Alleged failure to conduct a proper background check on an interpreter has U.S. defense contractor Mission Essential Personnel facing charges of negligence in the deaths of two American soldiers, according to Associated Press reporter Richard Lardner. The wrongful death suit filed by surviving members of the soldiers’ families alleges the company was in a rush to hire interpreters when it brought on the gunman, and may have omitted important hiring procedures. The contractor serves as the U.S. government’s primary supplier of linguists. Central to the case will be whether the wrongful deaths were the result of negligent hiring and negligent retention. Likewise, the precautions taken after the employee was terminated must also be examined.
Just a few months after arriving at the base near Kabul, Nasir Ahmed Ahmadi was fired for his increasingly strange behavior – troops later confessed they thought he may have been on drugs. Whatever the case, shortly after his termination, an incensed Ahmadi went on a shooting rampage, killing two soldiers and wounding a third. To wrongful death attorneys, it seems the entire episode could have been avoided with the employ of proper screening techniques.
Typically, when hiring in volatile situations like this one, thorough psychological exams and background checks are and should be conducted on all prospective employees. In fact, this is a standard practice in most hiring situations. Of course, MEP claims this is something it did, telling the Associated Press in a statement that Ahmadi was “thoroughly vetted for his deployment, including medical, physical and counter-intelligence screening.” However, if what they assert is really the case, one has to question the overall effectiveness of their screening methods. To put it more simply, is it truly possible that within a few months after “testing” Ahmadi’s condition deteriorated to the point of such instability? While possible, it is probably unlikely.
The production of records during the discovery phase of the lawsuit may answer many questions regarding whether the required screening took place, but leaves unanswered queries regarding effectiveness. Ascertaining effectiveness will undoubtedly take a thorough and time-consuming analysis.
Consider also that even if an accelerated deterioration actually did take place, which doesn’t seem very likely, Mission Essential still may not be completely off the hook. Rather, such a finding would call to attention the possible mismanagement of MEP employees. The AP reports that MEP’s interpreters in Afghanistan were not authorized to carry weapons, yet another MEP interpreter deployed at Nunez had an AK-47 concealed in his living quarters, violating the requirements of the contract.
Now everyone is left wondering how this could have happened. There are a finite number of bases in the country and management of employees post-deployment should have been feasible. While I don’t know exactly what protocols MEP actually had in place, it is likely that MEP could have better managed by requiring periodic check-ins with employees. As we see now, the consequences of not doing so can be catastrophic. “Knowing that an employee of Mission Essential Personnel, who was mismanaged, came up behind Marc in a dark hallway and shot him to death, took you back to square one in your sense of loss,” said one of the victims’ mothers. “That was not how Marc wanted to give his life.”