We’ve all read about the expansion of private-security contractors on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. But did you know that armed security personnel account for only 16 percent of the contracting work force?
Foreign Workers On U.S. Bases Living In Shipping Containers
More than 60 percent of the total in Iraq are not employed as private security personnel, but as hired hands. And their working conditions can be hell, while they often live in shipping containers within barbed-wire compounds on U.S. bases.
The Pentagon’s Invisible Army
Writing in The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman tells the story of Lydia and Vinnie, two women from Fiji who were recruited in 2007 by a local firm called Meridian Services Agency, which promised them jobs in Dubai. Once they reached Dubai, however, they were told that they were actually bound for jobs on U.S. military bases in Iraq.
They were also originally told they would be earning $3,800 a month, a sum which in reality became $350 a month, not to mention the $500 fee they had to pay to a recruitment firm.
From The New Yorker:
Lydia and Vinnie were unwitting recruits for the Pentagon’s invisible army: more than seventy thousand cooks, cleaners, construction workers, fast-food clerks, electricians, and beauticians from the world’s poorest countries who service U.S. military logistics contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Filipinos launder soldiers’ uniforms, Kenyans truck frozen steaks and inflatable tents, Bosnians repair electrical grids, and Indians provide iced mocha lattes. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) is behind most of the commercial “tastes of home” that can be found on major U.S. bases, which include jewelry stores, souvenir shops, beauty salons, and fast-food courts.
Held In Conditions Resembling Indentured Servitude
These foreign workers are known as “third-country nationals,” or T.C.N.s. Stillman has spent a year researching the lives of these T.C.N.s, listening to their tales of having been robbed of wages, injured without compensation, subjected to sexual assault, and held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by their subcontractor bosses.
And not every T.C.N. makes it home safely. Since 2001, more than two thousand contractor fatalities and more than fifty-one thousand injuries have been reported in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An Integral Part Of The Obama Administration’s Long-Term Strategy?
It would appear that these T.C.N.s have become an integral part of the Obama Administration’s long-term strategy, but at what cost? Stillman recounts that when several human-rights litigators in Washington heard about her investigation, they flew Vinnie to the U.S.; her trip culminated in a meeting with State Department officials, at which she spoke at length about her false recruitment and subsequent mistreatment.
From The New Yorker:
After the meeting, Ambassador at Large Luis DdeBaca, the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, notified officials at AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service) and the Office of the Secretary of Defense about the allegations, and urged them to investigate.
“We’re going to make sure that Secretary Clinton is aware of these allegations,” he wrote in a February, 2010, e-mail.
A Deafening Silence
The response has been a deafening silence.
This is a human rights abuse that cannot be tolerated. How can the United States proclaim itself a supporter of human rights and accuse other countries of violating their human rights, while allowing such violations under its own watch?
Click here to let Secretary Clinton know about these appalling conditions, and urge her to conduct an investigation.
Photo Credit: UNC-CFC-USFC via Creative Commons
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