Rex Tillerson could be America’s most dangerous Secretary of State

Source: In These Times

On January 1, Rex Tillerson retired from oil giant Exxon Mobil after 41 years, the last 10 as CEO and chairman of the board. When he appears in January before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be considered for U.S. Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil will be preparing to appear before a jury at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, just blocks away. There, the company will face allegations that security forces under its employ engaged in serious human rights abuses, including murder, torture, sexual violence, kidnapping, battery, assault, burning, arbitrary arrest, detention and false imprisonment. The complaint specifically names Rex Tillerson.

Among the plaintiffs, all of whom use aliases out of fear for their lives, is “John Doe II.” According to the complaint, in August 2000, soldiers working for Exxon Mobil beat and tortured him “using electricity all over his body, includ[ing] his genitals.” After approximately three months, the “soldiers took off his blindfold, took him outside the building where he had been detained and showed him a pit where there was a large pile of human heads. The soldiers threatened to kill him and add his head to the pile.” He was ultimately released, only to have the soldiers return later to burn down his house.

John Doe I, et al., v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. is awaiting a trial date expected “any day now,” according to lead plaintiff attorney Terrence Collingsworth. The complaint alleges that from 2000 through 2004, private military security forces employed by Exxon Mobil to protect its natural gas operations in Aceh province, Indonesia, committed the cited offenses against local villagers. From 1976 to 2005, Aceh was embroiled in a violent independence struggle. In the midst of the conflict, Exxon Mobil essentially privatized Indonesian soldiers, the complaint argues, despite their well-documented history of abusing Indonesian citizens, and aided and abetted the human rights violations through financial and other direct material support.

Exxon Mobil has fought the case for 15 years, denying not the human rights abuses, but rather that the company should be liable. A federal judge ruled, however, not only that the company must stand trial, but also that “sufficient evidence demonstrates” that Exxon Mobil corporate officers “exerted significant control” over the security decisions made by its Indonesian subsidiary.

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