Justice Silent on KBR Rape, Sex Assault Cases

The Justice Department is declining to talk to concerned lawmakers about its handling of rape and sexual assault cases involving American women in Iraq, making several of them unhappy.

Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, a Republican who counts one of the alleged victims as a constituent, has railed against the Justice Department and others for their lack of cooperation.

"Who's in charge here?" he asked in one recent press release. "This is not a case of 'ignore it and it will go away.'"

Following news accounts that American women working for contractor KBR/Halliburton have reported being sexually assaulted or raped in Iraq, Poe and six Democratic lawmakers have asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to give details on how the cases have been investigated, why no charges have been made, and why Mukasey's staff has reportedly declined to prosecute at least one case which featured a confession of physically harassing behavior by the accused assailant.

"We still have heard nothing from your office," Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka, Hawaii; Barack Obama, Ill.; and Jon Tester, Mont., wrote to Mukasey late last week. The trio had written to Mukasey three weeks earlier on the matter.

By contrast, the Departments of State and Defense, which were both involved in aspects of the cases, have reportedly responded to several lawmakers. The Department of Defense declined lawmakers' requests to investigate one case from 2005, because the Justice Department said it was conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.

"The Administration has yet to tell us what they will do about this problem and when," blasted House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., in a statement to ABC News Monday evening.

Conyers accused the Justice Department of "refusing to answer Congressional requests for information" about the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a Texan who has said she was drugged and raped by co-workers in Iraq in 2005, then held by KBR/Halliburton without access to a telephone.

Last December, the Justice Department declined a request to appear before Conyers' committee at a hearing on the Jones case but offered to discuss the laws which may apply to government contractors overseas. Poe, who testified alongside Jones at the hearing, called the offer "inadequate and uninformative."

In a statement e-mailed to ABC News Monday night, Justice spokesman Erik Ablin said his department had "confirmed a pending investigation" into the Jones case and offered to discuss "the scope of existing law" with congressional staff -- but not the Jones case itself, or others.

"It is longstanding DOJ policy to not discuss details of pending criminal investigations," Ablin wrote.

But the Justice Department has also declined to discuss with lawmakers or the media a related case that has since been closed.

Former KBR/Halliburton employee Tracy Barker has said she was sexually assaulted in 2005 by a State Department employee, Ali Mokhtare, at a U.S. post in Basra. Mokhtare signed a statement admitting to roughly handling Barker, pulling her vest and shirt and attempting to kiss her despite her efforts to avoid him.

Government documents reviewed by ABC News show State Department investigators referred their findings to the Justice Department for prosecution and recommended Mokhtare lose his access to classified information. Neither happened, the documents show, and ABC News has found no evidence Mokhtare was administratively disciplined.

The Justice Department has to date declined to discuss the Barker case. Ablin did not immediately respond to an inquiry on the matter.

Both Barker and Jones have sued KBR and Halliburton in civil court for failing to provide a safe workplace. Halliburton has since divested itself of KBR and says it "is improperly named" in the suits.

In a statement, KBR said "the safety and security of all employees remains KBR's top priority. Our commitment in this regard is unwavering."

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