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Contractors Sue Over Deaths In Iraq

Heading to Baghdad airport, a fuel convoy turned into an inferno, and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilians in the Iraq war. Seven died and 26 were injured, CBS News Chief Investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

"It could have been prevented. And it never, never should have happened to begin with," says Ray Stannard.

Stannard was one of the drivers. As the truck burned, he held a friend who died in his arms.

"What they did was murder," he says, "and I stick by that."

But his anger is not directed at the insurgents. Instead, it's directed at his employer, Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

"They sent these men down the road, under attack with mortars, land mines, machine guns, rifles, grenade and explosives. Knowing the army was in combat. Knowing that people were being wounded. Knowing that trucks were destroyed. And they chose to do it anyway," says Scott Allen, who represents former KBR employees now suing the company for wrongful death.

In depositions obtained exclusively by CBS News, another KBR convoy leader describes what he saw just three hours before the massacre.

"I can only say that the escorts for my convoy expended 2,000 rounds of ammunition in a five mile period," the leader says, adding that he informed Halliburton KBR of the attack on his convoy.

And yet, KBR security coordinator Steve Pulley testified that none of his superiors put a stop to the fuel convoy.

"KBR security did their job that day, KBR security did their job that week, and KBR security was overruled," Pulley says.

So why would KBR bosses, despite all the warnings, still send so many civilians into harm's way?

An anonymous letter from someone who describes himself as a former manager at KBR offers a cold-blooded explanation.

"The executive responsible ... was under pressure" ... and "having that convoy proceed in the face of danger was one way to show improved performance," the letter says.

KBR denies the charges and says, like the Army, it should be immune from lawsuits. Yet, in a letter sent to Stannard just prior to the lawsuit, the company offers to help him receive the Army Defense of Freedom medal, but only if Stannard will agree to "release" KBR "from any and all claims." In essence, this means giving up any right to sue.

Top Senate Democrat Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says he finds KBR's behavior outrageous.

"These are all serious issues and, in some cases, life and death issues, and the American people would expect there to be accountability," Sen. Dorgan says. "Who's accountable?"

On Monday, Sen. Dorgan plans to find out. He'll hold a hearing designed to shed light on the incident.