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October 12, 2007 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Censored: The scariest news may be the stuff you haven’t seen yet. David Phinney thought he’d struck journalistic gold. The veteran reporter, who has done freelance work for PBS, ABC, The New York Times, and other news companies, learned from a disgusted American contractor that the Kuwaiti company hired to build the U.S. embassy in Iraq was using forced laborers trafficked in from Asia.

“I tried to sell it to every major news organization that I could think of,” said Phinney. “They all thought that it was fascinating, but they didn’t want to pay for my story, they just wanted to rip off my sources.” Al Jazeera was the only major news outlet to take an interest in Phinney’s work.

For the past 31 years, Project Censored [Previously] has selected what the research group believes to be the most important news stories that flew under the national radar each year — either under-reported or completely ignored by the mainstream media. Phinney’s article about the use of slave labor to build an American embassy, shocking as it may be, ranked fifth on the list of 25. The No. 1 story: hidden language in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that does away with habeas corpus rights, one of the most elemental principles of our legal system, for anyone labeled an “enemy of the state,” — including, potentially, U.S. citizens.
posted by psmealey (51 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Say what?

This whole post suggests that... well I'm just so shocked... it suggests that the press maybe, by omission, lies.

I need to take a lie-down to try and process this.

(Thanks psmealey.)
posted by From Bklyn at 3:42 AM on October 12, 2007


BRITNEY! LILO! IPHONE! CLOONEY! UNIVERSAL AVATARS! AMERICAN IDOL! LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!
posted by quonsar at 3:59 AM on October 12, 2007 [8 favorites]


Alberto Gonzales testified on January 18th before Congress that "there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is [only] a prohibition against taking it away."

We've allowed a bunch of weasels to fuck up one of the world's great Democracies. I still can't believe that people allowed it. In my mind, there should been riots. Millions of people in the streets around the Capitol building. A general strike. RESISTANCE.

Instead we got nothing. A couple of people on the internets were outraged. Everyone else just put the arses in the air and said, "Please fuck me, Alberto."
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:06 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


slave labor to build an American embassy

Much of Washington, D.C. was built using slave labor. The tradition continues!

it has been determined that slaves helped cast the bronze on the “Statue of Freedom,” which sits atop the Capitol Dome, and devised a method to lift the statue to its present perch.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 4:24 AM on October 12, 2007


posted by chuckdarwin A couple of people on the internets were outraged. Everyone else just put the arses in the air and said, "Please fuck me, Alberto."

Senator Craig, is that you?
posted by fandango_matt at 4:32 AM on October 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.
posted by athenian at 4:56 AM on October 12, 2007


Senator Craig, is that you?

Yeah, I didn't mean that I put my arse in the air, I mean that tapped my foot in a way that communicated "a desire to engage in sexual conduct".
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:58 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great post. I'm horrified, though not surprised any longer by this administration's War Against Freedom, because that's exactly what it is. I agree with chuckdarwin.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 6:03 AM on October 12, 2007


anyone labeled an “enemy of the state,”

So how long do those people wander around, sleeping under bridges and eating out of trash cans, or, held in secret confinement, if that happens, how long until that becomes news? Maybe it never becomes news because it never has been news, because as long as there have been homeless cases to some extent this is what has been happening.
posted by nervousfritz at 6:20 AM on October 12, 2007


Does not surprise me one bit that our government would hire a business that does this. They seriously need to stop shopping by who is the cheapest. When you cut corners like this slave labor is bound to happen. Also when the village idiot is in office I wouldn't be surprised if more crap like this was/is/going to happen more often. What happened to the country I love?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:23 AM on October 12, 2007


The enduring monument to U.S. liberation and democracy in Iraq is being built by forced labor, according to interviews and documents obtained by reporter David Phinney. Contractors working for the U.S. State Department are using bait-and-switch recruiting practices to smuggle Asian workers into brutal and inhumane labor camps in the middle of Beirut’s U.S.-controlled Green Zone.

First Kuwait Trading and Contracting is one of many contractors that have benefited from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The company had employed about 7,500 foreign laborers, 3,000 of whom are from South Asia. One of that company’s practices is to force foreign laborers to surrender their passports to company officials until the work is completed.

[bold added for emphasis]

Withholding passports is bad, but hardly slave labor. Also, they might have an easier time getting their reports published if they use an editor.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:31 AM on October 12, 2007


If you accept withholding passports as slave labor, then it isn't hard to extend the claim to every company in the US that makes use of the H1B Visa program. Sure, foreign workers can leave the country (they still have their passports), but it is fairly difficult to switch companies. Foreign workers effectively are forced to work for the company that sponsors them for 3-5 years before they can shop competitively for a job.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:34 AM on October 12, 2007


Joined: November 5, 2002

Man, remember the [burned.jpg] image tag? That would be so appropriate right now.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:36 AM on October 12, 2007


If it weren't for my fucking job, I'd man the barricades myself.

