Fault Lines investigates the system that brings foreign laborers to work on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.
We will have more from the episode in the coming week as it repeats on Al Jazeera America on March 8, 2014, 5:00p ET, and premieres on Al Jazeera English later in March 11, 2014.
Without further ado, the background reading:
“Tribune Investigation: Pipeline to Peril,” Chicago Tribune, October 2005 - January 2006.
Thousands of workers are needed to meet the demands of the unprecedented privatization of military support operations unfolding under the watch of the U.S. Army and KBR, its prime contractor in Iraq.
KBR, in turn, outsources much of the work. Mansour said his take of this action was from $300 to $500 per worker, paid by other brokers and subcontractors in Amman who send the laborers directly to the bases in Iraq[…]
“Documents Reveal Details of Alleged Labor Trafficking by KBR Subcontractor” David Isenberg and Nick Schwellenbach for Pogo Blog, June 14, 2011
In December 2008, South Asian workers, two thousand miles or more from their homes, staged a protest on the outskirts of Baghdad. The reason: Up to 1,000 of them had been confined in a windowless warehouse and other dismal living quarters without money or work for as long as three months[…]
The men came to Iraq lured by the promise of employment by Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor performing work for Houston-based KBR, Inc. under the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) III contract.
Now, a cache of internal corporate and government documents obtained by POGO offer insight into this episode of alleged war zone human trafficking by companies working for the U.S.—and suggest that hardly anyone has been held accountable for what may be violations of U.S. law.
“The Invisible Army, for foreign workers on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, war can be hell,” Sarah Stillman for The New Yorker, June 6, 2011
"The expansion of private-security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan is well known. But armed security personnel account for only about sixteen per cent of the over-all contracting force. The vast majority—more than sixty per cent of the total in Iraq—aren’t hired guns but hired hands. These workers, primarily from South Asia and Africa, often live in barbed-wire compounds on U.S. bases, eat at meagre chow halls, and host dance parties featuring Nepalese romance ballads and Ugandan church songs. A large number are employed by fly-by-night subcontractors who are financed by the American taxpayer but who often operate outside the law.
The wars’ foreign workers are known, in military parlance, as “third-country nationals,” or T.C.N.s. Many of them recount having been robbed of wages, injured without compensation, subjected to sexual assault, and held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by their subcontractor bosses. Previously unreleased contractor memos, hundreds of interviews, and government documents I obtained during a yearlong investigation confirm many of these claims and reveal other grounds for concern. Widespread mistreatment even led to a series of food riots in Pentagon subcontractor camps, some involving more than a thousand workers.”
“Victims of complacency: The Ongoing Trafficking and Abuse of Third Country Nationals by U.S. Government Contractors,” Yale Law School, ACLU, June 2012
As a result of widely publicized incidents—such as the abduction and murder of twelve Nepali men whom Government contractors trafficked into Iraq in 2004—the U.S. Government came under pressure to eliminate trafficking and labor abuses from the U.S. contracting industry.
Although the Government then adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy against trafficking, reports of abuse continued to surface. In 2007, U.S. Government contractors trafficked a group of Fijian women to Iraq and subjected them to various forms of abuse and exploitation. In 2008, 1,000 South Asian workers staged protests on the outskirts of Baghdad after a Government subcontractor confined them to a windowless warehouse without money or work for as many as three months. Most recently, in December 2011, dozens of Ugandan TCNs held a series of rallies in Baghdad; their employer, a U.S.-based contractor, had left them stranded—with no pay and no return airfare—upon losing its USG contract as a result of the military drawdown.
“Nation in a State: Meals ready, on America’s frontline pressure cooker,”A. Srivathsan for The Hindu, June 6, 2013
The U.S. government categorises people employed from outside the United States or the “local country,” , in this case Afghanistan or Iraq, as Third Country National (TCN). It also states that a TCN is entitled to the same benefits and allowances as the U.S. personal services contractors, which include “danger pay” and “involuntary separate maintenance allowance.” However, the reality appears to be different.
The DynCorp International website still carries announcements calling for applicants for the post of second baker in Afghanistan (last accessed on February 15). While the job description and other information are given, the remuneration details are missing. Men in Odaipatti, probably, will never know what they truly deserve.
“The need to earn is the reason which drives all of us to take big risks,” explains T. Anandaraja