Tracy Barker, former Halliburton/KBR Employee
by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, Women’s Space, May 4, 2008
Last January I blogged about Jamie Leigh Jones, a Halliburton/KBR employee in Iraq who was brutally gang-raped by co-workers after having had her drink surreptitiously drugged. She was so badly injured in the attack, she required surgery. She was seen by a doctor and a rape kit documented the rapes (though part of the rape kit mysteriously disappeared while in the “care” of Halliburton employees). After the rapes, Jones was imprisoned in a container for several days, deprived of basic necessities of life and was guarded by Halliburton/KBR employees to prevent her escape. She managed to gain access to a cell phone, called her father in Texas, and her father contacted a Republican legislator, Ted Poe, who secured Jones’ release and return to the U.S. Jones was in Iraq for only four days. Upon her return she retained attorneys, but Halliburton/KBR maintains, and Courts have so far agreed, that Jones must submit her claims to binding arbitration rather than filing a civil lawsuit because she signed a “binding arbitration clause” hidden in an 18-page employment contract she signed before she left for Iraq. Unlike civil and criminal court proceedings, arbitrations are private and confidential, not disclosed to the public.
Jones testified about the rapes before a Congressional investigatory committee (Youtube video of her testimony can be viewed at the link above to my January post.) The Department of Justice was subpoenaed to testify before the committee as well but declined to appear. As things stand, women employees of defense contractors in foreign countries may be, and are being, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, battered and raped with impunity and their only recourse is private arbitration with their employers once they manage to escape what often amounts to captivity and are back in the U.S.
After I blogged about Jamie Leigh Jones, I began receiving e-mails and comments from relatives of another woman, Tracy Barker, who had also been employed by Halliburton/KBR, and who had also been raped in Iraq. Barker’s story seemed complicated and the e-mails and comments I received were sometimes hard to follow. I wasn’t sure what to make of what I was reading and knew I needed to do some investigation. I spent time today, finally — having yesterday received another comment to my blog on behalf of Tracy Barker — investigating the claims of those who have loved and supported her. I pulled up U.S. District Court dockets from the Southern District of Texas and the Eastern District of Virginia, read all of the relevant and substantive pleadings and viewed all of the exhibits attached to the pleadings. I read the comparatively few articles I could find online about Barker, a New York Times article, (also posted on Truthout), an article on People’s Speak Radio, a post written by another American woman blogger raped in Iraq, and the few comments to the posts, which I believe included comments by counsel retained by Halliburton. Barker’s story resonated and rang true to me, and I am convinced that she and her family members are reporting events which deserve as much public attention as can be gathered on her behalf. Barker, her husband and her family strike me as decent, honest and hardworking citizens who have repeatedly been shocked and stunned, as they should be, by the treatment Barker has received from her employer, government officials, attorneys, arbitrators, courts, corporate executives, HR personnel and news media they believed they could trust.
For the most part Barker has been silenced, prevented from telling her story. She was summoned to the same Congressional hearing to which Jamie Leigh Jones was summoned but was not permitted to testify. She had only two hours’ notice that she needed to board a flight to attend the hearing. She had just given birth to twins who were born prematurely and were in intensive care. Nevertheless, she traveled to Washington D.C. at her own expense of $1,300. In the Youtube video below, a somber Barker is visible seated behind the podium where Jamie Leigh Jones is speaking. Having traveled all that way immediately post-partum, she never got the chance to speak for herself before the assembled Congressional committee.
Tracy Barker is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the wife of a career Army soldier, Galen Barker, who has served on the Golden Knights Parachute Team for 24 years. She is the mother of five children.
Sexually Harassed and Threatened by Supervisors in Baghdad
Barker began working for Halliburton in 2004 in the “Green Zone” in Baghdad.
Shortly after her arrival in Baghdad, her supervisors, Crystal Daniel and Barron Marcee, began to sexually harass and threaten her. She observed that they were also threatening and sexually harassing Iraqi women who would at times cry and approach her for help. At one point one of these supervisors choked an Iraqi woman, “Sunni”, in a conference room as though attempting to kill her. Shocked and outraged, Barker reported these events through what she believed was a confidential program allowing employees to make complaints through Halliburton employees in Houston. But Barker’s complaints were not kept confidential; instead they were forwarded on to her supervisors, who then retaliated by stepping up the threats and sexual harassment. When she resisted, just as with Jones, Barker was imprisoned in a container where supervisors attempted to force her to sign a false statement that she was guilty of bad conduct and where she was denied any contact with the outside world, including her husband. She was not allowed to even use the bathroom except under the surveillance of Halliburton/KBR employees.
