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The Liberation of Iraq and Slave Labor


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Filed: Country: Philippines

Of all of the immoral actions of the Bush administration, the one that ires me the most is the privatization of war. Fighting wars with turning a profit in mind is at cross-purposes with cessation of hostilities, and therefore cost-plus government contracts. Running a war with a profit motive leads to abject subjugation of other human beings. There is always someone a little poorer, a little more desperate and you can wring just a little bit more out of them and completely debase their humanity and treat them like animals.

It leads to the sort of thing McClatchy uncovered in Baghdad this week. A thousand Asian men, confined for three months to a windowless warehouse near the Baghdad airport. Warehoused, literally, with no money and no jobs, receiving minimal water and food. And their passports were confiscated.

The men were all hired by a Kuwaiti subcontractor to KBR, Najlaa International Catering Services, but when they arrived in Baghdad from their homes in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - there were no jobs. Most of the men had paid brokers more than $2000 to get to Iraq for jobs that they were promised would earn them $600 to $800 per month. Many of the men went into debt to cover the job placement fees. "They promised us the moon and stars," said Davidson Peters, 42, a Sri Lankan. "While we are here, wives have left their husbands and children have been shut out of their schools" because money for the families has dried up. The men live in three warehouses with long rows of bunk beds crammed tightly together. Reporters who tried to get a better glimpse inside were ushered away by armed guards.

On Tuesday, the men marched outside their quarters to protest their living conditions and draw attention to their plight. Well, someone noticed...McClatchy newspapers.

"It's really dirty," a Sri Lankan man told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he still wants to work for Najlaa. "For all of us, there are about 12 toilets and about 10 bathrooms. The food - it's three half-liter (one pint) bottles of water a day. Bread, cheese and jam for breakfast. Lunch is a small piece of meat, potato and rice. Dinner is rice and dal, but it's not dal," he said, referring to the Indian lentil dish. After McClatchy began asking questions about the men on Tuesday, the Kuwaiti contractor announced that it would return them to their home countries and pay them back salaries. Najlaa officials contended that they've cared for the men's basic needs while the company has tried to find them jobs in Iraq.

When I say it is criminal, I am not being hyperbolic. The conditions that have been inflicted upon these men violate operational guidelines handed down by the Pentagon in 2006 that were put in place to deter human trafficking into the war zone after some high-profile scandals erupted - including allegations of slave labor used to build the U.S. embassy.

The 2006 guidelines also proscribe minimally acceptable standards of living, which mandate each person employed by contractors in the war zone have a minimum of fifty square feet of personal space and adequate hygiene facilities. The guidelines also mandate that pledges made in contracts be honored. None of these criteria were met where these men were concerned. Oh yeah - seizing passports violates the guidelines, too.

War profiteering is clearly and plainly immoral and companies that exist solely to make money off the misfortune of war should be legislated out of existence. This is another one of those instances where the free market is at cross-purposes with the greater good, since there is a lot more money to be made off of war than off of peace. The only thing more immoral than war profiteering is an administration that encourages and rewards war profiteering.

President-elect Obama pledged during the campaign that he would grow the military. I agree. Let's grow it back to the size it used to be when it was self-maintaining. Before it was privatized. Back when we maintained our own supply lines.

It's always been something of a point of honor to me that when the world was watching and the defining moment of history came to the stage, the United States did not win the war with the product of slave labor and work camps. We won while simultaneously creating a middle class, and our forces freed the victims of our adversaries work camps.


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