Republican senators are somehow surprised by negative publicity over their vote endorsing Halliburton’s gang rape cover-up. Both of my senators have attempted damage control. In response to my email, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) sent me a letter that is a scandal in its own right.
Thank you for contacting me regarding Senator Franken’s amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, H.R. 3326.
Unfortunately, a number of media personalities have portrayed the amendment in a misleading manner. The truth is the amendment prohibits basic contract rights between all defense contractors and their employees. This is one of the reasons President Obama’s administration strongly opposed it.
Senator Sessions is the one misleading. Here is what White House spokesman Tommy Vietor actually said: “We support the intent of the amendment, and we’re working with the conferees to make sure that it is enforceable.” Hardly the words of strong opposition. The Department of Defense was against the amendment; but then again, DoD always supports its contractors.
A number of media outlets and political blogs have continued to characterize opposition to this amendment as a vote in support of denying an assault or gang rape victim her day in court. This is false. Indeed, prior to the vote on the Senate floor, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had already ruled that allegations of sexual assault or rape in the case cited by Senator Franken should not be arbitrated, but tried before a jury. In addition, the Franken amendment would have prohibited almost any employment dispute from being arbitrated. This, despite the fact that arbitration, which often results in in more victories for the employee at less cost, may be the method of choice for dissolving disputes between some employers and employees. (Emphasis mine)
That might be a Freudian slip, because if Sessions meant that arbitration makes disputes go away then he is absolutely correct. Indeed, mandatory arbitration takes away the legal rights of American workers, and Sessions makes a fallacious argument that restoring your constitutional right to sue is somehow taking away a “right” to arbitration that didn’t exist in 1792.
Republicans have been selling this ridiculous line for years, but if there’s one case that shatters their mythology it’s the one that inspired Senator Franken to write the amendment. I’ll let ThinkProgress tell the story:
In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. In an apparent attempt to cover up the incident, the company then put her in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” Even more insultingly, the DOJ resisted bringing any criminal charges in the matter. KBR argued that Jones’s employment contract warranted her claims being heard in private arbitration — without jury, judge, public record, or transcript of the proceedings. After 15 months in arbitration, Jones and her lawyers went to court to fight the KBR claims.
Sure, the 5th Circuit agreed with Jones. But that’s exactly the point: since 2006, Jones has been suing for her right to sue. The actual trial has not even begun yet. Fifteen months went by while KBR tried to keep the matter in private (i.e., publicity-free) arbitration. While Jones needed reconstructive surgery on her chest, the rapists have yet to be charged or even named.
The Franken amendment does not “prohibit” arbitration — just mandatory arbitration in cases of sexual abuse, harassment, and similar unlawful job discrimination. Any way you cut it, Sessions voted to let contractors cover up future crimes the way KBR did. Sessions’s letter continues:
You may be interested to know that the perpetrators of this crime can now be tried in U.S. criminal court as a result of a law I authored in 2000. I strongly oppose any form of sexual assault or gang rape against an individual on United States or foreign soil. I believe rape is one of the most heinous crimes in our society. The legislation I authored was drafted in response to a sexual assault on foreign land of one of my constituents. It has and can be used to prosecute individuals who commit the type of assaults that were alleged in the case cited by Senator Franken.
It is my understanding that the Department of Justice did investigate this case, but so far no criminal indictments have been issued.
I’m glad that Senator Sessions wrote that law. If only the Department of Justice had agreed with Sessions’ interpretation of it, they might have filed charges against at least some of her assailants; instead, DoJ saw a giant loophole and let them go unpunished. KBR didn’t even make an effort to identify them — in fact, they mishandled the rape kit, so it’s unlikely any of the men who attacked her will ever see jail time.
Sessions can’t help himself; not only does he feel obligated to lie, mislead, and misinform, he resorts to some incredible sophistry in counter-attacking:
Assault victims should not be used by members of the Senate or the media to score political points. Unfortunately, this has happened with the Franken amendment. The amendment was not about assault or gang rape, but whether arbitration is useful tool to resolve some disputes. I believe it is, because it does not deny anyone a right to be compensated for harm they have suffered, and it offers a more expedient and less expensive way to resolve litigation disputes. Freedom of contract is one of the core principles that make America a great republic. Therefore, I opposed Senate Amendment 2588.
In the twisted world of excuses, a bill that specifically targets sexual assault is not about sexual assault, and the rights of gang rape victims are less important than their “right” to be forced into arbitration. Bringing up this specific case while arguing for this specific bill that is specifically about cases like hers is just “scoring political points.” See how that works?
Arbitration certainly does not “deny” a right to compensation, but at least in the Jones case it has certainly denied her day in court for years. Sessions can’t call that justice with a straight face; he should have saved the ink. By resorting to disinformation and outright fabrications, he has only compounded his error.