Corporate Terrorism Approved
August 8, 2002 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Corporate Terrorism Approved "The International Labor Rights Fund filed the suit with the U.S. district court in Washington last year on behalf of 11 villagers from Aceh who contend that they were victims of murder, torture, kidnapping and rape by the military unit guarding Exxon Mobil's gas field."

"the State Department said the lawsuit would "risk a seriously adverse impact on significant interests of the United States, including interests related directly to the ongoing struggle against international terrorism."

I guess the villagers killed weren't part of the axles of evil so it is OK to contract out their murders?
posted by nofundy (26 comments total)
Corporate Terrorism Approved

Nofundy, interesting use of language and rhetoric. However, I don't think anyone is approving anything. The State Department is just defending itself. Now, if the district court, circuit court and/or Supreme Court strike down the lawsuit then that would be tantamount to approving "corporate terrorism."

villagers from Aceh who contend that they were victims of murder, torture, kidnapping and rape by the military unit guarding Exxon Mobil's gas field. Exxon Mobil has denied any involvement with alleged abuses.

Well I guess one can allege anything. Before the facts come out, it seems that Exxon has nothing to do with the allege behavior of the military guards. Although the alleged conduct would not have taken place if Exxon was not in the region and military guards were not guarding Exxon's site, at this point there is no causal connection between Exxon and the allege conduct. One should also note, Exxon is not the one being sued, but the state department is being sued. It sounds like this not example of "corporate terrorism," but straight out terrorism or least serious harassment.

I wish the villages luck in their suit and fight for justice.
posted by Bag Man at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2002

There's lots of context for this story at the International Labor Rights Fund site. I love the way the Exxon lawyer told the judge to check with the State Department, as reported in the Nation:

Martin Weinstein, an Exxon Mobil lawyer, said that "this is a very difficult time in Indonesian-American relations" because al Qaeda fighters are residing in that large Muslim nation. He argued that if the judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed, Oberdorfer "would be forced to judge the conduct of the Indonesian government, an ally with whom America's relationship has never been more important, in order to determine whether the allegations in this complaint are those of murder or legitimate warfare against fundamentalist insurgents trying to break a country apart by bombings and other terrorist activities."

As if *that* line's ever been clear when U.S. oil interests are on the line.
posted by mediareport at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2002

U.S. Moves to Block Human-Rights Lawsuit Against Exxon Mobil

That was the original title of the article. Why didn't you go with that? This story certainly merits interest and discussion, but the inflammatory editorializing of yours doesn't get it off to a very good start.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2002

Bag Man,

Can you link us to where you're getting this alternate information? The first sentence of nofundy's linked article is pretty clear on who is getting sued.
posted by hackly_fracture at 9:16 AM on August 8, 2002

The State Department is urging a United States court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a human rights group against Exxon Mobil over its operations in a war-torn province of Indonesia. In response to a request by the corporation for an opinion, the department
declared that pursuit of the case would harm Washington's campaign against terrorism

Looks like I might I have misspoke about who is being sued. I stand corrected.
posted by Bag Man at 9:20 AM on August 8, 2002

You can read the State Department statement here. Note especially that the statement was actually a letter sent to the federal district judge in the case in response to the judge's request for a nonbinding, nonlegal opinion on the issue of American interests.

You can also visit the International Labor Rights Fund, where you can read the complaint and the brief in opposition to Exxon's motion to dismiss. Oh, and in response to bagman, the complaint clearly shows that it is Exxon that is being sued.

Here's another site that doesn't seem to like Exxon/Mobil much.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2002

I was reminded of the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa in Nigeria in 1996 that started a lot of people talking about these issues. Human Rights Watch has a wealth of background information on Corporations and Human Rights.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2002

Bag Man: The State Department is hardly defending itself or Exxon (at least not credibly) by invoking the "War On Terrorism" mantra. Oil interests far out-weigh the interests of 11 villagers.
posted by TskTsk at 9:37 AM on August 8, 2002

None-the-less, my point about causation remains the same. For example, suppose a mall hires a rent-a-cop to guard the mall. The rent-a-cop beats the hell out of "mall rat" minding his or her own business. Is the mall responsible? The answer is maybe. The rent-a-cop can make the mall responsible under a theory of respondate (sp.?) superior. But, if the conduct of the rent-a-cop was a "frolic" only the rent-a-cop is responsible. It will be interesting to see what the court and/or a jury decides when the facts come out.

I again wish the villagers good luck in their fight for justice.
posted by Bag Man at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2002

Here's maybe a better source on Saro Wiwa. I would have prefered to avoid the posturing of the Greenpeace link above, but it seemed like the most concise account.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2002

Bag Man,

Of course no big deal on the confusion. Your ideas on who is responsible are interesting, and just the kind of thing a trial/lawsuit attempts to suss out. I'm no fan of big oil, but they are entitled to their day in court. The State Department should not be trying to discourage it, 'cause even if Exxon is squeaky clean this sure looks like we are covering up for the sins of our corporations.

