When enlistment is down, what’s the military to do? Outsource. Seventy thousand of the people in the Pentagon’s war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan are not U.S. soldiers, but “third-country nationals” — Filipinos launder our soldiers’ uniforms, Bosnians repair electrical grids, Indians serve up iced lattes. Many say they are being held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by subcontractors who operate outside the law, the New Yorker reports:
In the morning of October 10, 2007, the beauticians boarded their flight to the Emirates. They carried duffelbags full of cosmetics, family photographs, Bibles, floral sarongs. More than half of the women left husbands and children behind. In the rush to depart, none of them examined the fine print on their travel documents: their visas to the Emirates weren’t employment permits but thirty-day travel passes that forbade all work, “paid or unpaid”. And Dubai was just a stopping-off point. They were bound for U.S. military bases in Iraq.
Lydia and Vinnie were unwitting recruits for the Pentagon’s invisible army: more than seventy thousand cooks, cleaners, construction workers, fast-food clerks, electricians, and beauticians from the world’s poorest countries who service U.S. military logistics contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (aafes) is behind most of the commercial “tastes of home” that can be found on major U.S. bases, which include jewelry stores, souvenir shops filled with carved camels and Taliban chess sets, beauty salons where soldiers can receive massages and pedicures, and fast-food courts featuring Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut, and Cinnabon. (aafes’s motto: “We go where you go.”)
The wars’ foreign workers are known, in military parlance, as “third-country nationals,” or T.C.N.s. Many of them recount having been robbed of wages, injured without compensation, subjected to sexual assault, and held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by their subcontractor bosses. Previously unreleased contractor memos, hundreds of interviews, and government documents I obtained during a yearlong investigation confirm many of these claims and reveal other grounds for concern. Widespread mistreatment even led to a series of food riots in Pentagon subcontractor camps, some involving more than a thousand workers.
Read the rest at the New Yorker