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StateSide:Policy
Smackdown
State Dept IG Accused of Cover-Up
Witnesses Testify to Congress About Forced Labor at Baghdad Embassy
07/26/2007 2:06 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. A new U.S. embassy is currently under construction.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. A new U.S. embassy is currently under construction.

"This is a cover-up," Rory Mayberry told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday, referring to the State Department Inspector General's report that cleared the contractor building the US embassy in Baghdad from allegations of forced labor and human trafficking.

David Phinney first reported on the abuse for Slogger in late May, calling into question the State Department Inspector-General, Howard Kroengard's, conclusions that First Kuwaiti, the company with the $592 million contract to build the embassy in Baghdad, had not violated labor standards.

Mayberry, who worked as a sub-contracted employee for First Kuwaiti, testified to the committee that when he was in Kuwait on his way to Baghdad for the beginning of his contract, First Kuwaiti asked him to accompany 51 Filipinos to the airport and make sure they got on the plane to Baghdad.

When we got to the Kuwaiti Airport, I noticed that all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai. I asked why. A First Kuwaiti manager told me that because Filipino passports do not allow Filipinos to fly to Iraq, they must be marked as going to Dubai. The First Kuwaiti manager added that I should not tell any of the Filipino they were being taken to Baghdad.

As I found out later, these men thought they had signed up to work in Dubai hotels. One fellow I met told me in broken English that he was excited to start his new job as a telephone repair man. They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the U.S. Embassy.

Well, Mr. Chairman, when the airplane took off and the captain announced that we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke lose on that airplane. People started shouting. It wasn’t until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP-5 in the air that people settled down.

Mayberry made his views clear, telling the committee, "I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the U.S. Embassy."

According to Mayberry, and reinforced in testimony by a former First Kuwaiti employee, John Owens, the company seized passports so their third-country nationals couldn't leave, forced them to work abusively long hours, and did not have any safety guidelines or proper equipment--some of construction workers did not even have gloves or shoes, regularly leading to injuries.

Kroengard told the committee that he had been aware of these complaints, but had not witnessed anything like the men had described in his four-day visit to Baghdad in September 2006.

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