Washington_A woman who claims she was raped by a fellow employee while working for a U.S. contractor in Iraq told House lawmakers Wednesday that her case is far from unique.
A Texas congressman agreed, saying several other women have come forward with reports of sexual harassment and assault while employed in Iraq for Halliburton's former subsidiary, KBR.
The women have given lawyers and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, accounts similar to the allegations of Jamie Leigh Jones of Conroe, Texas, who says she was raped in July 2005 by a co-worker who drugged her. She said she awoke groggy and confused the next morning, bleeding and bruised. She said a KBR representative kept her in a shipping container for a day so she wouldn't report the assault.
"This problem goes way beyond just me," Jones told the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.
Poe said three women - including Tracy Barker, who submitted written testimony of her account and was at the hearing - had contacted him.
The Associated Press does not usually identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Jones and others named here have made their identities public.
Ten others reported their stories through a foundation Jones began to help women with similar experiences.
In her written statement, Barker said she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker while working in the Green Zone in Basra, Iraq, in 2005. That followed retaliation for reporting sexual harassment in 2004, she said.
Poe said another, unidentified, woman was molested several times and raped by a KBR co-worker. After the rape, her attacker was allowed to work alongside her. Military officers escorted him off the base when she complained, and she was fired.
"Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge," Poe told the House panel. "The law must intervene, and these outlaws need to be rounded up and order restored."
Jones submitted a copy of an affidavit from KBR human resources supervisor Letty Surman to the committee, in which she said she was aware of the work environment.
"During my time as an HR supervisor, I was aware that a lot of sexual harassment went on - it was our major complaint. ... I am aware that Halliburton has a policy of sweeping problems under the rug," Surman said in the affidavit.
KBR said it was not invited to testify at the hearing. Asked for comment Wednesday, the Houston-based company reiterated a statement it has made since Jones' allegations became public last week. "The safety and security of all employees remains KBR's top priority. Our commitment in this regard is unwavering."
KBR split from Halliburton in April.
Poe and Jones said they have been unable to find out whether her assault was investigated or anyone held accountable. Jones said photos, doctors' notes and physical evidence were taken when she went to the Army hospital the day after the rape.
The doctors gave the evidence to KBR security, she said. A State Department official told Jones in May the photos and notes were missing.
Jones said she was held against her will after she finished a doctor's exam that confirmed she was raped.
"The KBR security then took me to a trailer and then locked me in a room with two armed guards outside my door," Jones said. "I was in prison in the trailer for approximately a day. One of the guards finally had mercy and let me use a phone. I called my dad, who contacted Congressman Ted Poe, who took actions to get me out of the country. I believe he saved my life."
Poe testified the State Department dispatched two U.S. Embassy agents in Baghdad within 48 hours after he contacted the department. The agents rescued Jones and returned her to Texas, he said.
Several members of Congress have criticized the Justice, State and Defense departments for the way the case was handled.
The Justice Department was a no-show at the hearing, which drew heavy criticism from Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee. "It is unacceptable for our own Department of Justice to refuse to testify today," Conyers, D-Mich., said.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the department gave Congress a "detailed explanation of its authority to investigate and prosecute criminal misconduct involving U.S. persons who are contract employees in Iraq."
He said Justice officials decided not to testify so it would not compromise the ongoing investigation.
Jones and others are suing the company, but must contend with an agreement they signed at hiring requiring them to settle disputes through private arbitration.
"What is to stop these companies from victimizing women in the future?" Jones said. "The U.S. government has to provide people with their day in court when they have been raped and assaulted by other American citizens. Otherwise we are not only deprived of our justice in the criminal courts but in the civil courts as well. The laws have left us nowhere to turn."
Associated Press writer John Porretto contributed to this report from Houston.
On the Net:
Rep. Ted Poe: http://poe.house.gov/
Jamie Leigh Foundation: http://www.jamiesfoundation.com/index.htm