Exclusive: Halliburton Employee Says He Was Gang-Beaten By Co-Workers at Baghdad Airport
Democracy Now | March 30, 2005
The father of an employee of Halliburton subsidiary KBR in Iraq is alleging that his son was gang-beaten by a group of fellow employees, known as the "Red Neck Mafia," at the Baghdad airport where he works as a security coordinator for KBR. We speak with Eli Chavez, the father of KBR employee Ronald Chavez. [includes rush transcript]
The father of an employee of Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root in Iraq is alleging that his son was gang-beaten by a group of fellow employees at the Baghdad airport where he works as a security coordinator for KBR. Yesterday, the father of Ron Chavez-who is from right here in Houston, Texas-sent a letter to the US Justice Department. It reads:
"My son Ronald Lee Chavez an employee of Halliburton in Iraq was severely beaten by peer Halliburton employees. These employees are known in Iraq as the Leesville, LA "Red Neck Mafia".
Ronald was med-evaced to Camp Anaconda where he is in a US Military Hospital and remains there. According to my daughter in law Patti, Ronald is to be transferred to a military hospital in Germany because of Atria Fibrillation to his heart due to the severe beating. What I understand, Halliburton has advised Patti, that Ronald needs a Passport to get medical treatment at a Military Hospital in Germany.
While Ronald was in Albuquerque on R & R, he advised me that his Boss did not like him because Ronald is Hispanic; and that the "Red Neck Mafia" ran the operation for Halliburton at Baghdad Airport. Ronald further advised me that he had reported by Memorandum to higher authority within the Halliburton Chain of Command the vulnerabilities at Baghdad Airport regarding to terrorist attacks. Ronald further stated that higher authority was upset at his recommendations.
According to Patti, Halliburton advised her that they had sent 3 of the "Redneck Mafia" members back to the USA; and that Halliburton was not going to file criminal charges against them. They further
It is unclear who gave the order to dispatch Ronald to the location and/or who called for medical assistance. According to Patti, Ronald is waiting for a military aircraft to transfer him to Germany for treatment. Ronald is presently in ICU in serious condition."
That is a letter written to the US Justice Department yesterday by Eli Chavez, the father of Ron Chavez. His father says he plans to file a criminal complaint against anyone involved in his son"s beating. Eli Chavez joins us here in our Texas studio.
Eli Chavez , the father of Ron Chavez. He is also a decorated veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency for his work in Laos and the Philippines. He is also a former Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent as well as a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division. Last year, he ran for Congress in the state of New Mexico.
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AMY GOODMAN: Eli Chavez joins us now here in our studio in Houston, Texas. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
ELI CHAVEZ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us.
ELI CHAVEZ: Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: So give us the chronology of events.
ELI CHAVEZ: Well, I received a telephone call on the day after Easter, which would be Monday, I believe, and it was Patti on the line and she advised me that Ronnie had been beaten by fellow Americans, and I quickly disregarded the beating, but why from fellow Americans, and I became very angry at the time, and I decided that it's time to take the bull by the horn and be upfront with what is happening to my son. My son was beaten brutally, and it was unnecessary, by these thugs that beat him, and it’s time for the United States government, and I have great faith in our judicial system, that it will do something about this. This has to be followed up by the Department of Justice, and I believe that they will do something about it. If not, we are in trouble in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: What is KBR saying to you right now?
ELI CHAVEZ: I haven't talked to KBR at all. It's all been through Patti. Patti had had communication with them at all times.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we did call KBR and asked them for a response. We asked them to join us on the program. After all, we are here in Houston, Texas. They responded, and this is a letter from Jennifer Dillinger, and I have to say, although they made clear that we are talking to Kellogg, Brown and Root, the subsidiary of Halliburton, it was interesting that Jennifer Dillinger's email is from Jennifer Dillinger at Halliburton. But she responded, “As we previously stated, KBR is currently investigating the situation and cannot provide further details at this time.”
ELI CHAVEZ: Well, apparently they are, because they did send three of those people back to the United States without any prosecution or any criminal complaints filed against them.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain who these people are. I mean, you've seen your son within the time he's been in Iraq, he's come back to…
ELI CHAVEZ: Yes, he is on R&R. And I’m from Albuquerque, not from Houston.
AMY GOODMAN: Right, but your son is here, living here. Can you talk about who this -- what he calls the “Red Neck Mafia” -- is?
ELI CHAVEZ: He explained to me at that time that his boss didn’t seem to like Hispanics, or he did not like a memorandum that he had written about the vulnerabilities at the Iraqi Baghdad Airport, and all he wanted to do was protect Americans and protect the people there, and it seemed like it backfired on him, and he became isolated by -- it was a political thing, what he described to me, that he became isolated by the other employees and his boss.
AMY GOODMAN: And this group of people that beat him, who are they?
ELI CHAVEZ: What I understand and what Patti advised me, that these people were from Leesville, Louisiana, and Halliburton recruits heavily in that area and these are the people that they employed and sent to Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: And had he had dealings with them before?