Pornography Papering Basra Office Walls
Barker was then transferred to Basra. When she arrived, a number of men were present and waiting for her. She was told by a manager the men were there to see how “good looking” she was. She shared a working space with several men. The walls and halls throughout were completely covered with pornography, including photographs of male coworkers visiting brothels in Thailand, as they frequently did, and photographs of animals copulating. Copies of these images on the wall above her desk are attached as exhibits to documents in the lawsuit she filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and I saw them. One of them depicted a supervisor in bed with the caption, “We try to get you into bed.”
“What Happens In Basra, Stays in Basra”
There was no HR department in Basra, so Barker complained about her supervisor, Sherman Richardson, to someone she understood to be an HR employee working for the State Department, Charles Hermanen. Hermanen said the woman Barker was replacing had complained of the same problems and had left because of them, and that other employees had complained about Richardson as well, but that “Sherman will be Sherman.” This was Barker’s introduction to the oppressions and abuses she would experience in Basra, where the motto, it was said, was “What happens in Basra, stays in Basra.”
At one point private meetings were held by the State Department in conjunction with Halliburton where women– soldiers, contractors and State Department employees — were told they were not safe in Basra because of the men’s behavior. They were warned NEVER to go anywhere alone. They were told of break-ins into women’s quarters, theft of undergarments, and peeping Toms. They were also told if they reported these meetings, they would lose their jobs.
Sexual Harassment by Basra Camp Manager Craig Grabein
As time passed, Basra Camp Manager Craig Grabein, a married man in his 40s from Texas, began sexually harassing Barker, knocking on her door at all hours of the day and night, telling her he would protect her from all of the other predators there if she would have sex with him.
Scared, Barker determined to get to Kuwait to report these events to the Halliburton/KBR HR office there. Every time she was scheduled to go, however, her name would be removed from the manifest at the last moment, so she couldn’t leave. When she was finally able to leave, she was followed, threatened, then left alone in a staging area in Iraq in the middle of a war zone. She hitched a ride to Kuwait on a food truck driven by a British soldier and rode 19 hours through a war zone, aghast as she passed starving children and insurgents all along the way. She arrived in Kuwait only to be told by Halliburton employees to return to Basra and to say nothing.
She returned to Basra and found that all of her belongings had been removed from her room.
She began talking daily by phone with a woman employee of Halliburton/KBR, but she was not allowed to travel.
Attempted Rape by U.S. Embassy Official Ali Mokhtare
Barker’s job in Basra was to see to it that equipment was functioning properly at the Basra camp or to see to it that it was replaced. One evening Ali Mokhtare (below), Deputy Regional Coordinator for the U.S. Regional Embassy Office in Basra, Iraq, the second highest ranking representative of the United States Government there, told Barker he was having trouble with his air conditioner.
Barker went to his quarters to investigate, but when she arrived, Mokhtare didn’t mention his air conditioner. Instead, he asked whether she would like to join him in having a Jack Daniels and Coke. Barker tasted the drink and found it very strong. Barker spoke with Mokhtare about other job opportunities for herself and her husband. But then, Mokhtare grabbed Barker’s blouse, told her he had been trying to see what was under her blouse all day, and attempted to kiss her. She fought him, and he wouldn’t allow her to leave his room. Instead he told her stories about “chop chop square” in Saudi Arabia where people lost their limbs and tongues and told her about a Filipino woman he heard of who had been raped repeatedly by a Saudi prince. The woman had killed herself when no one believed her story.
Barker was able finally to flee in terror with Mokhtare in pursuit, yelling at her in Farsi. A woman who saw what was happening and who spoke Farsi told Barker Mokhtare was threatening her.
Paraded Before Male Employees of Halliburton
Barker reported the attempted rape to Halliburton/KBR and State Department security and was again locked up for three days in a container and allowed no contact with anyone. When she snuck out and used a pay phone to call her husband, who was trying to contact someone he knew from Black Water who might be able to rescue her, she was caught and forced to stay in the container for another day. She spent her days in the locked container crying, pleading for help, and hiding under a bed holding a knife.
