“The Invisible Army”

“The Invisible Army” by Sarah Stillman

The New Yorker

June 6, 2011

 Sarah Stillman’s “The Invisible Army” tells the story of ten Fijian beauticians who were recruited with illusion of a lucrative job in the opulent city of Dubai. Stillman uses the story of their mistreatment to expose the bigger exploitation of tens of thousands of foreign works on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan who were forced into a corrupt system of labor supply that promised the foreign workers high-paying jobs and then merely reduced them to indentured servitude.


Facts and Sources

 Fine print on travel documents: their Emirates visas weren’t employment permits but thirty-day travel passes that forbade all work, “paid and unpaid.” Dubai was just a stopping point, they were bound for U.S. military bases. – unnamed source

 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. – unnamed source

 Foreign workers are known as “third-country nationals,” or TCNs who have been robbed of wages, injured without compensation, subjected to sexual assault, and held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by their subcontractor bosses who are finances by the American taxpayer but who often operate outside the law. –  Confirmed by unreleased contractor memos, interviews, and government documents

 TCNs have become a long-term strategy by Obama to replace American boots on the ground and that the unregulated rise of the Pentagon’s Third World logistics army is undermining American military objectives –  General Stanley McChrystal

 Dangers associated with “poorly conceived, poorly structured, poorly conducted, and poorly monitors subcontracting –  Commission on Wartime Contracting

 No one pays straight on the bases, where some subcontractors sneak workers on without security clearances, as they try to bypass basic wage and welfare regulations – unnamed foreign concession manager with six years of experience in Iraq

Some workers pay smugglers between three hundred and four hundred dollars to bring them onto the base with a fake letter of authorization and pay a recruiter in their home country three thousand dollars to get the job – interviews with unnamed TCNs

 It’s uncommon for a worker to receive the salary he or she was promised. One 25-year-old Taco Bell employee on a major U.S. base paid a recruiting agency four thousand dollars and was assured to make the money back so quick in Iraq. When he arrived in Baghdad he was housed in a shipping container behind the U.S. embassy, where he slept on soiled mattresses with twenty-five other migrants. They learned that they were to earn as little as two hundred and seventy-five dollars a month as cooks and servers for U.S. soldiers –a fraction of what they’d been promised and a tiny sliver of what U.S. taxpayers are billed for their labor. – unnamed employee

 In the contract the women signed in Iraq, their working hours were specified as “Twelve hours per day and seven days per week.” Their “vacation” was a “Return ticket after the completion of the service.” Appended to the contact was a legal waiver: “I am willingly and of my own free will have decided to go and work in Iraq…I am contented with my job…I want to complete my contract, till then, I will not go home.”  – unnamed source

 Since 2001, more than two thousand contractor fatalities and more than fifty-one thousand injuries have been reported in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first time in American history, private-contractor losses are now on par with those of U.S. troops in both war zones, amounting to 53 percent of reported fatalities in the first six months of 2010.  – unnamed source

 By March 2010, at the height of the Afghan First initiative, the number of TCNs counted by the Department of Defense in Afghanistan had actually increased by nearly 50 percent from the previous June, reaching 17,512. – Afghanistan Department of Defense

 Meridian’s director, a local named Timoci Lolohea, had extracting more than $1.6 million from his victims over the previous five years – Fiji Times

 “allegations for rape never surfaced” in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command’s (CID) prior investigation of the women’s recruitment. – Internal AAFES report

 “CID takes allegations of sexul assault very seriously and fully investigates allegations where there is credible information that a crime may have occurred involving army personnel or others accompanying the force. – unnamed CID spokesman

 In the three years since Vinnie and Lydie returned from Iraq, thousand of TCNs have tried to make their grievances known, sometimes spectacularly. Previously unreported worker riots have erupted on U.S. bases over issues such as lack of food and unpaid wages. On May 1, 2010, in a labor camp run by Prime Projects International (PPI) on the largest military base in Baghdad, more than a thousand subcontractors rampaged, using as weapons fists, stones, wooden bats, and as one U.S. military policeman put it, “anything they could find,” when the cooks ran out of food with at least five hundred workers left to feed.  – worker in the camp named Subramanian

Fiji’s minister for labor was assigned back in 2005 to lead the government investigation into Meridian’s practices. – Kenneth Zinck, Fiji Labor Minister


One thought on ““The Invisible Army”

  1. Pingback: Wordless Wednesday: The Invisible Army | mohanalakshmi.com

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