By: Mark Fitzgerald
Six months after a Chicago Tribune series revealed that some contractors providing support for U.S. forces in Iraq were violating human-trafficking laws and committing other abuses against their employees, the military has quietly ordered sweeping changes to prevent abuses, the newspaper reported Monday.
The Tribune story by national correspondent Cam Simpson quoted memos the top U.S. commander in Iraq and other records documenting the crackdown on abuses the Tribune first reported in an Oct. 9-10 series called “Pipeline to Peril.”
Among other abuses uncovered in that reporting last fall were allegations that contractors and subcontractors illegally confiscated the passports of laborers working on U.S. bases. That practice violates U.S. laws against forced or coerced labor, the Tribune reported.
According to the Tribune’s Monday story, U.S. Gen. George Casey has ordered that contractors be required to return passports to employees by May 1.
Also in October, the Tribune reported on the case of 12 Nepalese laborers — including some who believed they had been hired to work hotel jobs in Jordan — who were sent to Iraq, where they were kidnapped and killed.
The Tribune series reported substandard living conditions for foreign workers in Iraq; job brokers who lied to perspective employees to lure them to the war-torn nation; and violations of Iraqi immigration laws.
Monday, the Tribune reported an April 4 memo from Casey’s office obtained by the newspaper said a military inspection had confirmed abuses by contractors.
Casey is promising to get tough with contractors who violate the law in the future, the newspaper said. Contractors who fail to comply with the new directives could be blacklisted from future jobs, and physically barred from U.S. bases, according to the documents.
The Tribune reported the actions ?represent a dramatic turnabout for the U.S. military and follow three months of behind-the-scenes pressure on the Defense Department from State Department officials charged with monitoring and combating human trafficking worldwide.?
The State Department launched its investigation following publication of the Tribune?s ?Pipeline to Peril? series.
The series, also written by Simpson with photography by Jose More, won the George Polk Award for International Reporting and an Overseas Press Club award. It is available on the Tribune?s Web site.