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US: US soldier's family brings legal action against British private security firm

by Susan GoldenbergThe Guardian
October 30th, 2007

A 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 Engineers.

The company denies any wrongdoing and says it was cleared 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 yesterday.

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 yesterday, 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.

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