Juan Cole in a post of 04/24/06 at his Informed Consent blog links to a wire version of this story: Iraq war contractors ordered to end abuses: Tribune series detailed undocumented pipeline of foreign workers into Iraq, and abuses perpetrated along the way Chicago Tribune by Cam Simpson 04/23/06.
It seems that American contractors in Iraq have been luring foreign workers into Iraq then confiscating their passports and using them as forced labor. Simpson reports:
Two memos obtained by the Tribune indicate that Casey's office concluded that the practice of confiscating passports from such workers was both widespread on American bases and in violation of the U.S. trafficking laws.
Trafficking laws, those forbidding "trafficking in persons", i.e., the slave trade.
The memos, including an order dated April 4 and titled "Subject: Prevention of Trafficking in Persons in MNF-I," or Multinational Forces-Iraq, say the military also confirmed a host of other abuses during an inspection of contracting activities supporting the U.S. military in Iraq. They include deceptive hiring practices; excessive fees charged by overseas job brokers who lure workers into Iraq; substandard living conditions once laborers arrive; violations of Iraqi immigration laws; and a lack of mandatory "awareness training" on U.S. bases concerning human trafficking.
Along with a separate memo from a top military procurement official to all contractors in Iraq, dated April 19 and titled, "Withholding of Passports, Trafficking in Persons," Casey's orders promise harsh actions against firms that fail to return passports or end other abusive practices. Contracts could be terminated, contractors could be blacklisted from future work, and commanders could physically bar firms from bases, the memos show.
Oh, and guess which company is heavily involved:
Although other firms also have contracts supporting the military in Iraq, the U.S. has outsourced vital support operations to Halliburton subsidiary KBR at an unprecedented scale, at a cost to the U.S. of more than $12 billion as of late last year.
KBR, in turn, has outsourced much of that work to more than 200 subcontractors, many of them based in Middle Eastern nations condemned by the U.S. for failing to stem human trafficking into their own borders or for perpetrating other human rights abuses against foreign workers.
KBR's subcontractors employ an army of workers to dish out food, wash clothes, clean latrines and carry out virtually every other menial task. About 35,000 of the 48,000 people working under the privatization contract last year were "Third Country Nationals," who are non-Americans imported from outside Iraq, KBR has said.
Halliburon's KBR has put out a memo to boost its employees' and managers' awareness of the laws against the slave trade: KBR Memo from Paul Wilkinson 04/13/06. Just so no one will think they're going overboard with, you know, so-called politically correct worries about suppressing the slave trade, the memo stresses (emphasis in original):
Please not that the training is for awareness purposes only, it is not mastery type training where assessments would be involved. However, for those staqff interested in further information about this phenomenon, there is information on the last briefing slide referring people to an on-lin course which is available.
I wonder if it's advisable to use a word like "mastery" in a memo about not participating in the slave trade. Or, "this phenomenon", as Wilkinson refers to the practice in question.
Juan Cole writes (emphasis in original):
After all the shootings of innocent Iraqis out for a drive, after the torture and illegal detentions at Abu Ghraib, after the indiscriminate bombing of Iraqi cities, there were few blots remaining as imaginable on the American escutcheon in Iraq. But, well, we just weren't thinking big enough. There was after all the possibility of the revival of slavery! Some of the civilian firms supplying "military support services" at US military bases in Iraq have been using slave labor. This report confines itself to speaking of "human trafficking" and "confiscated passports," but it is obviously talking about slavery pure and simple. I have long been against all the boondoggles of corporate socialism in the defense industries, whereby jobs that could be done efficiently and inexpensively by GIs are farmed out as pork barrel patronage to private firms, who do them inefficiently and very expensively. And, it turns out that the corruption in Iraq among American "contractors" has been mind-boggling. But even I could not have imagined slavery.
I can just imagine the FOXists' excuses for this. Why, the "phenomenon" employees are treated just fine. Plenty to eat, a roof over their heads, medical care if they get sick, the civilizing influence of American white folks - shoot, they never had it so good!
I won't be surprised to see rightwingers making some such argument seriously.