After she had been in the container three days camp supervisors forced her to put on the clothes she had been wearing when Mokhtare attacked her — a shirt, vest and trousers — and to parade through a common area filled with men so they could determine whether the men found her clothing sexually provocative.
Barker was consistently refused medical care and was not allowed to leave Basra.
Meanwhile, Mokhtare had been questioned by security personnel about the incident. This is what he said about the incident, taken directly from a Diplomatic Security Service Memorandum dated June 25, 2005, and filed as an exhibit in Barker’s Southern District of Texas lawsuit:
Subject [Mokhtare] stated that he and Barker had some initial job related discussions and the remainder of their conversation was professional. Subject said that Barker wore a buttoned vest with a white undershirt underneath. He claimed the vest and the shirt had plunging necklines. Subject further stated that Barker continually pulled at her vest and shirt as if to expose her breasts. Subject admitted that he pulled her vest and shirt opened (sic) and said to Barquer (sic) “What do you have behind there?” [Investigator] asked subject if he thought Barker was interested in an advance or some type of romantic or sexual contact. Subject repolied in the negative. Upon further questioning… Subject said, “I admit it was an inappropriate move.” He also said, “I made a mistake and it was stupid.”
… Subject claimed he conveyed several stories about briefings he received of Saudi misconduct and observations of “chop/chop square” where punishments such as cutting out tongues and chopping off limbs took place. Subject further stated that he told Barker a story abot a Saudi Prince who allegedly raped a Philipino woman who later committed suicide because no one believed her story….
[Investigator] asked what happened upon Barker’s departure. Subject said that as Barker got up to leave he stood and they hugged at which point he kissed her cheek. Subject further stated that Barker turned her hed towards his mouth giving him the impression that she wanted to be kissed. Subject admitted that Barker put her hand over her mouth and said no. Subject said he released the hug at that point and offered to walk her back to her accommodation trailer.
In other words, Mokhtare admitted he had attacked Barker and blamed her for his attacks. It is interesting– when Barker recounted the events of that night, she remembered touching the pendant on a necklace given to her by her husband that she wore all of the time, the kind of thing we do as women when we are scared and are attempting to comfort ourselves.
Mokhtare is still employed today by the State Department.
Raped by Camp Manager Craig Grabein
Hearing that a doctor had been stranded at the base, Barker contacted him, told him what happened, and ignoring the orders of her supervisors that she stay in Basra, the doctor placed her on a manifest to leave the next day. She was given sleeping pills. That night camp manager, Craig Grabein, the man who had been continually sexually harassing her, demanding sex from her in exchange for his “protection,” entered her room and raped her. She woke up to find him on top of her. She immediately reported the rape to the doctor and to authorities*. She left Basra the next day.
Silenced at Home
When Barker returned to the United States, she was told by a State Department investigator, Lynn Falango, that Mokhtare would be stripped of his security clearance and prosecuted. He never was. Later Falango called Barker to tell her what had happened to Barker in Iraq was being covered up and that Barker should hire an attorney. Falango said she had been told not to contact Barker again and that the case had been taken from her when she tried to get Mokhtare prosecuted.
A few months later Barker was surprised when she began receiving calls and correspondence from other women Halliburton/KBR employees who had also been raped in Iraq. These women said Falango had given them Barker’s name and number as someone who had gone through the same thing and might be able to help, apparently since no one else could! The inference is that one of the women who contacted Barker was Jamie Leigh Jones, although Jones’ name is not specifically mentioned in court documents as one of these women.
State Department Hush Money
In November of 2005, Barker received a phone call from Attorney Advisor, Henry Norcom, who worked with the Civil Rights Office of the State Department. He offered her $3,500 to drop the allegations against Mr. Mokhtare. Barker refused and was then told her case was closed.
