Monday, April 24, 2006

Now, what exactly are we standing for in Iraq, anyway?

Last week, Chicago Tribune journalist Cam Simpson was honored by the International Press Club award for outstanding investigative journalism.

NEW YORK -- A Knight-Ridder journalist killed while covering the Iraq war and a Chicago Tribune correspondent who investigated a human trafficking network to supply foreign labor in Iraq were honored with Overseas Press Club Awards for excellence in international journalism.

Tribune correspondent Cam Simpson was honored for best international reporting in the print medium showing a concern for the human condition. His series, "Pipeline to Peril," told the story of 12 Nepalis coerced into going to Iraq for U.S.-funded work. They were kidnapped and killed by insurgents.

The late Knight-Ridder journalist Yasser Salihee and two colleagues, Hannah Allam and Tom Lasseter, were named the winners of the Hal Boyle Award for best newspaper reporting from abroad for "Iraq: America's Failing War."

So what was the series that earned Simpson the award? Bet you haven't read it, unless you live around Chicago.

It can be found here:

It focuses on human trafficking, in which U.S. contractors, with the blessing of our government, are luring people from poor countries, mostly Asians, to Iraq, and once there, placing them into forced servitude, often after being charged 'fees' so exhorbitant that they earn none of the pay that they have been promised, and passports are confiscated to prevent them from leaving (although if they do leave, they are invariably killed by terrorists, as happened to the 12 Nepalese in the original series). Some female workers are forced into prostitution.

One of the most damning of the series is linked to here.

WASHINGTON -- Three years ago, President Bush declared that he had "zero tolerance" for trafficking in humans by the government's overseas contractors, and two years ago Congress mandated a similar policy.

But notwithstanding the president's statement and the congressional edict, the Defense Department has yet to adopt a policy to bar human trafficking.

A proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor was drafted by the Pentagon last summer, but five defense lobbying groups oppose key provisions and a final policy still appears to be months away, according to those involved and Defense Department records.

The lobbying groups opposing the plan say they're in favor of the idea in principle, but said they believe that implementing key portions of it overseas is unrealistic. They represent thousands of firms, including some of the industry's biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, both of which have been linked to trafficking-related concerns.

Did the suddenly renewed attention to the issue get anything changed? Well, you be the judge: Today, Simpson wrote a follow up story in which our commander in Iraq has ordered this to end:

WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has ordered sweeping changes for privatized military support operations after confirming violations of human-trafficking laws and other abuses by contractors involving possibly thousands of foreign workers on American bases, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Gen. George Casey ordered that contractors be required by May 1 to return passports that have been illegally confiscated from laborers on U.S. bases after determining that such practices violate U.S. laws against trafficking for forced or coerced labor. Human brokers and subcontractors from South Asia to the Middle East have worked together to import thousands of laborers into Iraq from impoverished countries.

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.

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 other abuses during an inspection of contracting activities supporting the U.S. military in Iraq.

Forced prostitution and forced labor. Why not call it what that is? Slavery.

Of course, our biggest 'friends' in the region are nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, nations where slaves are still bought and sold quite openly, and the royal households are full of slaves. So now it's nice to know that slavery (one of the few human rights abuses that was never allowed under Saddam) is now coming to Iraq, and we're bringing it. I wonder if any of the inflated no-bid contracts that we gave to Halliburton out of our tax money, may have gone to buy a few slaves.

Though this series was published by the Chicago Tribune late last year, it was not picked up by the major media outlets (who apparently don't want to publish news this bad because they still want to play cheerleader for a failed war). It wasn't until the twin stories that followed it of Salihee's murder by terrorists, and the award for the series, that newspapers have been forced to carry it (for example, there was a short story on it in today's Arizona Republic-- on page A-7).

American contractors being paid by our government, participating in the slave trade.

I wonder if that noise I hear is half a million United States soldiers, who gave their lives over 140 years ago to get rid of slavery, turning over in their graves.


Anonymous said...

Well researched and well said, Eli. I was thinking of doing an article about the human trafficking in Iraq, but I couldn't comeclose to equaling yours.

I saw no mention of forced prostitution in Iraq in either today's stories or your links, however. Can you provide some documentation for that? The only reference to prostitution I find from your links is to some contractors engaging in this practice in Bosnia in the 1990's; a number of employees were fired for that and Bush in 2002 explicitly forbade this practice in a directive. That's utterly heinous behavior by American contractors, even if it happened in Bosnia rather than Iraq, but I need to see something more before accepting that it's happening in Iraq.

Using international human traffickers to obtain foreign workers and then turning those foreign workers into captive labor by seizing their passports is plenty bad, but forcing them into prostitution would be far worse.

Eli Blake said...

It mentions prostitution in paragraph 3, second set of italics (clipped from the link that says, 'linked to here.')

Anonymous said...

Okay, I see it's mentioned there. I still don't see even an allegation - let alone evidence - that it's going on as part of the US military venture in Iraq. It happened in Bosnia in the 1990's, according to the same story you referred me to (15th paragraph, begins "Bush declared zero tolerance"), and that led to Bush's prohibition in 2002.

The use of human traffickers for recruiting labor for Iraq, and the practice of seizing those workers' passports as a means of keeping them on-site, are both practices which the US should have nothing to do with.

Eli Blake said...

I guess my question would be that if it wasn't happening, then why would said contractors and lobbying groups object to banning it?

Anonymous said...

eli, That is a pretty far accuse someone of participating in a certain behavior because they are against banning it????

I have never used a prostitute, but that does not mean I am against allowing the citizens of Nevada the right to choose it for themselves. I have never used an illegal drug, but that does not mean I am against the laws in California or Oregon (or is it Washington?) I have never (and never will) practice Islam, but that does not mean I want it banned in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Eli, the article doesn't say what specifics in the language were holding up the processing of the new rules by DoD. I strongly suspect it wasn't the "no forced prostitution" language, but rather had to do with the restrictions on how contractors dealt with foreign employees hired to do legitimate work on US bases and US-led projects.

Eli Blake said...


There is a difference between prostitution and forced prostitution. The language specifically bans forced prostitution.

Indy Voter: I still don't see why they would include it in the language at all unless they had a reason to believe that they needed to.