Iraqi interpreters seek punishment of contractor for sexual harassment
Washington: Iraqi women, who spoke English well enough to work as interpreters with US combat units, are demanding that a contractor in charge of handing them special visas, should be punished for sexual harassment.
According to the Washington Post, Christopher J Kirchmeier, was a contractor in charge of security badges and clearances on a base inside Baghdad’s Green Zone.
An Army counterintelligence specialist who was fluent in Arabic, Kirchmeier had taken leave from his California National Guard unit in 2009 to work for Government Services, a Chantilly-based subsidiary of L-3 Communications.
Kirchmeier, then 26, sexually harassed at least two of the women he was charged with vetting, according to several former co-workers and the women.
His alleged conduct was a violation of L-3’s ethics code, which says “physical conduct of a sexual nature is inappropriate in the work place and may be unlawful”.
He also punished those who rebuffed his advances or who complained about his behaviour by seizing their security badges and sabotaging their visa applications, according to the former co-workers and interpreters who recounted their experiences in a series of interviews.
Kirchmeier, reached by telephone late last year, responded only obliquely to a reporter’s account of the allegations being made against him, calling them “strange”.
Kirchmeier’s superiors at L-3 and in the military knew of his behaviour for several months but did nothing about it.
But according to the interpreters, Major David Underwood, an Army officer who supports their claims of harassment, e-mailed the top US commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, complaining that Kirchmeier “has been involved in the sexual harassment/intimidation of local national interpreters”.
“Five days later,” Underwood said in a recent interview, “Chris was gone.”
There the matter might have ended, except for a campaign by advocates for the women who have sought to have the government punish Kirchmeier and his superiors at L-3 and in the Army.
The women’s supporters also are trying to persuade the State Department to reverse its decision barring one of the women from the United States.
The women have not filed formal charges, and any attempt to prosecute a defence contractor under military law probably would be challenged.
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