Jeffrey Kaplan / Reclaim Democracy & Maddy Sauer & Justin Rood / ABC News – 2008-02-15 23:16:13
Court Declares Corporations Are People, Some Human Beings Are Not
Jeffrey Kaplan / Reclaim Democracy
(February 12, 2008) — In evaluating allegations that US military forces deprived four British men of human rights during two years they were held captive in Guantanamo Bay prison, a US appeals court found an innovative way to let the Bush administration off the hook. Two of three judges ruled the men — because they are not US citizens and, technically, were not imprisoned in the US — were not legally “persons” and, therefore, had no rights to violate.
While those judges were defying common sense and decency by denying legal personhood to living human beings, an appeals court in Boston has been reviewing an April 2007 decision by Federal Judge Paul Barbadoro that engaged in a different form of judicial activism — granting human rights to corporations.
Barbadoro struck down a New Hampshire law that prevented pharmaceutical corporations from learning exactly what drugs doctors prescribe and how much they prescribe. The law aims to protect doctors and, indirectly, their patients, from drug companies pressuring doctors to choose their products.
The judge’s grounds? He claims corporations, as legal persons, have “free speech rights” that would be infringed by such a measure.
The real issue in these cases (Maine recently passed a similar law) isn’t free speech at all; it’s manipulation and control. The drug salespeople only will decide what to say after poking into the doctors’ prescription records. Under the guise of protecting speech, Judge Barbadoro denied both legitimate privacy rights of doctors and key protections to ensure patients are prescribed drugs based on their medical situation, not pressure applied to their physician.
Taken together, these two rulings are a perplexing and dangerous development. The founding principle of our country is right in the Declaration of Independence: all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It is not for judges to decide who is and who is not a human being.
Nor should the courts play Creator by endowing legal constructs like corporations with human rights. Our constitutional rights exist to prevent large, powerful institutions — whether governments, corporations, or other entities — from oppressing us humans.
For too long a strange dichotomy has persisted between principled people on the political left and right wings. The left wing often warns against the growing power of business corporations. The right wing complains the left ignores the overweening power of the government and is “anti-business.”
But many people on both sides have been seeing only part of the same elephant. What’s happening is a merger of corporations and state.
Already there are corporate “black holes” for human rights that rival government affronts like Guantanamo. Under the Bush administration’s legal framework for Iraq during its occupation, the Iraqi government wields no authority over Blackwater corporation’s security guards.
And it’s not clear the US government does either. As a result, we may never see anyone punished for Blackwater’s wanton killing of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad last September.
Then there’s the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, an American employee of Halliburton/KBR in Iraq who claimed she was gang raped by co-workers in 2005. US officials reportedly handed the evidence to KBR, whereupon the evidence apparently disappeared. Nobody in Congress, Democrat or Republican, has been able to persuade the Bush administration to reveal what it has done about the case since then.
Halliburton/KBR, like Blackwater, apparently enjoys the rights of a person, but not the responsibilities.
The danger of “corporate personhood” is a bit like global warming; people have warned us of the threat for decades only to go unheeded because the dire consequences seemed far-fetched.
But look at what’s happened to the First Amendment. Corporations use it to strike down laws clearly designed to protect citizens, even while courts deny prisoners the right to know what evidence the government is using against them. It’s time for alarm.
We should take offense whenever we hear the dangerous notion of “corporate citizenship” promoted. Soon, the only citizens with real power in the United States may be the corporate kind.
Jeffrey Kaplan is a researcher with ReclaimDemocracy.org, a non-profit organization working to restore citizen authority over corporations.
Reclaim Democracy note: Shortly after completing the article above, we learned of this shocking story:
Judge Denies Allows Halliburton
To Force Sexual Assault Case
Out of Court
Maddy Sauer & Justin Rood / ABC News
Judge Allows Halliburton to Force Sexual Assault Case Out of Court
Allows private arbiters power to rule on alleged criminal offenses
(February 6, 2008) — A mother of five who says she was sexually harassed and assaulted while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq is headed for a secretive arbitration process rather than being able to present her case in open court. A judge in Texas has ruled that Tracy Barker’s case will be heard in arbitration, according to the terms of her initial employment contract.
Barker says that while in Iraq she was constantly propositioned by her superior, threatened and isolated after she reported an incident of sexual assault.
Barker’s attorneys had argued that Halliburton/KBR had created a “boys will be boys” atmosphere at their camps and that sort of condition is not the type of dispute that she could have expected to be within the scope of an arbitration provision.
District Judge Gray Miller, however, wrote in his order that “whether it is wise to send this type of claim to arbitration is not a question for this court to decide.”
“Sadly,” wrote Judge Miller, “sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault, is a reality in today’s workplace.”
Barker says it was a reality at Halliburton/KBR. From the moment she arrived at the Halliburton/KBR camp in Basra, Iraq , she says she was treated like a sex object.
“When I arrived in Basra, there were about five men that worked on the camp for the company I worked for and they were waiting for me,” Barker told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired last December. “I was told they wanted to see what I look like,” she said, “to make sure I was decent looking before they approved my transfer.”
Tracy says her KBR boss in Basra repeatedly propositioned her and threatened her. “The manager of the camp kept making gestures of how if I wanted my safety to exist on the camp, that I needed to sleep with him, and that’s all he kept saying to me,” said Barker.
Tracy says her co-workers were not much better. She says when she first arrived at her new office, it looked more like a fraternity house than a place of business.
“On my way into the office, there was pictures of prostitutes and animals having sex pasted in the hallway,” she said. “Our office was just wallpapered with pornography. There was not one space of wall at all.”
Tracy says she inquired from her male co-worker where her workplace was located. “My co-worker told me that ‘you can either sit at the end of my desk or on the floor because that’s where the women sit that work with me,'” Barker said.
When Tracy tried to report the co-worker to her manager, she says the manager’s gestures toward her only got worse. “If I don’t feel safe, I can come to his room and get a backrub or sleep with him,” Barker says she was told.
Barker’s case had also involved a claim of sexual assault against a State Department employee. Those claims have been severed from her case against Halliburton/KBR and transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia.
As in similar cases, KBR had moved for Tracy ‘s claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom, as provided under the terms of her original employment contract.
In arbitration, there is no public record or transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Tracy ‘s claims will not be heard before a judge and jury. Halliburton which has since divested itself of KBR referred calls for comment to KBR.
KBR issued a statement late yesterday saying, “As part of her employment contract with KBR, Ms. Barker agreed to arbitrate all claims in the event a conflict arose. The court’s decision enforcing her agreement is consistent with rulings from other courts in the upholding arbitration agreements between employers and employees.
Arbitration is the last step of KBR’s Dispute Resolution Program. The vast majority of employment disputes at KBR, approximately 96%, are resolved through this program without resort to arbitration. KBR remains committed to ensuring the arbitration process is fair to all employees.”
Halliburton and KBR had also sought to have Barker pay for their costs of defending their right to arbitrate. That request was denied.
© 2008 ABC News
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