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

Publisher Name: 
The Guardian

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,"



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



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.
 
AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
  • 23 Private Security