Almost 200 veterans and families of troops killed in action have signed on to a lawsuit accusing five major pharmaceutical and medical supply companies of doing business with terrorist groups that targeted U.S. service members in the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2017 and due for another look by a judge later this month, alleges that the companies made deals with the Iraqi Health Ministry with full knowledge that it was affiliated with a Shia militia group fronted by notorious extremist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, that attacked Americans, resulting in severe injuries and death.
“Some U.S. government personnel in Iraq called Jaysh al-Mahdi ‘The Pill Army,’ because Sadr and his Jaysh al-Mahdi commanders were notorious for paying their terrorist fighters in diverted pharmaceuticals, rather than cash,” the complaint alleges.
The defendants include AstraZeneca, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Roche Holding. The complainants, who are seeking “economic and non-economic damages,” are represented by Sparacino PLLC, a Washington-based law firm.
“As alleged by hundreds of American families, the defendants’ payments aided and abetted terrorism in Iraq by directly financing an Iran-backed, Hezbollah-trained militia that killed or injured thousands of Americans," Ryan Sparacino told Military Times on Thursday.
The firm filed the complaint under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which criminalizes financial dealings with terrorist organizations.
“The terrorist-finance mechanism was straightforward: the terrorists openly controlled the Iraqi ministry in charge of importing medical goods, and Defendants – all of which are large Western medical-supply companies – obtained lucrative contracts from that ministry by making corrupt payments to the terrorists who ran it,” according to the complaint.
All five defendants have filed multiple motions to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that they couldn’t have known that “more than 300 armed attacks,” according to the complaint, allegedly resulted from their contracting with the Iraqi Health Ministry.
“Defendants recognize the sacrifices and dedication of those who served, and understand the desire to hold the perpetrators of that violence responsible,” according to a defense motion filed in April. “But this lawsuit attempts to do something different: It takes hundreds of injuries and losses of life inflicted by a sectarian militia in that armed conflict and seeks to impose civil liability on pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies that had nothing to do with the attacks.”
The case is due before a federal judge in D.C. on Oct. 30, according to the court docket.
Included in the complaint are the stories of the 186 veterans or Gold Star families who allege the death or injuries suffered while deployed to Iraq were directly funded by the companies.
One is retired Staff Sgt. Brian Beaumont, a 1st Infantry Division soldier who was deployed to Sadr City in 2007. An IED attack left him with a 100-percent disability rating, according to the lawsuit, as well as “extreme physical and emotional pain and suffering.”
Another is the Neiberger family, the parents, sister and brother of fallen Spc. Christopher Neiberger, a 22-year-old 1st Infantry Division machine gunner who was killed in a roadside bomb attack near Baghdad in August 2007.
“As a result of the August 6, 2007 attack, and SPC Neiberger’s death, the Neiberger Family has experienced severe mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, and the loss of SPC Neiberger’s society, companionship, and counsel,” according to the complaint.
A judgment won’t bring him back, his sister told Military Times, but it’s a step toward accountability.
“The decision to pursue litigation is deeply personal,” Ami Neiberger-Miller said. “I think for me, it boiled down to holding corporate actors accountable for their unethical and irresponsible behavior overseas that put valuable resources in the hands of terrorists who attacked and killed our troops.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT