Saturday, July 28, 2007

More on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad - human trafficking and shoddy construction

On Friday, I posted Are "corporate slaves" building the U.S. Embassy in Iraq? That evening, I watched the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing which had been held the day before. The testimony of two witnesses, John Owens and Rory Mayberry, was shocking. Both had worked for First Kuwaiti, the main contractor for the construction of the embassy.

Owen’s story wasn’t new. It was reported at on October 17, 2006, A U.S. Fortress Rises in Baghdad: Asian Workers Trafficked to Build World's Largest Embassy.

Both Owens and Mayberry testified that each of them had been on a plane headed to Iraq with workers from the Philippines and India who had tickets for Dubai and became extremely upset when they learned they were heading for Iraq against their will. Owens and Mayberry also described the total disregard for the safety of the workers on the job site: in many instances there was no scaffolding, no safety harnesses, and even no shoes!

Equally shocking was the testimony of Karl Demming, a electrical specialist for KBR, who headed the electrical inspection of the “temporary” facilities constructed for the security forces for the embassy. With photos and careful explanations of why wires had melted and that the lack of grounding was a serious safety issue, Demming presented damning facts to the Oversight Committee about the shoddy and unsafe work by First Kuwaiti.

Demming described “counterfeit” wire that was used in the security force facilities; the proper specs were printed on the insulated plastic covering, the wire itself was smaller in diameter by 40% and couldn’t carry the anticipated electrical current.

Your can read the opening statements of all of the witnesses here. It was obvious from the testimony of the first witnesses that our State Department, which is responsible for the construction of the embassy, failed to oversee the project. Disclosure: Since the hearing several hours long, I did not listen to the State Department witnesses who testified later in the hearing.

I think what disturbed me most about this hearing was the incredible hostility toward Owens and Mayberry by two Republican representatives, Tom Davis of Virginia, and Darrell Issa. Both representatives attempted to destroy the credibility of these two eyewitnesses, and Issa accused Mayberry of being “professional whistleblower” because he had previously appeared before the Oversight Committee regarding KBR.

Sidebar: Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange and co-founder of Code Pink was in the audience. Her facial expressions made it clear how distressing she found the testimony. She brightened up by the room with her hot pink outfit, including what looked like a pink crown.

(cartoon by Khalil Bendib, found at

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