Alex Constantine - January 22, 2014
By BONNIE BARRON
HOUSTON (CN) - A federal judge has changed his mind about letting the families of Nepali laborers executed in Iraq pursue trafficking claims against KBR.
The family members of 12 laborers sued KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary previously known as Kellogg Brown & Root, and other defense contractors for their alleged involvement in a scheme to obtain cheap labor. A 13th man who says he, too, was a trafficked victim but survived the ordeal, joined in the federal complaint.
With promises of a $500 monthly salary, many of the men allegedly believed they would be working at a luxury hotel in Jordan. Though the men eventually learned that they were actually on their way to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, they allegedly could not turn back for home because they already owed large brokerage fees.
Insurgents from the Ansar al-Sunna Army captured 12 of the men in August 2004 as they traveled in the front of an unsecured 17-car caravan along the Amman-to-Baghdad highway in Iraq's Anbar province, the families said. The 13th man, Buddi Prasad Gurung, was in a separate car and evaded capture, according to the complaint.
When the insurgents executed the captives, international news stations aired the footage of their deaths, reaching the men's families in Nepal.
This past August, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison had nixed all but one of the remaining claims against KBR. Ellison had preserved a claim under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) but decided Wednesday, "upon further reflection ... that this holding was in error."
The new 14-page order finds that the TVPRA does not extend to extraterritorial events that occurred before 2008 when Congress granted application of the law outside of U.S. borders. The legislative change cannot be applied retroactively, Ellison explained, toppling the families' final cause for relief from KBR.
Ellison took into consideration a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd. that addressed the question of jurisdiction in securities law.
In light of the high court's finding in that lawsuit, Ellison concluded that "the conferral of extraterritorial jurisdiction affects more than mere procedure and is barred by the presumption against retroactivity."