Both the U.S. military and private contractors doing business in Iraq think it is in their interest to reveal as little information as possible about the deaths of contract employees. Maybe it is. But is it in the best interests of the employees’ families, or the U. S. public?
Halliburton Co. truck drivers Tim Bell and Bill Bradley disappeared April 9 when their convoy was attacked west of Baghdad.
Did they die at the scene? Were they captured? Is there reason for hope?
No one will say.
The Army has conducted an investigation into the ambush, but the report is classified. Pentagon officials refused to discuss its contents, directing questions to Halliburton. The company referred questions back to the Pentagon.
“We have done everything in our power to find information and found that we are hitting a brick wall,” Bradley’s family wrote in an e-mail to the Houston Chronicle.
“We are crushed.”
When a U.S. soldier or Marine is killed in Iraq, the Pentagon provides to the public the individual’s name, age and hometown, as well as a brief description of the cause of death.
When it comes to contractor casualties, the Pentagon has left it up to the company to report — or not.
And the response has been mostly not.
At least 55 Halliburton employees and subcontractors have been killed and more than 100 others wounded in Iraq and Kuwait, according to the company. Other companies won’t say how many of their workers are dead or injured, and the Pentagon isn’t keeping track.
Halliburton has publicly identified just 12 of those dead workers, while the names of eight others have trickled out.
The April 9 attack caught international attention because truck driver Tommy Hamill of Macon, Miss., was paraded by his captors before an Australian television crew. He later escaped and was rescued, making him the most famous U.S. worker in Iraq.
Bradley, a former Galveston resident, was driving the 14th truck in the 20-vehicle convoy. Few other details are known.
Like Hamill, Army Reserve Spc. Keith “Matt” Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was captured in that ambush.
A few days after the attack, Al-Jazeera television showed a video of Maupin surrounded by gunmen. In June, Al-Jazeera showed another video of a blindfolded man, who the station said was later shown being shot. Pentagon officials have not been able to conclusively say whether Maupin was that man.
He is officially listed as captured, and a military source said the search for Maupin continues “every day.”
What kind of search is being done for Bell and Bradley is unclear.
“Nobody seems to know what’s going on,” said Bell’s sister, Felicia Carter of Mobile, Ala.
[T]he Pentagon insists it doesn’t know how many contractors have been killed.
Larry Makinson, a senior fellow at the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog group in Washington, said the Pentagon likes it that way.
“They were afraid of turning this into another Vietnam,” Makinson said. “They know what it’s like to see casualty figures day after day. The reliance on civilian contractors in Iraq is really a different variation on the same theme that led the Pentagon to ban taking photographs of flag-draped coffins.”