidt and Sheppard allege, their shift leader declared, "I've never shot anyone with my pistol before." The man then opened his door and fired seven or eight rounds into the windshield of a nearby taxi. Schmidt and Sheppard later heard that a cabdriver was found shot to death in the area, according to the suit.

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