ELI CHAVEZ: Not that I’m aware of, and I don't know if he had or not.
AMY GOODMAN: Was he afraid of them?
ELI CHAVEZ: Well, he didn't say anything about being afraid. Ronnie is, he's pretty much a person that's not afraid of anything.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to look at these two emails that your son Ron sent to you. The first, December 27, 2004, the second, January 11, 2005, just a few months ago. Actually, maybe you could read the email that Ron wrote to you in late December.
ELI CHAVEZ: ”Waiting on a response from the company guy, it might take it to Basra, a lot better situation down there.” He was trying to get transferred to southern Iraq, rather than being in Baghdad. “I have been working very hard to secure the airport, and it is a dangerous place. The company that runs the security is undermanned and when you have people in your perimeter, it's almost impossible to secure. Plus, all the attitudes and perceptions people seem to have, I feel it's not if a bomb will hit, but when. I am trying to persuade people, we need to move the operation to our own facility.” And what he talked about then was he was making a recommendation to moving the Halliburton operation into the controlled area, controlled by the military. That would give them additional security. And they were meeting resistance at the time. “However, I am meeting political resistance. I just want to save lives (American lives).” And he put that in parenthesis. “Cost is a terrible weapon. I love you guys. Give everyone a kiss, Ronnie.”
AMY GOODMAN: And that's the letter he wrote to you December 27, 2004. Just about two weeks later, January 11, he said, “I’m doing pretty good, I’m involved with this airport more than my job title would suggest. Yesterday, Globe Security threatened to walk off the job if they weren't paid by 3:00 p.m. They had not been paid in eight weeks. The army was not ready to take over their position, so they finally settled on a handshake deal. The Iraq government was taking the money from the U.S. and not giving it to Global. The money is probably in a Swiss account somewhere. These people are the most corrupt bunch I’ve ever seen. Everyone is on the take.” This is your son Ron, writing to you January in 2005.
ELI CHAVEZ: That's correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think these emails had anything to do with his getting beaten up later?
ELI CHAVEZ: I don't know any of the facts about whether he was beat up because of these emails, but I know that he was meeting a lot of resistance on the memorandum that he produced to Halliburton in regards to the security of the airport. He felt that the security of the airport was not secure. He felt that American lives were at stake and that he wanted to save those lives, and especially anybody that's in that airport, he wanted to make sure everything was fine.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Pratap into this right now. Pratap Chatterjee, you’ve been to the airport. So you've got an area that is not secured by the military but where the workers, like Halliburton, like KBR workers work? Is this what Ron is referring to when he says that this area should also be -- that he wanted to move the KBR operation to a military secured area?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, I’m not familiar with specifically where that particular group of people is. And you have to understand, there are anywhere between 24,000 and 40,000 employees of Halliburton in Iraq, and many of the locations are different. There is a company -- another company that was employed and we talked about them actually about a month ago on Democracy Now! called Custer Battles that's been charged with security of the airport. And, you know, again, the moment you step outside that airport, that highway to Baghdad is extremely dangerous, so the situation differs based on specifically where you are and who you are. So, for example, we've gotten a lot of reports that some of the – especially, you know, the third country nationals, you know, people from India, the Philippines, et cetera, are placed right at the perimeter because their lives are more expendable, and so, you know, when mortars come in to camp and mortars do come in to both the airport as well as Camp Anaconda – incidentally, this is the same two locations that the truck drivers were driving from. They were driving from Camp Anaconda to the Baghdad International Airport, so there are certainly locations within each of these that are more vulnerable to attack, even if it’s highly secured. I mean, where I stayed in Baghdad, we would see mortars land here 100 yards away. So unless they cover them with a glass dome, it’s pretty much impossible – but what I would like to actually say is there's a pattern here of (a)Halliburton and other contractors not being in control of their employees. So who knows? Maybe the orders came on from above. I don't know that, but what we do know -- and he has -- Mr. Chavez has been beaten. I know of at least one Halliburton employee, one Custer Battles employee and one Dynecorp employee who had been threatened, that if they went to the press or blew the whistle, they would be beaten up or killed, and of course, they, in fact, three men have been killed after they've talked about -- not working for Halliburton, working for a company called Ultra Service -- have disappeared or been killed after they have tried to blow the whistle. So there's this climate of fear, and also the climate of managers doing whatever they want, and as I mentioned a little earlier in the show on this other story, we have managers sitting, Halliburton managers sitting in Kuwait taking million dollar bribes and, in fact, one was indicted in Georgia ten days ago for taking a million dollar bribe. This is a senior guy from Halliburton who was signing contracts for fuel supply to a base in Kuwait. And he's not the only one being investigated. There is -- the senior managers on the take, at least some of them are. They’re turning a blind eye to what’s happening below. They have no control of either the fraud or the traps that are being lobbed at them probably from within, from other