The Chicago Tribune produced an incredible story last week detailing how unsuspecting young men from poor countries are tricked into working in dangerous jobs for a Halliburton subsidiary in Iraq.
The two-part series retraced the journey of a group of Nepalese men who were lured to the Mideast with fraudulent paperwork that promised them jobs at a luxury hotel in Amman, Jordan, but instead wound up in Iraq working for the Halliburton subsidiary KBR, America's biggest private contractor there.
What was even more startling was the stories' revelation that the operation is financed with U.S. taxpayer money.
According to the Tribune, American tax dollars and the wartime needs of the U.S. military are fueling an illicit pipeline of cheap foreign labor into Iraq. Most of those falling for the fraudulent job offers are impoverished Asians who, the newspaper said, "often are deceived, exploited and put in harm's way with little protection."
The Tribune got on the story after 12 young civilians from Nepal were kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq and a few days later publicly slaughtered. The newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to Nepal, where they interviewed families and friends and soon discovered that thousands of men are routinely recruited for "good" Mideast jobs, but wind up in the most treacherous stretches of Iraq territory working in private jobs for the U.S. military.
A brother of one of the kidnapped men told Cam Simpson, the Trib reporter, that the last time he heard from his brother was when he called from his supposed job in Jordan. He was being sent against his will to Iraq, the brother said, and then blurted out, "I am done for." The phone then went dead. The next time the young Nepalese was seen was on a TV screen two weeks later, his hands tied behind his back and a gun pointed at his head.
Simpson reported that the trail of those dozen men from Nepal revealed a chain of brokers, middlemen and subcontractors along the way, all of whom stood to profit from the trade.
To maintain the flow of cheap labor that is key to the military support and reconstruction in Iraq, the U.S. military has allowed KBR to partner with subcontractors that hire workers from Nepal and other countries that prohibit their citizens from being deployed in Iraq, the story said. That means that the brokers operate illicitly and falsify documents that describe far different jobs near Iraq, which eventually turn out to be smack dab in the middle of the country.
"Even after foreign workers discover they have been lured to the Middle East under false pretenses, many say they have little choice but to continue into Iraq or stay longer than planned," the story continued. "They feel trapped because they must repay huge fees demanded by brokers."
KBR, which has a multibillion-dollar contract with the U.S. Defense Department, pays the subcontractors for finding it employees to do the cleanup and rebuilding work in Iraq.
The tentacles of this war keep getting this country deeper and deeper into places we shouldn't be, including this atrocious practice that the Chicago Tribune has uncovered.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.
© 2005 The Capital Times