In the war on terror.. the enemy isn't always outside the gate. Some veterans and their families are claiming that some American pharmaceutical companies, motivated by profit, are inadvertently funding terrorist activities in Iraq. Those links, could allegedly be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers. Lisa Fletcher examines the case.Mi
Michael Chand was a Marine and a father of four. After leaving active service, he went back to Iraq as a civilian contractor, providing security for civilian convoys working to rebuild the country. On August 17th, 2007, Chand was traveling in southern Iraq, near Basra, when members of a militia group ambushed his convoy. Sally Chand is Michael's wife of 30 years.
Lisa: Why are you here today? Sally Chand: I'm here to tell the story about my husband and what happened to him in Iraq, and how we joined a lawsuit to try to seek justice and accountability for my husband.
Chand is one of 395 families suing five of the world's largest pharmaceutical and medical device companies - Pfizer, Johnson and Johnsno, Astra Zeneca, Roche, and GE Healthcare - for their alleged role in business that helped fund the militia group Jaysh Al Mahdi, that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq..
The so-called Mahdi Army followed radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadar who hoped to drive US troops out of Iraq. They fought a number of deadly battles with US forces including in the town of Najaf. The group came to be viewed as even more dangerous than Al Qaeda in parts of Iraq.
Chand: he went on a mission, and during the course of that mission he was ambushed.
It would be three years after the ambush before Sally definitively learned of Michael's fate.
Chand: Finally, One day we got a call saying that they found his remains. Lisa: MIKE HAD BEEN SHOT IN THE BACK AND IN THE HEAD. SALLY AND HER FAMILY WOULD LAY HIM TO REST.
Lisa: I can't even imagine what those three years were like. Chand: Horrible. We assumed that he was probably tortured. To what extent, we don't know.
The lawsuit that Sally is part of claims that the five pharmaceutical and medical device companies were involved in corrupt deals with members of Jaysh Al Mahdi when the group controlled the Iraqi Ministry of Health between 2005 and 2008. Ryan Sparacino is the lawyer for Sally Chand and the other families.
Sparacino: The complaint alleges number 1) that the defendants made "commission payments," which are a form cash bribes in order to win contracts from the health ministry when it was controlled by the terrorists, and number 2) that the defendants engaged in "free goods transactions" where they structured their deals in a way to make it easier for the terrorists to divert and resell certain drugs they were providing on the black market which was thriving in Iraq.
Sparacino says the deals resulted in tens of millions of dollars being funneled to the militia group over a span of several years, which "helped the militia buy weapons," and training for its attacks. Resulting in the five companies "aiding and abetting Jaysh Al-Mahdi's campaign to commit terrorist attacks in Iraq."
Lisa: Is it fair to assume that you can make a clear connection between Jaysh al Mahdi and the pharmaceutical companies?
Ryan: As alleged in the complaint, the pharmaceutical companies engaged directly with agents of Jaysh al Mahdi. We identify a number Jaysh al Mahdi agents who had senior positions in the health ministry when they seized the ministry and turned it into a sectarian killing machine. The complaint referred to Jaysh al Mahdi's use of health ministry resources for every component of their terrorist apparatus, and the reason that's important is because the corrupt payments that the defendant sponsored benefited Jaysh al Mahdi throughout the organization, that it wasn't just one payment here. The complaint alleges a stream of payments.
But how were the pharmaceutical and medical device companies supposed to know the money was allegedly going to benefit killers? The lawsuit claims the drug companies had "intelligence" reports detailing what was happening in Iraq, and taht jaysh Al-Mahdi was doing inside the health ministry with the help of local Iraqis who coordinated "payments" between the companies and the health ministry. Though the U.S. State Department has never designated Jaysh Al-Madhi a foreign terrorist organization, the families claim the militia group's attacks were "planned" and "authorized" by Hezbollah, a Lebanese group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States. The families are suing under the Anti-Terrorism Act - a law that allows victims of terrorism to sue companies that helped a terrorist group.
Lisa: So, how do you counter the fact that pharmaceutical companies were taking their cues from the US government that had invested billions in this country and they hadn't declared Jaysh al Mahdi a terrorist organization?
Ryan: the US government and people within the US government regularly called Jaysh al Mahdi terrorists. We think the US government asked companies like the defendants to do their part to avoid engaging in corrupt behavior the complaint alleges that the defendants, through their deals, undermined the effort to stamp out corruption.
Lisa: Why would the pharmaceutical companies do this? What did they have to gain?
Ryan: the Iraqi healthcare market in 2004 was anticipated to grow a lot. Beyond that, it's not something, motive is not something we'd necessarily have to allege or prove, but I can say that generally when people do bad things in corporate America, money's at least part of the reason.
None of the five companies would agree to sit down for an interview - but a PR firm representing all of them told us "the companies have 'profound sympathy for those who suffered injuries or losses,'" and the companies believe they "are not responsible in any way for these tragic events... by Iraqi militia groups." "... The Anti-Terrorism Act is intended to target groups that sponsor or engage in terror attacks, not commercial activities like the sale of medicine to foreign governments.
Lisa: You've reviewed the case, the complaint, by the plaintiffs?
Judge Brennan: Yes.
Lisa: Do they have a case?
Judge Brennan: I think they have a great case.
Former superior court judge Art Brennan was also a U.S. diplomat stationed in Iraq and has testified before Congress about corruption he observed.
Judge Brennan: there's no question in my mind that the system was corrupt. And contractors of every type were thriving on the corruption.
Brennan will not comment on specifics in the lawsuit but says it is an important legal case.
Judge Brenann: Why weren't they being held responsible for corruption on their part that would be defeating the US interest in the place. If I were the judge in this case, I'd be saying "This case needs to go forward.
Chand: I think about my husband...
As far as Sally Chand is concerned, the pharmaceutical companies who put millions into the hands of anti American radicals should be held responsible for her husband’s death.
Lisa: And what are you hoping comes out of all this?
Chand: Justice so that it doesn't happen again. And it doesn't happen to other families. And they don't have to go through the same things that we had to go through, my husband didn't get to go to all those birthday parties, school events, all those things other people get to do. We are missing the man who loved his family, loved his kids and he loved this country and he loved serving the people.
Sharyl: Lisa where does the case stand?
Lisa: Well it's working through the courts, and the pharmaceutical and medical device companies are arguing for dismissal. We found that as part of a criminal inquiry, the Department of Justice has requested documents from at least three of the five companies, and we asked the DOJ if they would speak with us, and they declined.
Sharyl: Alright we'll have you back to follow up. Thank you.