Sex, Halliburton, and the State Department

By David Swanson

On Wednesday, February 27th, from 8 to 9 p.m. ET I’ll be interviewing live another female Halliburton employee who was subjected to an environment of constant sexual harassment in Iraq. Tracy Barker was sexually assaulted by Halliburton employees and – in one instance – by a U.S. State Department employee in Basra, Iraq. The State Department employee has confessed to part of what Barker alleges, but remains at the State Department, and has never been charged with any crime. You can listen to the live interview and call in with your questions on Wednesday at http://www.thepeoplespeakradio.net

At the same link, you’ll find the audio file of a recent interview I conducted with Jamie Leigh Jones, a victim of gang rape by employees of the Halliburton corporation in Iraq. Jones has become the best known of what appears to be a lengthy list of Halliburton employees subjected to sexual assault. U.S. contractors in Iraq cannot be prosecuted under Iraqi law and simply are not prosecuted under U.S. law.

An ABC News 20/20 report last December focused largely on Jones’ story, and Jones also testified before Congress that month. But if you watch the 20/20 report through to the end you’ll see a second story as well, that of Tracy Barker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ez9fFRuJB-4

PHOTO: Tracy Barker

Barker has brought charges against Halliburton/KBR claiming that she was sexually assaulted, harassed, and falsely imprisoned while working at Camp Hope in Basra, Iraq. Barker is a military wife and mother of 3 who worked for Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary as an administrative assistant in Iraq while her husband served in the U.S. military. According to ABC News, Barker claims that State Department employee Ali Mokhtare attempted to rape her: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Story?id=3998439

“Mokhtare denied that he had attempted to rape her, but admitted that he had gone too far with Tracy, and signed a statement to that effect, which ABC News has obtained. In the document, Mokhtare states he ‘admitted that he pulled her vest and shirt’ and that he asked Barker, ‘What do you have behind there?’ He also says that he ‘made a mistake and it was stupid,’ according to the document. Despite his admission, Mokhtare, a U.S. citizen, still works at the State Department today….

“Mokhtare was a diplomatic official in Basra who first came to Iraq as a Farsi translator interviewing detainees. The U.S. Diplomatic Security Service investigated the allegations against Mokhtare and presented the case to the Justice Department for prosecution, but ‘the case was declined for prosecution’ states the document. Furthermore, investigators requested that the State Department suspend Mokhtare’s security clearance, but according to a handwritten note at the bottom of the document, that request was denied.”

Following the incident, Barker says, Halliburton confined her to a living container where she was constantly watched, including when she used the bathroom. Food was brought to her as if she was a prisoner, and she was denied medical attention and any outside communications. Barker says she was forced several days later to wear the same clothing she’d worn the night of the assault (ordinary pants and a long-sleeved shirt) and paraded through a crowded dining area apparently to humiliate her. This was part of the official investigation, aimed at determining whether she was sexually provocative. At this point she was still be refused medical attention.

Eventually, Barker says, she was able to use a cellphone belonging to National Guardsman Kevin Rodgers. Barker’s husband, 1st Sergeant Galen Barker, says that his wife contacted him through Rodgers. He then tried unsuccessfully to get to Kuwait so that he could rescue his wife from Iraq. Barker continued to be held against her will by Halliburton, and the State Department continued to stall her release. She was eventually rescued by Dr. David Pakkal of the State Department who took her to Kuwait.

When she returned home, Barker spoke out about what she had been through and began pursuing justice through U.S. courts. She says she was the first victim to do so. Several months after returning home, in July of 2005, Barker started receiving phone calls from other Halliburton employees who also alleged sexual harassment and rape while in Iraq. Barker learned that a State Department investigator and a Halliburton employee had given her home phone number out to gang rape victims because they thought Barker could help them.

PHOTO: Stewart Hoffer

Barker says the State Department offered her $3,500 in cash to drop certain charges, but she refused.

Halliburton has requested private arbitration instead of facing a civil suit and claims that this is required by Barker’s employment contract. A judge ruled this month in favor of arbitration, arguing that sexual harassment, including assault, is a reality in today’s workplace. Barker’s attorney Stewart Hoffer is in the process of appealing this order.

Barker was invited to testify before Congress on December 19, 2007, by Congressman Bob Etheridge. Barker’s newborn twins were fighting for their lives, but Barker made the trip to Washington, only to be denied the opportunity to testify. Barker was permitted only to submit to the House Judiciary Committee a statement from Letty Surman, Barker’s human resources manager at Halliburton/KBR and an eyewitness to some of her ordeals. Surman’s affidavit detailed Barker’s workplace experience and described the men who assaulted Barker.

Barker has created the Tracy K. Barker Foundation to help other women who have also been victimized while working overseas.