IRAQ: Silence Surrounds Fates of Contractors

Publisher Name: 
Houston Chronicle

Halliburton Co. truck drivers Tim Bell and
Bill Bradley disappeared April 9 when their convoy was attacked west of
Baghdad.


Did they die at the scene? Were they captured? Is there reason
for hope?

No one will say.

Like those of many contractors caught
in the violence of Iraq, their fates are shrouded in mystery.

The Army
has conducted an investigation into the ambush, but the report is classified.
Pentagon officials refused to discuss its contents, directing questions to
Halliburton. The company referred questions back to the Pentagon.

"We
have done everything in our power to find information and found that we are
hitting a brick wall," Bradley's family wrote in an e-mail to the Houston
Chronicle.

"We are crushed."

The military has turned heavily to
private contractors to supplement the work of enlisted personnel, freeing
military troops for combat. For pay of $80,000 or more, civilians go to Iraq to
drive trucks, build bases, deliver mail and serve chow. They live on base, eat
in the mess hall, shop at the PX.

And just like soldiers, they are
attacked, abducted and sometimes killed.

When a U.S. soldier or Marine is
killed in Iraq, the Pentagon provides to the public the individual's name, age
and hometown, as well as a brief description of the cause of death.

When
it comes to contractor casualties, the Pentagon has left it up to the company to
report -- or not.

And the response has been mostly not.

At least
55 Halliburton employees and subcontractors have been killed and more than 100
others wounded in Iraq and Kuwait, according to the company. Other companies
won't say how many of their workers are dead or injured, and the Pentagon isn't
keeping track.

Halliburton has publicly identified just 12 of those dead
workers, while the names of eight others have trickled out.

Halliburton
does notify families in person when a contractor is killed and is providing
health care expenses for the wounded.

The April 9 attack caught
international attention because truck driver Tommy Hamill of Macon, Miss., was
paraded by his captors before an Australian television crew. He later escaped
and was rescued, making him the most famous U.S. worker in Iraq.

Bradley,
a former Galveston resident, was driving the 14th truck in the 20-vehicle
convoy. Few other details are known.

Like Hamill, Army Reserve Spc. Keith
"Matt" Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was captured in that ambush.

A few days
after the attack, Al-Jazeera television showed a video of Maupin surrounded by
gunmen. In June, Al-Jazeera showed another video of a blindfolded man, who the
station said was later shown being shot. Pentagon officials have not been able
to conclusively say whether Maupin was that man.

He is officially listed
as captured, and a military source said the search for Maupin continues "every
day."

What kind of search is being done for Bell and Bradley is
unclear.

"Nobody seems to know what's going on," said Bell's sister,
Felicia Carter of Mobile, Ala.


RESOURCES

CONFIRMED DEATHS:

Halliburton has
revealed that 55 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq and Kuwait have
been killed. But many of their names and causes of death remain unknown. Here
are details of the casualties that have been announced or in the
news.

Jeffery Serrett, 43, of Fredericksburg, Va., died Nov. 2. He
was shot.

Felipe E. Lugo III,36, of Copperas Cove, Texas, in an
Oct. 19 mortar attack while working on a military base near central
Baghdad.

Roger Moffett, 40, of Freeport, Fla., in a Sept. 28
roadside bombing.

Kevin Rader,34, of Pendleton, Ore., in an Aug.
11 roadside bombing.

Vern O'Neal Richerson, 61, of Willis, Texas,
in a July 2 mortar attack.

Walter J. Zbryski, 56, of Montverde,
Fla., in a June 17 land mine blast.

James Gregory Wingate, 36, of
Monticello, Ga., in a June 5 land mine blast.

Daniel Parker, 56,
of Summerville, S.C., in a convoy attack. Casualty was announced May
7.

Rodrigo Reyes, 52, of Tanay, Philippines, in an April 28 convoy
attack.

Stephen Hulett,

48, of Manistee, Mich., in an April
9 convoy attack.

Jack Montague, 52, of Pittsburg, Ill., in April 9
convoy attack.

Jeffery Parker, 45, of Lake Charles, La., in April
9 convoy attack.


Tony Johnson, 47, of Riverside,
Calif., in April 9 convoy attack.

Steven Scott Fisher, 43, of
Virginia Beach, Va., in April 9 convoy attack.

Tim Smith, 40, of
Aztec, N.M., on April 8, while driving a truck.

Albert Luther "Al"
Cayton
, 60, of Walkersville, W. Va., in a Feb. 23 convoy
attack.

