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The possible use of trafficked labor in Iraq

by aden Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 04:01:46 AM EST

I have just posted on the tradio21 web site an audio interview with Cam Simpson, of the Chicago Tribune [ 15Mb. mp3. approx. 38 minutes ].

In October the Chicago Tribune published Pipeline to Peril, a series of articles written by Cam Simpson, detailing fraudulent and coercive practices routinely used to obtain menial labor for the US led war effort in Iraq.

According to the Chicago Tribune series, US military contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, has tapped into a "pipeline" of cheap labor that has existed for decades in the Middle East. Practices that are condemned regularly in the US State Department's annual Human Rights Report and, more recently, the Trafficking in Persons Report, are now routinely being used to obtain workers for the war effort in Iraq.

Along with fraud and coercion, Cam and his colleague, embedded journalist Aamer Madhani, found on US military bases widespread de facto debt bondage coupled with the confiscation of foreign workers' travel documents.

In this audio interview I spoke with Cam about his findings.

To date there has been no response from any US government agency on the matters described in the Chicago Tribune series.

[ this material cross posted on tradio21 ]

In August of 2004, 12 Nepalese men were abducted and killed in Iraq by the terrorist group the Army of Ansar al-Sunna. The men were on their way to begin work on a US military base in Iraq for subcontractors of Kellogg, Brown, and Root.

Chicago Tribune's Washington based correspondent Cam Simpson became intrigued with the story of these twelve men and wanted to learn how they came to be executed on the doorstep of the American military in Iraq.

Cam Simpson along with photographer Jose More retraced the steps of the men up to their execution in August of 2004. What they found was an untold story of 35,000 - 48,000 menial laborers, mostly from South and South East Asia.  

The two part Chicago Tribune series centered around a Nepalese man, Bishnu Hari Thapa, who was promised a job at a five star hotel in Jordan. To get the job he was required to pay a series of job brokers a significant sum of money.

Upon arrival to Jordan, he learned there was no job in Jordan, nor had there ever been one. His final job broker in the chain had always planned on sending Bishnu Hari, and the other eleven men, to Iraq to work for contractors who were hired by Kellogg, Brown, and Root. Finding himself deeply indebted, Bishnu Hari had little alternative but to continue on to Iraq.

Along with this two part series, is an article entitled U.S. Cash Fuels Human Trade,  written by Cam Simpson and Aamer Madhani, a Chicago Tribune journalist embedded at Camp Liberty in Iraq.

The article claims that

"American tax dollars and the wartime needs of the U.S. military are fueling an illicit pipeline of cheap foreign labor, mainly impoverished Asians who often are deceived, exploited and put in harm's way in Iraq with little protection."

The article goes on to detail the confiscation of foreign workers' travel documents.

"All of the South Asian workers said PPI [ KBR subcontractor Prime Projects International ]  took their passports upon arrival. Western supervisors for PPI at the camp said the company keeps workers' passports for safety reasons. The supervisors said they feared if documents were lost, it would be difficult for laborers to get new ones, as most of their countries do not have embassies in Iraq.

Veerus, an Indian laborer who spoke on agreement that his last name not be used, said workers insisted they could care for their passports. But Veerus said PPI responded with an ultimatum: They would not be paid until PPI had their passports. Other workers at the camp suspected the firm kept the documents for another reason."

Confiscation of travel documents is a common pratice of traffickers and a crime under US law when used to "further" human trafficking activity.

In the tradio21 interview, Cam describes an incident in which the Nepalese foreign minister was sent to Kuwait to rescued four dozen Nepalese workers from being sent into Iraq. These men were given an ultimatum either go to Iraq or be put out into the streets of Kuwait with no food, water, money, and no way home.

A second audio interview with Cam can be heard on NPR's Fresh Air.


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