April 9, 2008 -- Two women told a Senate subcommittee today they were raped, assaulted and harassed while working in Iraq for the U.S.-based contractor KBR — though no criminal charges have been brought in either case.
The testimony was explicit, graphic in detail and emotional. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., elicited their stories with gentle questions.
Mary Beth Kineston told the committee she was raped by a fellow KBR employee, a Turkish national, in the cab of her truck at the dark Tigris river pumping station where she had to fill her truck by flashlight.
"He pinned me down. I tried to fight so hard I hit the side of my arm so hard that it was black and blue for days," said Kineston. "He pulled off my shorts. He raped me."
She said that her screams for help went unheeded by the pump operator nearby "who did not care to know what was going on."
She added that no one responded to her cries for help over the radio issued for her personal safety.
"I'm yelling and screaming on the radio over and over again for my supervisors or somebody to answer," she said, "and nobody would answer the radio."
When she returned to the base camp she said her supervisors were not in any rush to help.
She said that when she tried to report the rape to the U.S. Army JAG corps officer on the base, she was told that JAG does not support civilians on the base.
A few months later, while riding in a car with fellow KBR employees, Kineston said one of the men thought it to "be funny to put his hand in my pants. The moment he did it, I jumped out of the truck while it was still moving."
Kineston was not shy about reporting harassment. But KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, started to find fault with her and, according to Kineston, terminated her "for ludicrous reasons ... speeding and passing a truck on base."
Kineston, a married mother of three, had gone to Iraq in 2004 with her truck driver husband to earn money for retirement and her daughter's wedding. She filed a civil suit against the company, which she was forced to arbitrate behind closed doors rather than in an open court with a jury. She won the arbitration.
The second witness, Dawn Leamon, came forth publicly for the first time as an alleged rape victim.
A married mother of four, Leamon said that in "an overwhelming sense of duty to our country," she signed a contract with KBR and became the sole paramedic for KBR employees at Camp Harper, a small base in southern Iraq.
Two months ago, she said she was drugged and raped by a fellow KBR employee who she had thought of as a friend, as well as a member of the U.S. military. She believes that others might have been present.
Leamon said her last memory of the night was "someone was holding my legs up." She added that she woke up the next morning naked in a chair in her room, a sleeping soldier in her bed, with feces and blood everywhere.
Attempts to report the event were met with efforts to sweep it under the rug, said Leamon. She said a military liaison told her, "I'll take care of it and we won't speak of this again."
Leamon said she felt as if she had no recourse and she feared for her safety.
She testified, "it's very easy in Iraq for someone to disappear, easy for accidents to happen. ... I could fall, I could have a head injury, and it could be explained."
By complaining about a vest she had to wear from 5 a.m. to midnight while working, she said she was finally able to get a transfer out of Camp Harper away from her attackers. She was able to file a report and get medical help from a military physician.
Leamon suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and said she can barely sleep more than an hour and a half at night. She is now on a medical leave of absence in the United States, wanting "in her heart to support the military ... but not with KBR."
She has no idea if any prosecution has been initiated.
Nelson chaired the hearing to find out "whether the law is being obeyed and, if not, what to do about it. Or, if the law does not cover these circumstances, would there be an additional law?"
Representatives from various government agencies claimed to be hearing of the incidents for the first time.
Robert Reed, associate deputy general counsel from the Department of Defense, said this morning was the "first time" he was hearing about the cases — while Sigal Mandelker, deputy assistant attorney general from the Department of Justice, said this was "the first time we heard about victim number two."
A State Department representative, John Wiegmann, said it "depends where the offense occurs. It might not be subject to U.S. jurisdiction."
As he closed the hearing, Nelson said, "26 [civilian] women have been assaulted, and not one of those cases has been prosecuted. For me to say anything more would be superfluous. Let's get it solved."
KBR issued the following statement to ABC News in advance of the hearing: "First and foremost, KBR in no way condones or tolerates sexual harassment. Each employee is expected to adhere to the company's code of business conduct, and when violations occur, appropriate action is taken. Any reported allegation of sexual harassment or sexual assault is taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. KBR's top priority is the safety and security of all employees, and our commitment in that regard is unwavering."