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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, December 16, 2007

KBR, Sensenbrenner, and what time will tell

by bert

12/19/07 UPDATE: Ms. Jones testified today at the hearing of the subcommittee of which Congressman Sensenbrenner is a member. Sensenbrenner failed to attend that hearing, and has made no statement on this issue. I applaud the courage of Jamie Leigh Jones.

Speaking as a resident of the district of the Honorable Jim Sensenbrenner, I want to see over the next week or so if he is willing to to carry out the job he is paid to do. Will he play a visible role in responding to the rape case involving a military contractor in Iraq? Or will he stick to his playbook, keep his head down when it comes to the Bush administration’s outrages in the name of fighting terror, and work at nothing except obstructing Democrats in Congress?

Because this story involves sex and a pretty face, I believe that most people have or will soon hear from our news media about this particular outrage, even if most outrages spawned by the Iraq War remain underreported.

Jamie Leigh Jones alleges that fellow employees of the defense contractor KBR (formerly the Halliburton subsidiary) gang-raped her vaginally and anally in Baghdad in July, 2005. Two years later and nothing has been done. Her story, now part of a federal lawsuit, goes on to recount that when she reported the rape, KBR bosses ordered her confined under guard and warned her against reporting the attack.

She claims she was finally rescued from her employers' captivity after a sympathetic guard lent a phone to her that she used to call her father in Texas. A republican congressman, the Honorable Ted Poe, contacted the State Department, which is the agency that hired KBR. Another woman employee of KBR says that such abuse and harassment is a widespread problem.

KBR’s executives sent a message late this week claiming that Jones lied. The State Department says it lost the “rape kit” of physical evidence that medical authorities who examined Jones gave to KBR.

We know from the impeachment of Bill Clinton that Congressman Sensenbrenner is capable of moral outrage when members of our government cross sexual borders. Will he support a search for truth here and acknowledge wrongdoing if it is substantiated?

I am not hopeful. The Honorable Mr. Sensenbrenner tends these days to duck his head when his legislative-branch duty calls to act as a balance to the unhinged power of the executive branch. That’s because the executive is run by a Republican, so Sensenbrenner’s duty cuts into his ability to indulge his real love (no, not foreign junkets): party politics.

Sensenbrenner seemingly hid during a similar crisis earlier this fall. In early October Congress tardily took up the looming question of the role of military contractors, pushed into action by the Blackwater Inc. security workers who massacred 17 civilians in Baghdad in September and then drove away. The evidence condemning Blackwater’s behavior is solid, and even the war-loving politicians and pundits have chosen silence on this one rather than defend Blackwater.

So as Congress reacted by again proposing a bill to make such contractors subject to criminal prosecution, I called Sensenbrenner’s D.C. office, as a constituent. I wanted information on Sensenbrenner’s position on the question of whether these government workers should be immune from any punishment. I specifically asked the aide named Josh to have someone tell me what Sensenbrenner’s position was. Nothing came to me by phone or mail.

Through my own research, I found that Sensenbrenner ultimately voted Oct. 4 with many other republicans for the bill, H.R. 2740, that would subject contractors to criminal laws. He had voted two days earlier against “consideration” of that bill. I am not sure what that means about his real position. I guess I never will, no thanks to his office in my district that I help to pay for.

Sensenbrenner’s own Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the rape allegations by Jamie Leigh Jones. Sensenbrenner’s colleagues in Congress had early last week issued press releases calling for an investigation. Notwithstanding, the case of Jamie Leigh Jones never came up when Charlie Sykes “interviewed” Sensenbrenner on his WTMJ radio show last Thursday. In fact – get this – the Iraq war as a whole never came up. Instead we got silence on the issue.

At those upcoming hearings Sensenbrenner has the chance to show that his political motives stop somewhere short of utter moral vacuity. I expect him to work actively and visibly to get to the bottom of this case.

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