fellow Americans, as well as from the resistance in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee is joining us on the telephone from California. Eli Chavez is here with us. He lives in Albuquerque but has come to Houston where his son lives, though Ron Chavez was in Iraq until he was severely beaten on Easter. We're going to break and then come back to our discussion. What’s happened with the men who were involved in the beating of Ron Chavez, and as we are broadcasting this, Ron’s wife is awaiting a call from Ron Chavez. She is hoping that he is landing now in Germany. He was in intensive care in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about a young man in Iraq working for Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. On Easter Sunday, he was severely beaten by other Americans, people he called the “Red Neck Mafia,” called to a site, not clear why, didn't go with anyone else, was severely beaten, was put in intensive care, and now we believe is being flown to Germany. We're talking with his father Eli Chavez, who has come here from Albuquerque to Houston to talk about his son's case. This is where Ron Chavez actually lives with his wife Patti. Patti is just outside our studio here waiting for a call from her husband Ron, hoping that he has landed in Germany. There are a number of questions about this case. Was the beating racially motivated? Did it have to do with a memo that he wrote to his higher-ups at Kellogg, Brown and Root/Halliburton, concerned about corruption, concerned about safety and security. Democracy Now! sent an email to Kellogg, Brown and Root/Halliburton, asking a series of questions. One, what is being done to the alleged perpetrators in the alleged beating of Mr. Chavez? Is a law enforcement agency involved? Is the U.S. military involved? Who is investigating this incident? Number two, have any of the alleged perpetrators left Iraq? If so, where did they go, why were they allowed to leave? Have any of them been disciplined in any way by the company? Is KBR or Halliburton aware of the existence of a “Red Neck Mafia” or a similar group at the Baghdad Airport or affiliated in any way with either company? The response, as we previously stated, KBR is currently investigating this situation and cannot provide further details at this time. Eli Chavez, you are Ron's father, deeply concerned about what is happening to him. You want him out of Iraq.
ELI CHAVEZ: I want him out of Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
ELI CHAVEZ: I'm afraid that he'll end up either thrown out of the perimeter at the Baghdad Airport and the Iraqis capture him, or somebody might hurt him. As the gentleman on the phone said, there has been cases where people have been hurt afterwards, and I'm a former federal law enforcement officer. I was a D.E.A. special agent, and I resent any beating, and I'm -- whatever it takes, I'm going to follow through with this.
AMY GOODMAN: You also worked for the C.I.A.?
ELI CHAVEZ: Yes, ma'am, I did.
AMY GOODMAN: When?
ELI CHAVEZ: Back during the Vietnam War. I had commanded guerrilla forces in Laos, a group of people, and I spent two years in combat there with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you afraid, Ron going to Iraq, starting to talk to you about the problems he saw there, that something could happen to him?
ELI CHAVEZ: Absolutely, I was. It seemed like it wasn't falling in place like a normal situation would in a combat area, and it seemed to me that he would be taking a lot of risks, but in war there's a lot of risks, and we have to acknowledge that. But we also have to acknowledge the fact that Americans have to support Americans there or else it's going to -- there's going to be chaos. Well, I do not -- I do not like what they did to my son, and I don't think anybody seeing what's going on in this camera right here today likes it either, and I call upon all Americans to get involved in this case and call your senators and tell them exactly what's going on, because it's time that we do something about what's going on, and I'm more concerned about my son, because my son was brutally beaten and by eight people, and there could have been more, and nobody broke it up. And that's what upsets me. I don't know who called for the medevac, and that was a very important thing, whoever did that saved my son's life. And I am happy about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what has happened with some of these workers? They've been just sent away?
ELI CHAVEZ: What I understand, I haven't talked to anybody at Halliburton, and I understand that they sent three people away, but it seems to me like Halliburton should have been more responsible and filed a complaint, a criminal complaint against them, rather than just send them home. There's more to this than what I believe we all know here, and I think that the federal government should get involved so that does not happen again to another American or Iraqi or anybody. Beating is not right.
AMY GOODMAN: Who has jurisdiction?
ELI CHAVEZ: I believe the United States government has jurisdiction there, because Halliburton is under contract with the United States government, the Pentagon. And any time that you have a contract with the U.S. government, based on my experience, is that the U.S. government is responsible, and it goes all up to the top, and anybody -- like in a vicarious liability case, everybody is named within responsibility, so somebody has to grab the bull by the horn, and it seems like – I hope they do soon.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us. We are certainly going to continue to cover this case. Again, we will let you know if by the end of this broadcast Ron does call his wife Patti who is right here outside of the range of the microphones, waiting for the call to let her know that he has arrived in Germany.
ELI CHAVEZ: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Eli Chavez, former federal employee, worked for the D.E.A., worked for the C.I.A., now his son having suffered this brutal beating in Iraq, an employee of K.B.R. beaten by he says other employees of K.B.R I want to also thank Pratap Chatterjee of Corpwatch.Org .