Or, as you say, those our corporations hire.
posted by hackly_fracture at 9:47 AM on August 8, 2002

A sad part of any United States agenda is if it includes oil - leave it alone
posted by omidius at 11:12 AM on August 8, 2002

I'm sure that the State Department doesn't want anything to do with this. Some of our military contractors (a concept which scares me) have done some awful things to the locals.

The series of articles that Salon did are shocking but I won't link to them since they are articles that can be read only by subscription.
posted by whatever at 11:36 AM on August 8, 2002

Presumption of innocence might be the proper path for the accused (Exxon/Mobil), no denying that. My personal feelings are that large oil companies have been guilty of this type conduct in lots of other countries and always get away with it. The same often goes to large mining concerns.

It isn't proper for our State Department to pressure these countries where violations might/have occured. What is proper is to discover truth and promote justice. A free pass to large corporations is unacceptable. The example we set in front of the rest of the world is the yardstick we shall be judged by, and rightly so.

How to defeat terrorism: don't be a terrorist supporting country, defend justice instead of power, empower the populace not the elites. Other ideas?
posted by nofundy at 11:47 AM on August 8, 2002

...they were victims of murder, torture, kidnapping and rape by the military unit guarding...

military != paramilitary.

The locals' beef is against the Indonesian army, not Exxon-Mobil. Except of course that it's easier to sue a private corporation, especially one with big pockets, in the hope that they'll want to settle the case by flopping out its metaphorical b00bies and saying "drink up!".

Nice to see that the US has exported the whole "for-profit lawsuit" concept all the way to Asia.
posted by clevershark at 11:50 AM on August 8, 2002


probably came in with the whole "for profit" thing.

Whether its our companies or our culture, it doesn't seem like we're able to export only the good parts. As if we could agree on what those were. For example, I tend to view this kind of thing as a "punitive lawsuit" that attempts to punish bad behavior (and promote future good behavior). This is obviously not what you see.
posted by hackly_fracture at 12:07 PM on August 8, 2002

This wasn't "corporate murder", it was run-of-the-mill oppression committed by troops guarding a government-controlled oil company's facility, a company in which ExxonMobil has a 1/3 interest. The actions taken by the military unit were not extraordinary, indeed, didn't appear to have anything to do with the guard duties. The lawsuit uses some pretty emotional language choices (e.g. "genocide") to make it seem like ExxonMobil was complicit, but then admits that it probably didn't know what had happened until much later; within a year of the alleged actions in the complaint, ExxonMobil had pulled out of the project.

I'm hardly one to blame the villagers for trying any route they can to get justice, but they're reaching on many of the legal grounds, treating ExxonMobil as "joint and severally liable" because of a contract signed back under the Suharto regime.

Aceh is a pretty dangerous place. And in any case, part of the deal for pressing Indonesia to allow East Timor independence was general international support for Indonesian territorial integrity. The official positions of the US and UN are for greater self-determination, perhaps federal autonomy, for Aceh (and Celebes, and Irian Jaya, and Borneo ... some of which are definitely connected to al Qaeda), but not independence. Indonesia is no democratic paradise, but it does have elections, and has been reducing the military presence in government. It's still a mess no matter how you look at it. Sure, there's oil (really, more natural gas), but Indonesia also controls critical sea lanes for cargo and military use, and State properly points out we probably can't afford to alienate them, explaining the USG position.

At one level, naturally we don't want to condone torture and executions. At another, investment in dodgy nations is sometimes the only opening we have toward any kind of leverage. Certainly the corporations would prefer to only do business in well-run Western-style democracies, but not everyplace out there is that evolved. An investment such as a refinery or pipeline is one that takes place over many years, perhaps decades; someplace safe can become more dangerous. What rules should we put on investments that "go bad"? We shouldn't tolerate the worst abuses, but linking tenuous investment to oppression that happened on a daily basis as part of a larger regime isn't necessarily the solution.
posted by dhartung at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2002

Here they have us, completely independent of Exxon-Mobil's quest for petro-chemical world dominance defending them! Something's working. Obviously not for certain villagers. But something nonetheless is working.

Just like little boys with little girls. The little boys stick it in to get what they want and then pull out when they're finished. No responsibility of course. Dodgy nation, she didn't say no. Fuck em. Who gets the last laugh?
posted by crasspastor at 12:39 PM on August 8, 2002

"The State Department is just defending itself. - Bag Man

That is exactly right. The State Department is defending itself. Exxon Mobil is a part of that self. So's Halliburton. But innocent foreigners? Not a chance. Innocent Americans? Publicly, yes, and if you don't piss any of the plundering marauders, you will hopefully get looked over by our domestic political saboteurs and assassins.