Revolute! Revolute!
posted by breezeway at 6:38 AM on October 12, 2007


What happened to the country I love?

It was stolen from you by people who cold-called voters and asked them questions like "How would you feel about John McCain if you knew he had a black baby?"
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:38 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mastercheddar - according to This recent story, contractors with cost-plus accounting usually secure the highest bid because it makes them more money through their government contract.
posted by tomierna at 7:11 AM on October 12, 2007


I still can't believe that people allowed it. In my mind, there should been riots. Millions of people in the streets around the Capitol building. A general strike. RESISTANCE.

We're very comfortable and very very busy with our jobs, families, and friends.

I could pencil you in for a revolution, let's see . . . well, shit. I'm booked solid through April!

Some time after that, though, for sure.
posted by Ryvar at 7:13 AM on October 12, 2007


Withholding passports is bad, but hardly slave labor.

Technically, perhaps. Between the deceptive recruiting practices, illegal cross-border trafficking of humans for the purposes of labor and taking away their ability to leave, it's pretty damn close.

As for equating that to an H1-B program, that's not quite right. A H1-B holder knowingly agrees to such an agreement per terms of employment, and is free to vacate the position (and the country) at any time, but also have the option of transferring stewardship to another H1-B sponsor as long as the necessary agreements are in place.

It's not the same thing at all. Not even close.
posted by psmealey at 7:19 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Setting sarcasm aside, there's no way people are ever going to look up from their lives at what's going on around them until things like those creature comforts, that job, their family and friends are faced with a clear and present danger.

I am 100% included in this group.

The American economy affords us this lifestyle because it is a colossal propped-up pile of cards running on ever-increasing debts. By the time it collapses and hardship - rather than slow gentle squeezing - manifests itself in any real way, it will be far too late to do anything about it.

Forseeing these problems and taking steps to guide us through them is supposed to be the function of our leaders, but they themselves are subject to the above - those that aren't intentionally pillaging the country for what it's worth are so busy trying to get votes for the next election that they don't stop to consider the longterm consequences of their actions.

As much as I hate and despise the war on Iraq, there's an argument to be made that pragmatically - from a pure "fuck ethics, let's talk about survival of the American middle class" perspective - it was the right move had it been properly executed. Hussein was very far from the finest of gentlemen, and from a purely socialist vantagepoint even if the Iraqis had had American levels of consumption we had a need for their surplus of energy.

It's in the form of oil, yes, but what it really represents is energy. The ability of any society to meet its needs and promote positive growth is a function of the energy available to it. The Iraqi people had far more energy available, per capita, than they needed and it was being horribly mismanaged and used to acquire insane luxuries for a strongarm killer. If we had used it to solve our own problems (debt) I might object only very quietly while thanking my lucky stars for some farsighted leaders. But instead it was horribly mismanaged and used to acquire insane luxuries for *our* strongarm killers.

The problem with pointing any of this out is that people frankly do not want to know. Confronting them in a manner focused on guilt does not inspire them to listen because they know they are generally good people, individually not responsible, and powerless to stop it. So we return to our routine and quietly pray that either the collapse happens after we're gone, or some technological deus ex machina magicks the whole problem away. There might be a real solution to this problem - but I'm sure a lot of well-intentioned people who are smarter than I am have followed this line of reasoning and if they've come to a conclusion that provides a real, workable solution to our macroscopic problems, then I have yet to see it.
posted by Ryvar at 7:40 AM on October 12, 2007 [5 favorites]


It was stolen from you by people who cold-called voters and asked them questions like "How would you feel about John McCain if you knew he had a black baby?"
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:38 AM on October 12


Wrong. The country was lost to people on whom this call had its intended effect. No strategist in their right mind swould have tried this unless they knew the listener would respond, and they did. Your complaint simplifies to "the ignorant racists of South Carolina" voted for the wrong guy. Those people (a) should not exist in any numbers to make them a worthwhile political target, and (b) the system should be constructed to nullify or marginalize the votes of idiots.

Political opportunists are everywhere and will always be with us. But ultimately it is the peculiar combination of third world ignorance and first world affluence in a great many Americans that has jeopardized the country you love.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:41 AM on October 12, 2007


As for equating that to an H1-B program,

Comparing what the article describes to an H1-B visa is a bit like comparing what happened at Abu Ghraib to hell week at Phi Kappa Psi... After a few hundred mg of percoset, it all kind of looks groovy.
posted by Tommy Gnosis at 7:43 AM on October 12, 2007


Man, remember the [burned.jpg] image tag? That would be so appropriate right now.

You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well, all the comments have been deleted here. Who the fuck do you think you're talking to?

posted by UbuRoivas at 7:44 AM on October 12, 2007


chuckdarwin - take a look at Ron Paul's campaign please. You might be surprised at what your fellow Americans are trying to do to change things for the better. We all share your frustrations.
posted by evilelvis at 8:03 AM on October 12, 2007


History books of the future, please note that many USians were frustrated while their country went down the sewerpipe.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2007


chuckdarwin - take a look at Ron Paul's campaign please. You might be surprised at what your fellow Americans are trying to do to change things for the better. We all share your frustrations.

Giving lots of cash to a far-right loony who's Stormfront.com's favorite candidate, wants to crash the economy by putting the US on the gold standard, published racist remarks in a newsletter and tells conflicting (and non-exonerating) stories about it, believes in homeopathy despite having an MD, wants to remove the ability of the Supreme Court to hear cases involving the Establishment Clause, and voted against divesting US government funds in the genocidal government of Darfur.

You know what? Why don't you not try to help out there? Doable?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:51 AM on October 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Aww. Pope Guilty had to go and spell it all out.

I was just going to respond with bitter/derisive laughter.
posted by sparkletone at 9:07 AM on October 12, 2007


(It's the same laughter that comes to me every time I drive to work when I pass a sign on an overpass. It says, "RON PAUL REVOLUTION" with the 'L' in REVOLUTION turned backwards.")
posted by sparkletone at 9:09 AM on October 12, 2007


Leave it to the Libertarians to think that a revolution is something you can vote for.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:22 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ron Paul is the only candidate, with even a tiny chance of winning, who would end the drug war. He might be racist as hell but that one action would probably do more for minorities than anything the Democrats have in mind.

That, and an unequivocal stand against the military-industrial complex, foreign intervention, torture, and the steady erosion of basic Constitutional rights make him worthy of some support. The Democrats have proven time and time again that they're not going to do much of anything to change course. They're incapable of standing up to Bush, and when envisioning a future where they have executive power, they apparently can't think of anything to do other than continue Bush's foreign policy.

Paul is far from perfect. Some of his supporters have apparently set up permanent residence in the deep end where he sometimes pays them a visit. But sometimes he seems like the only sane one. Ok, thats not entirely correct. Paul, Gravel, and Kucinich, and sometimes Dodd are probably the only sane ones.

Which is telling of the state of America, in this critical year, that the looney end of the political spectrum contains the only candidates who make sense on the most important issues.
posted by pandaharma at 9:29 AM on October 12, 2007


From the article:

5. Enslaved Workers Building U.S. Embassy in Iraq

The enduring monument to U.S. liberation and democracy in Iraq is being built by forced labor, according to interviews and documents obtained by reporter David Phinney. Contractors working for the U.S. State Department are using bait-and-switch recruiting practices to smuggle Asian workers into brutal and inhumane labor camps in the middle of Beirut’s U.S.-controlled Green Zone.

First Kuwait Trading and Contracting is one of many contractors that have benefited from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The company had employed about 7,500 foreign laborers, 3,000 of whom are from South Asia. One of that company’s practices is to force foreign laborers to surrender their passports to company officials until the work is completed.

— Phinney, CorpWatch, Oct. 17, 2006.


Since when is Beirut in Iraq? If you're going to report an important story at least report the name of the city properly.

However, witholding a passport is a serious offense, the workers are trapped in the country, unable to go home should they decide that they no longer wish to perform the work.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:33 AM on October 12, 2007


Dude. He wants to bring back the gold standard. He wants to remove the ability of the Supreme Court to hear Establishment Clause cases. And most importantly, he has never polled above the margin of error. He does not have any chance of winning whatsoever in this or any possible universe, and he is batshit insane, not just his followers.

Hitch your wagon to a star, not a gibbering lunatic that insists that all he has to do is think happy thoughts in order to shine.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:35 AM on October 12, 2007


The scariest news may be the stuff you haven’t seen yet.

I'm counting on that. Because every time I think we've hit rock bottom, every time the words "Surely this..." spring to my lips, another, far more egregious horror is revealed.

I have pushed so far past outrage fatigue, I'm moving into the early stages of an outrage coma.
posted by quin at 9:58 AM on October 12, 2007


Free the Slaves,* an modern-day anti-slavery NGO, worked a bit with Phinney over a year ago to put together a public outreach campaign, WarSlavery.org. Unfortunately, the US government had little response to the campaign, and public outrage never materialized in the way the organization thought it might.

For those of you interested in the backstory of the slavery in Iraq matter, you might like to check out the resources page at WarSlavery.org. There is tons of stuff to sort through, and it's horrible to see what US contractors have been able to get away with in Iraq (and Afghanistan, and Bosnia...).

Disclosure: I used to be a staff-member of Free the Slaves, and I helped create the WarSlavery site.
posted by jacob at 10:34 AM on October 12, 2007


slave labor to build an American embassy

George 41 needs to put George 43 over his knee and spank the living shit out of him.
posted by vhsiv at 10:46 AM on October 12, 2007


The AP guy didn't report the embassy story?? Oh,what a shock.

