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Posts from the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

The Politics of Polio

A “Daily Comment” for The New Yorker on how, and why, the map of polio’s resurgence is a map of modern political violence. Photograph via Polio Canada/Ontario March of Dimes.


Sex and the Wounded Soldier

amps001For Veteran’s Day, I wrote a brief story for the Dart Society Reports on “sex and the wounded soldier.”  It’s about a lot of overlapping themes — my friendship with a wounded soldier (now dead) who worried a lot about war’s impact on his intimate life; an amputee dance troupe from World War II, called “The Amputettes”; the U.S. military’s long-standing awkwardness about matters of sex, heart, and family.  It all seems a bit more timely with the Petraeus love triangle (quadrangle?  pentagon? hexagon?).

The other stories in the issue are well worth reading.  Lee Hancock has an exceptional piece about the ethical minefields that come with reporting on sexual assault within the military, called “The Rape Was Not The Only Problem.” And conflict photojournalist John Moore has a photo essay on veterans recovering from major burns at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.


Image credits: “‘Amps’ Shake a Shapely Leg” and “’Amputees’ Present a ‘Gay 90s’ Review” clippings.  The Canham Collection. Otis Historical Archives.  National Museum of Health and Medicine.

International Law Forum Event, Today, November 8th

Today, I’m speaking on a panel hosted by the International Law Forum to address a major new White House initiative aimed at curbing human trafficking on U.S. government contracts. The initiative — an Executive Order announced back in September, called “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking In Persons In Federal Contracts” — is rare, and worth knowing about.  It’s among the first genuine government responses to the crisis of fraudulent recruiting and indentured servitude that has plagued U.S. military contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I wrote about for The New Yorker in “The Invisible Army.”  The question I’m most eager to debate at the forum, which includes some leading experts on combat-zone trafficking: will the current round of lip service translate into meaningful impacts on the ground for some of the world’s poorest workers?

Details are below; please feel free to be in touch if you’re interested.

“Abolishing Human Trafficking in Government Contracts”

Date: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Time: 12:00 to 1:30 p.m.
Place: Vinson & Elkins LLP
Address:  2200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Suite 500 West
Washington, DC 20006

Sponsored by the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia

* Linda Dixon, Program Manager, Department of
Defense Combatting Trafficking In Persons
(CTIP) Program Office
* Laura Letterer, Director, Global Centurion &
Former Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons
to Under Secretary for Democracy & Global
Affairs & Former Executive Director of the
Senior Policy Operating Group on Trafficking in
* Sam McCahon, Principal, McCahon Law &
Compliance Consulting Services Pvt Ltd.
* Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker

The Invisible Army

For foreign workers on US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, war can be hell.  This is the story of foreign workers employed as support staff on American military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This article has been published in the June 6, 2011 edition of The New Yorker.  Read the full article here.  Photos by Peter Van Agtmael.

“Generation Iraq: Journalists Confront America’s War”

On April 4th, I’ll be on a panel at Columbia Journalism School with some colleagues I’ve long admired — Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now; Ashley Gilbertson, with VII Photo Agency; and my good friend Peter Van Agtmael, with Magnum Photos.

The conversation will be focused on Iraq (as you can gather from the title). But we’ll also be turning over some relevant questions about conflict coverage, accountability, and wartime trauma that feel particularly urgent in light of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ apparent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians earlier this month.

I hope a range of people will show up to share their perspectives — students, vets, anyone who wants to talk about the impacts of America’s wars at home and abroad.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Columbia Journalism School
World Room
116th Street and Broadway


Exciting Update: TCN Story Spurs House Amendment on Human Trafficking

Here’s the press release from the office of Congresswoman Karen Bass, who gives some substantive remarks on the House floor referencing “The Invisible Army”:

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass Amendment Prohibiting Defense Department Funds for Human Trafficking, Labor Abuses on Military Bases Clears House of Representatives

Jul 7, 2011 Issues: National Security

Bass’ Bipartisan Amendment Follows Explosive Story in The New Yorker Detailing Gross Abuses by Private Contracting Defense Firms of Foreign Nationals on U.S. Military Bases

Washington, DC – A bipartisan amendment introduced by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass to the Defense Department Appropriations Bill prohibiting Department funds for human trafficking passed the House of Representatives today.

A video of the floor speech delivered by Rep. Bass and a copy of her prepared remarks appear below:

“Mr. Chair, thousands of private contracting defense firms, including some of the industry’s biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, have been linked to trafficking-related incidents.  Thousands of nationals from impoverished countries are lured by the promise of good jobs, but sometimes end up victims of scams that leave them virtual slaves with no way to return home or seek legal recourse.  Despite this, allegations against federal contractors engaged in illegal labor practices ranging from contract worker smuggling to human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistancontinue to surface in the media.

“Mr. Chair, a recent New Yorker article illustrates the urgent need for my amendment.  The article tells the story of two women from Fiji who thought they were going to lucrative salon jobs in Dubai but ended up “unwitting recruits for the Pentagon’s invisible army of 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,” as the New Yorker author wrote.

“Mr. Chair, these two women were asked to deliver resumes, hand over passports, submit to medical tests and pay $500 to a recruiting firm.  They were lured to Iraq under false pretenses and then they were told that they would only be making $700 a month. They were promised salaries as much as $3,800, ten times the normal salary in their home country. They were contracted to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. They were victims of harassment and sexual assault.

“After complaints, they were sent off the base for “making trouble.” They were sent to another U.S. base in Iraq and held for a month while their passports and identification badges were confiscated by the subcontracting company. When they eventually returned home they tried to seek justice, but their efforts were fruitless. Although the company that hired them was initially reprimanded, the company still operates in Fiji and still has a contract with the U.S. military. Meanwhile, allegations against federal contractors engaged in commercial sex and labor exploitation continue.

“Mr. Chair, U.S. Defense Department inspectors have listed “widespread” abuses among military subcontractors, including the illegal confiscation of passports, “deceptive hiring practices,” excessive recruiting fees and “substandard” living conditions.

“In January, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General released a report urging DoD contracting officials to do more to combat human trafficking, such as ensuring that contracts contain the required anti-trafficking provisions. This report, the second DoD Inspector General report on trafficking required by law, examined a sample of DoD construction and service contracts valued at $5 million or more awarded in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 for work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report found that only about half of the contracts contained the required federal regulation for combating trafficking in persons. The report warns that such widespread noncompliance with this requirement means many contractors may be unaware of the government’s “zero tolerance” policy with regard to human trafficking, and contracting officers are unable to apply remedies in the case of violations.   Just last week, the State Department released its latest annual report on combating human trafficking indicating that there have been no prosecutions or contract terminations. We must question why the companies known to have been accused of violating the law repeatedly still have contacts today.

“Mr. Chair, while the Inspectors General at the Departments of State and Defense and USAID continue audits of federal contracts to monitor vulnerability to human trafficking more can and must be done to explicitly prohibit this human rights violation and ensure compliance with the law.  Defense dollars should not be used to perpetuate exploitation and fraud of foreign nationals providing various services on U.S. military bases.

“My amendment will help ensure that these deceptive and illicit activities do not happen on our watch especially as we draw down troops and more foreign nationals are hired to keep military bases operational.  I urge my colleagues to support my amendment.

“I would like also like to thank Representative Chris Smith and Representative Carolyn Maloney and for their co-sponsorship of this amendment.

NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute, too, has issued a press release: