Iraq: Embassy of Oppression

In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, several former managers and employees of FK reported on the conditions at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, which ranged from "deplorable" living conditions to "kidnapping" of employees.

JULY 27, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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Embassy of Oppression

The U.S. embassy in Iraq is set to open this fall. Projected to cost $592 million, the embassy will employ a staff of 4,000 people and assume operating costs totaling $1.2 billion a year. It will be a 104-acre complex — the size of approximately 80 football fields — and the largest U.S. embassy in the world. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked for an additional $50 million in May “to to add more structures” to the embassy. “It’s all for them [the U.S], all of Iraq’s resources, water, electricity, security,” observed an Iraqi. “It’s as if it’s their country, and we are guests staying here.” In building this lavish symbol of occupation, the United States subsidized the company First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting (FK), a foreign contractor with egregious labor abuses. In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, several former managers and employees of FK reported on the conditions at the embassy, which ranged from “deplorable” living conditions to “kidnapping” of employees. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded, “If what you are telling us is right, something appears to be seriously wrong with the management and oversight of this project.”

SLAVE LABOR: Yesterday’s hearing confirmed the serious abuses that have been reported for nearly two years. Because of the U.S. refusal to employ Iraqis inside the Green Zone, “most of the laborers were from such countries as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Sierra Leone, the committee was told.” FK lied to the workers, as “all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai,” testified an embassy technician, “adding that an FK manager instructed him not to tell any of the Filipinos that they were going to Baghdad.” Rory Mayberry, a former subcontract employee of the FK, told the Committee yesterday: “Let me spell it out clearly: I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work at the U.S. Embassy.” One worker signed up be a “telephone repair man,” and when workers discovered they were headed to Baghdad en route, an FK manager waved an MP5 gun in the air to “settle down” the employees. In Baghdad, workers toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as little as $10 a day, according to John Owens, former FK manager. If a construction worker needed new shoes or gloves, he was told “No, do with what you have by FK managers, Owens testified. “When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies.”

THE SECRET EMBASSY: The planning for the embassy has been marked by a veil of secrecy by the State Department. In May, architectural firm Bergine Define Yaeger posted pictures of the embassy’s design online, but two days later, the Department ordered the pictures removed, alleging a “security risk” for “our employees overseas.” In his efforts to obtain information from the Department about the embassy, Waxman “said that for two weeks he was unable to get documents and cables he had requested. Some were delivered only Thursday in response to a subpoena, he said.” But a Nov. 2005 State Department Inspector General (IG) report curiously found no evidence of abuse. The IG even alleged that employees “sought” overtime work. “No interviewee was aware of any worker who had been mistreated,” the IG reiterated yesterday, dismissing the allegations. 

CONTRACTS FOR WAR ALLIES: The United States is largely is responsible for FK’s rise. “The company was a $35 million firm in early 2003 and now holds nearly $2 billion in contracts; largely U.S. funded and related to Iraq,” reports CorpWatch. When originally contracted, FK’s human rights abuses were well-documented, and the company had “little experience in projects on the scale envisioned for the embassy.” Furthermore, there were several lower bidders than FK, including “one award-winning American company, Framaco, [which] offered to do the job for as much as $70 million less than First Kuwaiti.” Why a Kuwaiti company? Some of have alleged that its work as a subcontractor under Halliburton may explain its rise in Iraq. Additionally, Kuwait was the only country bordering Iraq that staged U.S. troops before the invasion. President Bush ordered 100,000 troops to Kuwait to be “ready to conduct an operation” in February 2003; subsequently, some have alleged the contract may be a reward for Kuwait’s pre-war support


CIVIL RIGHTS — FORMER GUANTANAMO TRIBUNAL OFFICER SAYS SYSTEM SOMETIMES RELIED ON ‘GARBAGE’ EVIDENCE: In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, Lt. Col. Stephen E. Abraham, a military intelligence officer who spent six months “working in the office that reviews the government’s cases against detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” said that the military tribunals “were arbitrary and sometimes relied on ‘garbage’ evidence and that decisions in the proceedings were influenced by commanders.” Abraham is both “the first participant in the largely secret process to criticize it publicly” and “to urge Congress to scrap the military-run reviews conducted on the island and give detainees access to U.S. courts.” “What I expected and what occurred were two entirely different things,” said Lt. Col. Abraham. “What I expected to see was a fundamentally fair process.” “He said he had raised frequent concerns about the fairness of the process, but that ‘a quick result was preferred over a probing inquiry.'” Of the three-officer panel he served on, Abraham testified that they “agreed that there was no credible evidence that one detainee, Abdullah al Ghazawy, was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, as the government alleged,” but “he later learned that a second panel was convened two months later to hear al Ghazawy’s case. It ‘reached a different result,’ Abraham said, and he was never assigned to another case.” “The hearing on Thursday was part of an effort…to press for legislation giving detainees access to federal district courts in habeas corpus proceedings to challenge their detentions.”