99% of the international "news" you hear the anchors read on national and local TV is taken (in a condensed version) straight from the AP wires- and nowhere else.

The majority of Americans would know what's reallly going on in this world if it were not for The Associated Press.
posted by wfc123 at 11:02 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why does this say Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2007


The article was interesting and had a ring of credibility to it until I read that one of the censored stories was "Mexico’s Stolen Election" that claims that "overwhelming evidence revealed massive fraud".
posted by edmz at 11:27 AM on October 12, 2007


They're rebuilding the Tower of Babel in its original locale, with original methods.

Count on a like outcome.
posted by jamjam at 11:34 AM on October 12, 2007


Why does this say Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008?

The Conspiracy plans things out in advance...
posted by SweetJesus at 12:57 PM on October 12, 2007


The article was interesting and had a ring of credibility to it until I read that one of the censored stories was "Mexico’s Stolen Election" that claims that "overwhelming evidence revealed massive fraud".

Right, because clearly there was no possibility of fraud in the Mexico's recent very close election, and anyone who even suggests the possibility is immediately discredited.

Was there more to it than that, edmz, or do you want to leave it there?
posted by Tommy Gnosis at 1:05 PM on October 12, 2007


I thought I’ve seen this, perhaps in a thread, on mefi before.
Doesn’t matter, excellent post. Brain tripping off for some reason.

Ron Paul is pretty indicative of the sane/crazy thing from Libertarians and some other candidates. You get a perfectly reasonable economic platform, an excellent position on civil liberties, reduction of stupid programs - e.g. the drug war, and all sorts of goodness with like one or two totally crazy points that they’re completely hard ass about.
“What was that last bit, senator?”

“Leaderhosen, gentlemen. Short. Leather. Pants. As in manditory.”

“Can’t we just negotiate the NPT and scale down nuclear weapons without putting a gun to people’s heads and making them wear leaderhosen?”

“NO! WE! CAN’T!!!” *froth*

“Uh, ok...no more questions
posted by Smedleyman at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


tommy,

believe me, we got plenty of articles down here (Mexico) claiming a fraud. It was expected because of a history of frauds and because of the very close election.

So, at least down here thats was no news.

The brief of the article doesn't reflect what a good percent of the population and the political analysts thought of the election. That is not to say that there weren't glitches, mistakes or errors. In most elections you can find errors, which in this case were very scrutinized because of the tight margin. I think "massive fraud" is just out of proportion.
posted by edmz at 1:45 PM on October 12, 2007


hardly slave labor
Well, these workers were taken from their home countries via deception, can't return, work at gunpoint, are beaten, at least seven have vanished... What should we call it, "difficult working conditions"?

One thing that leaped out at me from the article: "...[the new embassy] will be the most fortified US diplomatic mission ever constructed, spanning 104 acres on the banks of the ancient Tigris River and holding more than 20 buildings. It will be comparable in size to the Vatican."
a hundred and four acres!
posted by CCBC at 1:52 PM on October 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


What should we call it, "difficult working conditions"?

"Enhanced Labor Relations," please.
posted by stet at 2:25 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


a hundred and four acres!... and a mule
posted by fcummins at 3:02 PM on October 12, 2007


It will be comparable in size to the Vatican

The Holy (shit) See (I told you we were going to be in Iraq for decades)
posted by psmealey at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2007


Congrats on your Century, psmealey! Here's to another! *toasts with a beer*
posted by BeerFilter at 3:52 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


evilelvis: "take a look at Ron Paul's campaign please"

Oh please. Ron Paul wants to take away women's rights. He's is SO not an alternative, and it disturbs me that there's this growing 'grass roots' movement of people so desperate to engineer their own demise that they'll cling to anything. Ron Paul's a ticking time bomb of the end of the world as we know it in ways that will make Bush look tame. It's pathetic.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:40 PM on October 12, 2007


For the record, I don't think I could ever vote for Ron Paul; He's crazy, just not my kind of crazy...

But I love and respect that he has made eliminating the drug war a part of his campaign. I can't really think of another candidate in recent memory that has been willing to come out and say that. And if one does it, and the others see that it resonates, there is a chance that it might get picked up on.

Admittedly, a really, really slim chance. But even that would be an improvement.
posted by quin at 6:48 PM on October 12, 2007


What happened to the country I love?

The Internet made a small start in revealing it to you as the illusory extrapolation of your own favoured circle that it always was.
posted by flabdablet at 6:41 PM on October 13, 2007


Dammit, flabdablet, you beat me to it.
'The good old days weren't always good and tomorrow's not as bad as it seems'
posted by eclectist at 8:27 PM on October 13, 2007


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