12-30-07 by dugan
The story sounds familiar: Rural villagers in an unsettled part of the world accuse a big U.S. oil company of supporting and abetting the atrocities of government soldiers. It could be Shell or Chevron in Nigeria or Unocal (now Chevron) in the former Burma. But the court action this week was by Exxon, which is still trying to prevent a lawsuit filed on behalf of Indonesian villagers in 2001 from ever coming to trial.
On Thursday, Exxon’s lawyers asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to delay even the gathering of evidence, apparently until the White House offers an opinion on the lawsuit. It will be no surprise if government plays the terrorism card on behalf of Exxon.
The last time the U.S. government said anything about the case, in 2002, the State Department opined that “adjudication of this lawsuit would in fact risk a potentially serious adverse impact on significant interests of the United States, including interests related directly to the on-going struggle against international terrorism.” The Indonesian government, which is Exxon’s partner in the natural gas project, had objected strongly to the lawsuit. And as a "war on terror" ally, when Indonesia speaks, the U.S. must listen. It’s like the U.S. coziness with Pakistan, only without the nukes.
The Nation magazine’s David Corn wrote in 2002 about the Indonesia case and Exxon’s ties to the White House, concluding with this question:
"Can a transnational company accused of corporate-sponsored terrorism hide behind the war on terrorism?"
Exxon has argued that the testimony being gathered by lawyers for the other side would be bad for the company’s reputation–even if the lawsuit never went to trial. No kidding.
The International Labor Rights Fund and International Rights Advocates, which brought the lawsuit, stated:
"There have been credible reports dating back to at least 1992 that Exxon Mobil Corporation, along with its predecessor companies, Mobil Oil Corporation and Mobil Oil Indonesia (collectively "ExxonMobil"), hired military units of the Indonesian national army to provide security for their natural gas extraction and liquification project in Aceh, Indonesia. Members of these military units have regularly perpetrated severe human rights abuses against local villagers, including murder, rape, torture, destruction of property and other acts of terror. ExxonMobil apparently has taken no action to stop this violence, and instead, reportedly has continued to finance the military and to provide company equipment and facilities that have been used by the Indonesian military to perpetrate and literally cover up (in the form of mass graves) these criminal acts."
The Indonesia case is the second that Exxon is fighting at the Supreme Court. The other one, more familiar in the U.S., is over Exxon’s refusal to pay over $2.5 billion in punitive damages from the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill in the Gulf of Alaska.
Given that timeline, the Indonesian villagers might get their day in court a decade from now–unless the White House tries to block it altogether with more "terrorism" arguments. And U.S. motorists will still be paying for the company’s battalion of lawyers.