Monday, April 24, 2006

U.S. Military Orders Human-trafficking Reforms in Iraq

The Chicago Tribune published a series of investigative articles, Pipeline to Peril (free registration required), in October 2005.  Among their findings, they determined that US-based contractors were engaging in illegal human trafficking to supply laborers in Iraq.

Now, the Tribune reports that General Casey has ordered the implementation of reforms, confirming that the abuses did in fact occur.  
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.
That quote does not make it sound too bad, but the rest of the article details some overtly abusive practices:
Those workers and others suffered from a chain of exploitation that began in their home countries, where families often assumed huge debts to pay fees demanded by brokers, to Iraq. Even after discovering they'd been deceived, workers felt compelled to head into the war zone, or remain in danger for much longer than they desired, just to pay those debts.

The Tribune also found evidence that subcontractors and brokers routinely seized workers' passports, deceived them about their safety or contract terms and, in at least one case, allegedly tried to force terrified men into Iraq under the threat of cutting off their food and water.
I have two things to say about this.  First, it is absolutely disgusting that we would essentially enslave people, all in the service of "liberating" Iraq.  Second, it is unbelievably stupid to import labor, when the unemployment rate in Iraq is so high.  All it does is alienate the local people.  What are they to think, when they see jobs going to foreigners, while their own people are going without jobs?