Pentagon Hires More Than 70,000 “Invisible Workers” And Treats Them Abominably

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?

Take Action

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


Roxy H.
Roxie H4 years ago

This is Appalling! Wow, shameful

Siti R.
Siti R4 years ago

the United States of hypocrisy! "every home should sweep in front of his door and the whole world would be clean."

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K4 years ago

Slavery alive and well under the auspices of the American government who know whats going on do all they can to stonewall the truth from coming out with false promises to investigate and take action which never happens and any whistle blower ends up dead or persecuted. Americans should hang there head in shame for electing these criminals to office. If Obama is not aware of these activities then he is either blind and deaf or just brain dead hmmmm maybe both.

Amy R.
Past Member 4 years ago


Maria D'Oporto
Past Member 5 years ago

Only can say WOW!!

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

First, we should get out of the wars. Next, we should get out (not cut back) of the private workers business. I signed the petition to Sec. Clinton and added my comment. This is not something America should be engaged in -- it is opposite to our values. Abhorrent. I feel ashamed for my country.

Ira Herson
Ira Herson6 years ago

It is appalling that the military should abuse people this way and get away with it. Some comments are that it is the contractors fault and not the military. This is a technique to keep the blame at arms length. The same technique is used by contractors that run privately owned prisons and refugee centres.

The violations of workers rights and conditions would not be tolerated by any but the most vulnerable. Shame on the people that would do this.

Dieter Riedel
Dieter R6 years ago

That is the reality of "free" economy, business as usual and American imperialism at its best...

Britin Jackson
Past Member 6 years ago

@ Laura E.~ If you really want to know try picking up a copy of "A People's History of the United States 1492-Present" By Howard Zinn. Our skeletons are many and atrocious....

Lori E.
Lori E6 years ago

How embarrassing for our country. What gives the military the right to do this?! Appalling!