Thursday, June 18, 2009

Excerpt- The Slave Next Door Pt. II

Ron Soodalter


The issue came to light after the murder of 12 Nepali workers who had been “recruited under false pretenses from rural villages…before being trafficked illegally into Iraq.” En route to a U.S. base in Iraq, all twelve were kidnapped and executed by insurgents. The subcontractor had “sent them into the war zone, and along one of the most dangerous roads in the world, in what basically amounted to taxi cabs.” Ali Kamel al-Nadi, the man who allegedly assembled the unprotected caravan, commented when asked about the incident, “If they were my workers, maybe I should be compensated for losing them.”

Despite the fact that foreign workers had been complaining of abuses since early 2003, the problem was first flagged in a news report in late 2005. The report provoked a flurry of base inspections by the government. In April 2006, the Pentagon, without naming any of the subcontractors to Halliburton/KBR, concluded that “doing business in this way” was common in Iraq and Afghanistan. The confiscation of workers’ passports kept the laborers from leaving Iraq, the report stated, or from seeking jobs with other contractors. No penalties were assigned to the contractors. Nonetheless, the Pentagon ordered that all passports be returned, and that such practices “cease and desist” immediately.

They didn’t. In July 2007, two American civilian contractors who had worked on the embassy testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by California congressman Henry A. Waxman. One of the two, native Floridian John Owens, had worked for 27 years building U.S. embassies around the world, sometimes in areas troubled by violence and corruption. But after working for seven months as a foreman in Iraq, he quit. “I’ve never seen a project more fucked up. Every U.S. labor law was broken,” he said. Owens testified that the workers’ living and working conditions were “deplorable,” and described how they were “verbally and physically abused,” forced to live in cramped trailers, denied basic needs like shoes and gloves, made to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, with time off only for prayer, and “had their salaries docked for petty infractions.”

The second contractor to testify was Rory J. Mayberry. He told the committee that First Kuwaiti managers had asked him to escort 51 Filipino workers onto a flight to Baghdad. The plane, Mayberry recalled, was an unmarked 52-seater – “an antique piece of shit.” Mayberry noted with surprise that “all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai,” whereupon a First Kuwaiti manager told him not to let any of the laborers know they were going to Iraq. John Owens recalled the same experience when he saw the workers’ boarding passes: “I thought there was some sort of mix up and I was getting on the wrong plane.” In Mayberry’s words, the workers were “kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the U.S. Embassy.” After their passports were taken in Baghdad, they were “smuggled into the Green Zone.”

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