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Kidnapped workers building U.S. embassy in Baghdad

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah

August 8, 2007

An American civilian contractor revealed shocking evidence about how Filipino construction workers were tricked last year into building the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, according to an article on The Times Online. The 51 men were originally told that they’d travel to Dubai to construct hotels there, but instead found themselves in a Baghdad-bound plane! 

Rory Mayberry, an emergency medical technician travelling on the same flight with the Filipino group in March 2006, described scenes of panic and anger when the workers were told that they’d been tricked and were going to Baghdad not Dubai as their boarding passes stated. He said the men jumped out of their seats screaming in protest until a gun-toting air steward ordered them to sit down. 

The Filipinos were “kidnapped“ to build America‘s spacious embassy in Baghdad‘s Green Zone, Mayberry told a congressional committee investigating allegations of fraud at what will be America’s largest diplomatic mission. 

The $592m fortified embassy will house about 3,000 Americans behind bomb-proof walls. It will cover 104 acres of land on the west bank of the River Tigris - about the size of the Vatican, making it the biggest and most expensive U.S. embassy on earth. 

Mayberry, who worked briefly at the site, said the Filipinos boarded a plane in Kuwait chartered for First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting - the company in charge of the construction of the American embassy in Baghdad. 

“When the plane took off and the captain announced we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke loose. People started shouting. It wasn’t until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP5 [sub-machinegun] in the air that people settled down. They realised they had no choice,” he said. “Let me spell it out clearly. They were being smuggled past U.S. security forces.” 

Mayberry said that one Filipino worker told him how excited he was about his new job as a telephone repair man in the United Arab Emirates. Instead of travelling to Dubai, the men found themselves in one of the most targeted areas in war-torn Baghdad, underpaid, and living in cramped trailers. 

John Owens, an architectural expert with experience on U.S. embassy projects, also knows about the kidnapped Filipinos. “When flying from Kuwait to Baghdad, I saw a bunch of workers with tickets to Dubai. Mine was the only one that said Baghdad,” he said. 

“When I asked the First Kuwaiti manager, he said, ‘Shhh, don’t say anything. If Kuwaiti customs knows they’re going to Iraq, they won’t let them on the plane’.” 

Owens also testified that conditions in the construction camp were “deplorable, beyond what any man should tolerate”. Moreover, he said that workers from Asia and west Africa were paid between £120-£150 a month for working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines president, has ordered a team to travel to the Middle East to investigate the issue. 

Congressman Henry Wax-man, Democratic chairman of the House oversight committee investigating the accusations, said: “The project has been beset by allegations that the prime contractor, First Kuwaiti, has used forced labour to build the embassy, violating the laws against human trafficking and sending exactly the wrong message to Iraq and the rest of the world about U.S. respect for human rights.” 

But First Kuwaiti denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman said: “As demonstrated in the hearing, these claims have been investigated by the inspector-general of the U.S. Department of State and the multinational Force-Iraq, both of whom had verified that First Kuwaiti is not involved in labour trafficking.” 

Howard Krongard, the State Department inspector general who visited the embassy construction site in September, said he found no evidence to prove the contractors’ accusations, but he admitted that his investigation was “limited in scope” and acknowledged that the construction company had three months’ notice of his visit. 

An earlier Pentagon probe into contractors operating in Iraq said it had identified abuses, some of which were “widespread”. The U.S. State Department office charged with monitoring human trafficking also investigated abuses of workers who are part of an undocumented pipeline used to deliver thousands of Asians to labor on U.S. military bases in Iraq. John Miller, director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, say such cases raise serious concerns because they involve contractors and subcontractors "employed directly or indirectly by the U.S. government", adding that American contractors must be held accountable, at least to some degree, for the behavior of their subcontractors and the networks below them that are often used to recruit and deliver laborers to American bases in Iraq.

Miller’s investigation was launched after the Chicago Tribune documented the deaths of 12 workers who had been trafficked from Nepal to Iraq, as well as other cases of human brokers who are engaged in the same kinds of abuses routinely condemned by the U.S. in other nations as symptomatic of human trafficking.

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