Best just to stay home and go with the flow, it's not your daughter being sacrificed to appease the dragon... today at leas
posted by zekinskia at 1:31 PM on August 8, 2002

At another, investment in dodgy nations is sometimes the only opening we have toward any kind of leverage.

How long, o lord, how long?

One grows weary of this continual, false, banal chorus taken straight from the playbook of the greedy, to wit:

We carry trunks full of money
Out of your 'hood,
But don't moan and whine -
It's for your own good.


Certainly the corporations would prefer to only do business in well-run Western-style democracies, but not everyplace out there is that evolved.

Well, thank God we're "more evolved" here...and able to attract these fine corporations...that are doing such great things for us. Wouldn't want to lose any business to places like Bhopal, now would we?

Businesses prefer to do business where they can make the most money. Period. (How "evolved" of them, as well...kind of like perfect feeding machines).

We shouldn't tolerate the worst abuses...

You're, um, sort of weakly misfiring while heading down the right road, one supposes. Let me refine your low-octane position for you and turn it into an honest-to-god ethical stance.

We should NOT tolerate ANY human rights abuses, no matter how much money the abuses help matter how much more secure "critical sea lanes for cargo and military use" become, no matter how "we probably can't afford to alienate them..."

We can afford to be a country devoted to rights for all instead of profits for a few.

And you can be absolutely damned sure we can afford an additional few cents a gallon for gasoline produced without that very special additive called blood.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:47 PM on August 8, 2002

fold, you sure don't see any reason to stop once the clip is all shot, do you? Just sit there pulling the trigger, click click click click click and breathing heavily.

As it happens, we're telling the Indonesians to accept a peace deal. Gen. Zinni went there to lay the groundwork for real talks with the rebels, and although he's there under the flag of a third party, a peace mediation center based in Switzerland, it's clear he also has the full approval of the Bush administration; his words are exactly in line with Powell's. Ultimately the best solution for Indonesians will involve a transparent, responsive government which will punish torturers and murderers (you know, the people who are actually responsible) itself. Getting there should be US policy, not brainless, antiseptic moralism.
posted by dhartung at 2:15 PM on August 8, 2002

what a strong rebuttal of fold_and_mutilate's points dhartung, i am impressed by your ability to comprehend a point of view other than your own, as usual.
one ad hominem deserves another.

from my point of view, i think the difference in the stance you propose and the one proposed by f_n_m, would be thus;
a) gain influence by any means neccessary to access a market. some trickle down effect may eventually change the standards of living of the inhabitants. make up excuses for any impropriety using arguments which include phrases like 'in a very real sense' and 'positive ecomomic engagement'.
b) gain influence by insisting on the highest possible moral standards in government and business, if the country wishes to trade with one of the biggest markets on the planet. adhere to those standards yourself as an example.

i may well be putting words into your mouth, but i feel that they are a good fit.

if i remember correctly, shell have had policy regarding influencing the governments (bribery, destablisation etc.) of countries whose oil they wish to exploit since the 1960's. i would be suprised if any other large oil company were different.
posted by asok at 4:25 AM on August 9, 2002

So if the problems associated with exploitation of this area's natural resources are equitably resolved we still have the same story played out by large corporations on other third world peoples. Examples abound in Asia, Africa and South America. Isn't it time we start demanding that corporations be good citizens of the world instead of just profit motivated feeding machines that play upon weaknesses of government and people?
posted by nofundy at 4:50 AM on August 9, 2002

from the FT today: Unocal wants government to quash labour lawsuit Unocal, the US oil company, told a California court yesterday that American foreign policy interests could be harmed by a lawsuit that alleges the company used forced labour in Burma.
posted by kliuless at 6:14 AM on August 9, 2002

Bag Man wrote: "suppose a mall hires a rent-a-cop to guard the mall. The rent-a-cop beats the hell out of 'mall rat' minding his or her own business. Is the mall responsible? The answer is maybe. "

Actually, the answer is that the mall is liable. The "frolic" defense would apply only if the guard went off someplace else unrelated to his employment and beat someone up. See
posted by nobodyknowsimadog at 6:54 AM on August 9, 2002

asok: It is not the content. It is the soapbox moralizing. You want my nice side, step down and treat me as an equal.

Maybe these folks will win something in the lawsuit. I'm not opposed to the lawsuit continuing on its merits, such as they are. But it's not going to change those people's lives much. When they get real democracy, I hope they stick it to the murderers and torturers as much as you do. In the interim, pinning the blame on targets of convenience may be satisfying, but counterproductive.
posted by dhartung at 2:06 PM on August 9, 2002

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