ADMINISTRATION — FBI CHIEF CONTRADICTS GONZALES TESTIMONY, CONFIRMS NSA PROGRAM WAS SUBJECT OF HOSPITAL VISIT: Speaking with the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, FBI director Robert S. Mueller contradicted Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s sworn Senate testimony from Tuesday. Mueller confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s testimony that the “terrorist surveillance program” run by the National Security Agency (NSA) was the subject of discussion during Gonzales’s controversial visit to former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Gonzales testified that it was about “other intelligence activities” and that there was “no serious disagreement” about the legality of the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. Despite Mueller clearly refuting Gonzales’s testimony, a Justice Department spokesman defended the attorney general, saying that “Gonzales’s testimony and statements about the NSA program have been accurate,” but adding, “confusion is inevitable.” Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called yesterday for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales’s “confused” testimony constitutes perjury.

ENVIRONMENT — ADMINISTRATION LOBBIED AGAINST CALIFORNIA EMISSIONS LAW: Yesterday, in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Environmental Protection Agency head Stephen Johnson refused to answer Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) when she asked “whether he knew if the Transportation Department was lobbying against a California global warming law.” “I defer to the Transportation Department,” Johnson responded on three occasions. Documents released by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in June suggest that the Transportation Department illegally contacted members of Congress and urged them to vote against California’s request to “put in place its own pollution regulations.” Echoing the position of the auto industry, Transportation Department officials asked Congress to adopt a single federal standard for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and sports utility vehicles. California’s more stringent guidelines would “cut greenhouse gas emissions, mostly carbon dioxide, by an estimated 25 percent from cars and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles, beginning in 2009.” If California’s bid is approved, “a dozen other states” are prepared to adopt similar emissions standards.  


Army Secretary Peter Geren is likely to recommend that a retired three-star general and six others Army officers be demoted for their roles in providing misleading information about the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman. The AP reveals new documents suggesting that Tillman may have been murdered.

450: Number of points the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell yesterday, the biggest drop of the year, before it closed down 311 points.

“The Senate approved antiterrorism legislation late Thursday that grew out of the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission after voting overwhelmingly for a measure allocating $40 billion for domestic security in the coming year.”

Steven Spielberg, under pressure from Darfur activists, may quit his post as artistic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, unless China takes a harder line against Sudan.”

Despite the “high stakes,” the Iraqi parliament is “deliberating at a pace to rival plodding legislative bodies around the world.” At yesterday’s session, half of the parliament members were missing, including “the speaker, the former speaker and two former prime ministers.” The meeting convened for just 30 minutes and was only the 50th time the body had met this year.

“The U.S. and its allies have delivered a little more than a third of the equipment in the pipeline for the Iraqi Army and less than half of what is destined for the Iraqi police, the Pentagon said Thursday, underscoring lags that Baghdad officials have complained about in recent days.”

In a strongly-worded opinion handed down at the U.S. District Court, a Pennsylvania federal judge issued a permanent injunction yesterday against restrictive anti-illegal-immigration ordinances in Hazleton, PA. The ruling declared that the anti-immigration law “prohibits Hazleton from enforcing any of the provisions of its ordinances.”

“Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. … Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.”

And finally: On Wednesday, comedian Dave Chappelle “surpris[ed] staffers and fans” when he showed up to the Congressional Federal Credit Union in the Longworth House Office Building. “An employee of the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer who sidled up to Chappelle” said the comedian “playfully asked him what the ‘CAO’ emblazoned on his shirt stood for. ‘He asked if it was a gang,'” said the employee.

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In a continued effort to help the 9/11 rescue workers, Michael Moore stated that the Weinstein Company will be donating 11 percent of the box office receipts from SiCKO to “help these workers and the other workers who need help.”


CALIFORNIA: “California’s air-quality regulators yesterday issued the country’s most aggressive and costly rules to curb diesel pollution spewed by off-road equipment.”

PENNSYLVANIA: Judge strikes down punitive anti-immigration law that would punish landlords for renting to undocumented immigrants.

WASHINGTON: “Pharmacists have sued the state over a new regulation that requires the sale of emergency contraception,” alleging it conflicts with “religious and moral beliefs.”


THINK PROGRESS: Intelligence official contradicts President Bush: “primary” terrorist threat is from “South Asia,” not Iraq.

FOX ATTACKS: A new video documents the Fox News Channel’s attempts to smear progressive bloggers.

WAR ROOM: CNN’s Glenn Beck says the John Birch Society is “starting to make more and more sense to” him.

AMERICA BLOG: Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly bans a liberal blogger from his website after he exposed threatening comments on O’Reilly’s message board.


“In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Gonzales, now attorney general, said he had visited the ailing Ashcroft in the hospital to discuss ‘other intelligence activities,’ not the [National Security Agency] surveillance program.”
— CNN, 7/26/07


“I had an understanding the discussion was on an NSA program.”
— FBI Director Robert Mueller, 7/26/07

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