EEOC Finds in Favor of Barker
Barker had filed charges of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation with the Houston Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission once she got back to the U.S. I read the EEOC reports and they found in favor of Barker, and stated that Halliburton retaliated against Barker following her good faith report of sexual harassment, and that instead of addressing Barker’s complaint, they tried to orchestrate her termination. **
Civil Suits Dismissed
Barker filed a civil suit against Halliburton/KBR, Mokhtare, and others in the U.S. District Court for both the Eastern and Southern Districts of Texas. Her case was first moved from the Eastern to the Southern District, then was ultimately dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because of the “mandatory arbitration” clause Barker had signed with Halliburton/KBR. In issuing his order on August 16, 2007, Judge Gray H. Miller wrote:
All of these arguments address the wisdom of arbitration as a whole and more specifically arbitration of sexual harassment claims. Whether it is wise to send this type of claim to arbitration is not a question for this court to decide. District courts are bound to follow the precedents set by higher courts. And, that precedent is quite clear: Barker’s claims are included within the ambit of claims proper for arbitration. Sadly, sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault, is a reality in today’s workplace. …Although Congress has expressly exempted certain types of employment claims from the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act, it has not addressed sexual harassment claims. …Therefore, unless and until Congress tells the courts that binding contracts to arbitrate do not include these types of claims, Barker’s policy arguments cannot prevail. For all of the foregoing reasons, Barker’s claims must be arbitrated pursuant to the arbitration provision of her employment contract. (Bolds mine).
I noted that within the past month, a motion for consideration (basically an appeal of the judge’s decision) brought by Barker’s attorneys was denied.
Judge Miller severed the complaints against Mokhtare and transferred them to the Eastern District of Virginia. Mokhtare attempted there to be granted “certification,” which would exempt him from prosecution based on the fact that he was acting as an employee of the State Department and hence was immune from prosecution. A couple of weeks ago, the Virginia judge denied Mokhtare this certification. The case continues.
In the meantime, Tracy Baker has been all but silenced. She was not allowed to tell her story to the Congressional investigatory committee. She was not allowed to tell the most important parts of her story to ABC’s 20/20.*** She has been told by a Texas judge that her only option is mandatory, private arbitration with Halliburton/KBR, the company that allowed and ignored her rape, battering, imprisonment and abuse for over a year. Hillary Clinton refused to help her because, said Clinton, Barker wasn’t a resident of the state of New York. She is being told that having been sexually assaulted by a top-ranking State Department official, raped by a Halliburton camp manager, and continually sexually harassed, imprisoned and tormented throughout her employment in Iraq are employment “grievances” to be resolved by arbitration. She suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot work.
I don’t know why Jamie Leigh Jones, who spent only four days in Iraq, has received the amount of publicity and support she’s received, compared with Barker who spent over a year there in both Baghdad and Basra. I can’t help but wonder whether it is because, as Barker was told, “Gang rape sells, not sexual assault or ‘just’ rape.” I wonder whether it might be, in part, because Barker is French Basque/Spanish and is hence a woman of color, therefore not the kind of complainant the blonde American Jamie Leigh Jones is, or because Jones’s father was the kind of man who could gain the immediate attention of a Republican legislator with a quick phone call, securing his daughter’s release within three days of the attacks on her. I wonder if it might be, in part, because Barker is a mother of five, instead of a young woman in her 20s with no children. I wonder whether it was because Barker saw too much, knew too much, including about the attacks of Halliburton employees on Iraqi women as well as Halliburton employees. I wonder if, despite Mokhtare’s own admissions, Barker going to his room — even though as part of her job, it was up to her to address the problem he said he had with his air conditioner — made her claims less interesting or credible somehow. I suspect, in part, it might be because at times, Barker has seemed to castigate and blame herself, to express guilt and remorse for being unable in her drugged exhaustion to fight Craig Grabein off when he raped her, in the way, women often blame ourselves, as though it is up to us to keep men from raping us, instead of up to men to stop raping women.
Whatever the reason, the silencing of Tracy Barker is an outrage. Her story must be heard, and she must receive justice. To that end, I have written this post. Please, spread the word.
* When the doctor, Dr. Pakkal, who rescued Barker, was later questioned, he said he had seen so many women who had been raped in Basra, he couldn’t remember Barker specifically.
** The EEOC found that Barker’s supervisors in Baghdad were abusive to both men and women in their charge and so they did not find that the supervisors’ abuse was on the basis of Barker’s sex.
*** Both the State Department and Halliburton/KBR declined to discuss Barker’s case with 20/20.
Sources for this article:
- Documents, pleadings and original source documents filed as exhibits and attachments, in Tracy K. and Glen D. Barker v. Halliburton Company d/b/a KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root) Services Company, Inc.; KBR Technical Services, Inc.; Ali Mokhtare; Services Employees International, Inc.; and the United States of America, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (Beaumont Division), Case No. 4:07-cv-02677;
- Documents filed in Tracy K. and Glen D. Barker v. Halliburton, et al., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria, Case No. 1:2007cv01231
- The blogs and websites linked in this article.