Arthur Linderman Jr., 58, of Middletown, Del., in a Jan.
19 convoy attack.

Jody Deatherage, 44, of Llano, Texas, in a Jan.
21 collision.

Vernon Gaston, 46, of Lampasas, Texas, in a Sept. 3,
2003, convoy attack.

Fred Bryant Jr., 39, of Jacksonville, Fla.,
on Aug. 5, 2003. Truck ran over explosive device.

Sources: Halliburton,
news reports, www.icasualties.org

Damage control?
When a contract worker is injured in an attack, the military provides
urgent medical care, evacuates the victim out of Iraq for hospitalization when
necessary and transports the remains of slain workers back home for
burial.

But the Pentagon insists it doesn't know how many contractors
have been killed.

Larry Makinson, a senior fellow at the Center for
Public Integrity, a government watchdog group in Washington, said the Pentagon
likes it that way.

"They were afraid of turning this into another
Vietnam," Makinson said. "They know what it's like to see casualty figures day
after day. The reliance on civilian contractors in Iraq is really a different
variation on the same theme that led the Pentagon to ban taking photographs of
flag-draped coffins."

Peter Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution
and a longtime critic of the military's privatization effort, argues that
casualties of war are not a private family concern but a public policy
issue.

Exactly how many Americans are working as contractors in Iraq also
remains unclear.

The Pentagon has long had trouble counting contract
workers. Dan Guttman, a government contracting expert and consultant for the
Center for Public Integrity, points to a 2002 Army estimate that said there were
somewhere between 124,000 and 605,000 contractors.

The upper end of that
range is comparable to the population of Wyoming.

Degrees of openness
Halliburton has been more public about its casualties in Iraq than other
contractors.

San Francisco's Bechtel and Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons
Group won't say whether they've had casualties in Iraq.

"We do not
discuss safety and security issues, either directly or indirectly," Bechtel
spokeswoman Brenda Thompson said.

The San Francisco Chronicle, however,
has identified three Bechtel casualties.

Fluor Corp., which is working on
power projects in Iraq, has not had any employees die. Some security
subcontractors for the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based company have been killed, but
company spokesman Jerry Holloway could not say how many or under what
circumstances.

Because of the information vacuum, little is known about
how the majority of contractors have died.

As of early April, Halliburton
revealed 12 of its workers had been killed. By April 20, that figure had jumped
to 33.

Five of those killed in April were caught in the same ambush as
Bell and Bradley.

Details of what happened to the remaining 21 killed
between April 2 and April 20 are unclear.

Another 13 workers have been
killed in the last four months. Only four have been publicly
identified.

Halliburton's approach
Halliburton's most recent casualty was 43-year-old medic Jeffery Serrett,
who died Nov. 2.

The company, in a news release issued last week, said
Serrett was killed "by small-arms fire near Baghdad."

Halliburton
officials told Serrett's family that the Fredericksburg, Va., man was shot while
working at a clinic at the Abu Ghraib prison, his sister Lola Serrett
said.

Lola Serrett said someone knocked at the clinic door and, when her
brother opened it, an assailant fired on him.

Company officials told the
family that Serrett's death was part of the latest round of attacks in Iraq. At
least two American contractors are known to have been kidnapped recently, while
three other people were beheaded.

Halliburton and other contractors say
they are loath to provide information about their casualties for fear of making
targets of other employees.

Many also are eager to help their workers
avoid the inevitable swarm of reporters.

Families whose loved ones have
been confirmed dead are notified in person by Halliburton "notification teams,"
who will stay with grieving family members until relatives, friends, a clergyman
or some other emotional support can arrive. The coffins arrive home draped in a
U.S. flag.

After the April 9 ambush and the intense attention it
attracted worldwide, Halliburton began disclosing names of some of its slain
workers.

Before doing so, the company sends out paperwork to slain
workers' families, offering to write a brief "tribute" to the fallen employee on
the company's Web site.

The company won't issue a news release unless the
family asks for one.

"Some families have requested privacy, and we honor
that request," Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Gist said.

Though many
families prefer to grieve in private, others have been eager to ensure that
their loved ones receive public recognition.

Felipe E. Lugo III, 36, died
in a mortar attack Oct. 19 while working on a military base near central
Baghdad.

His wife, Lisa Bailey-Lugo, asked the company to issue a news
release in his honor.

"President Bush said no one would be forgotten,"
Bailey-Lugo said this week after a memorial service for her husband. " I don't
want him -- or anybody else who has already died -- forgotten."

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
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