Iraq: Families of Hostages Say They're Being Kept in Dark

Publisher Name: 
Houston Chronicle

The president of KBR-Halliburton said today the company has not withheld information about contracted employees working in Iraq.

But family members of KBR employees taken hostage by insurgents in Iraq say they are still being kept in the dark about their status.

Randy Harl, head of the Halliburton subsidiary formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, said he does not know whether hostage takers have set demands for the release of the KBR hostages.

"You hear the same thing we do. The military is handling that," he said. "For security reasons, they aren't saying much. We haven't heard anything in regard to those negotiations."

Harl made his comments before leading hundreds of Halliburton employees in the March of Dimes' annual WalkAmerica fundraiser.

He also briefly discussed truck convoy security in Iraq and the claim that KBR, the Pentagon's largest contractor in Iraq, has overbilled the government for its work there.

Seven Halliburton employees and two soldiers went missing on April 9 when a KBR fuel convoy was attacked near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.

Videos of two of those captured has stoked hopes that some hostages are still alive. The first showed KBR truck driver Thomas Hamill, 43, of Macon, Miss. A second video was released showing Pfc. Keith Maupin, an American soldier.

A coalition spokesman has said the coalition will not negotiate with "the terrorists who have engaged in the hostage-taking."

Harl said the company keeps in daily contact with the hostages' families.

"We are in constant contact with those families," he said, "and they know everything we know."

A sister of KBR truck driver Timothy Bell of Mobile, Ala., however, said she wishes KBR would provide her family with more information about her brother's situation.

"We know absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing," said Felicia Carter of Mobile. "We'd love to have information, but they haven't provided us with anything. We ask them on a daily basis."

She said her brother's 45th birthday is today.

"His mother's (birthday) is on the same day," Carter said. "It's not going to be a good day."

Harl said the U.S. military has tightened security considerably since the convoy was ambushed.

Those supervising convoy shipments, he said, have the authority to call off a trip for security concerns at any time.

"We depend on the military almost 100 percent for that security," he said.

About 24,000 KBR employees and subcontractors, he said, are working in Iraq.

"Our people know," he added, "that the situation that they go into can be dangerous."

The largest contractor in Iraq, KBR holds deals that could total $19 billion. The Pentagon and the Bush administration have been criticized for making sweetheart pacts with the corporation. Until 2000, Vice President Dick Cheney served as Halliburton's chief executive.

KBR is under investigation for possibly overcharging the U.S. military for fuel supplies, and it could have more than $300 million withheld for allegedly overestimating the costs of supplying meals to troops.

Harl said KBR set its prices in part because the work is being done in a dangerous, war-time environment, not in a safe area in this nation.

"We are providing a service at a very economical rate," he said. "It's a good deal for the U.S. taxpayers. I hope people do realize our people our putting their lives on the line on a daily basis. This is not easy. This is not a stable situation."

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering