Whistleblower Accuses Kuwait Contractor of Human Trafficking

Whistleblower Accuses Kuwait Contractor of Human Trafficking

A partially-disgraced whistleblower claims that a contractor at Kuwait’s Camp Buehring charged excessive “recruiting fees,” forced employees to work long hours, and confiscated their passports, among other labor violations.

“Our taxpayer dollars are being used potentially to support forced labor and human trafficking and that’s just unacceptable,” said Latesha Love, a director at the GAO’s International Affairs and Trade team, which has repeatedly probed labor trafficking on U.S. military bases. “The way that [workers] are treated is similar to what some might call modern-day slavery.” In response to these allegations, Tamimi, the contractor under fire, said it could not comment “on generalizations of former staff or on ongoing procedural issues.” The company said it is “an excellent employer who cares deeply for their staff.”

The whistleblower in question lost her job after the U.S. government accused her of improperly receiving gifts in return for contract-related favors. She denies the charges and believes she was fired in retaliation for reporting her concerns about Tamimi. A government personnel board upheld her dismissal.

How We Got Here

Ten years before the Persian Gulf War, this Gulf Coast country was already at the center of the conflict.

The protracted Iran-Iraq War, which ended in a stalemate, broke out in September 1980. At the time, no one knew that it would be protracted or end in a stalemate. In fact, in the early stages of this conflict, Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was on the move, and the Iranians were on their heels.

Incoming U.S. President Ronald Reagan was eager to back a winner and also stick it to the Iranians, who had made the American look impotent during the 444-day hostage crisis. So, Reagan sent special envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to negotiate an arms sale. Saddam paid about $80 million for the weapons.

Saddam did not have $80 million. So, he borrowed most of the money, mostly from Kuwait, the oil-rich emirate to the south.

After the war, Kuwait demanded repayment. Saddam had the fourth-largest army in the world at the time. Kuwait did not have much more than a few traffic cops. He quickly concluded that occupying the country would be cheaper and easier than repaying the loan. So, he dredged up some old maps which indicated that Kuwait was an Iraqi province, and his troops rolled into Kuwait City.

Sadam did a good job handling the invasion, but he miscalculated the United Nations’ response. He probably expected the U.N. to authorize economic sanctions against Iraq. Like he cared. Despots are not sympathetic if the people suffer. What are they going to do? Vote him out of office in the next election?

Instead, the U.N. authorized military action. The U.S., eager to erase the hostage crisis and reassert itself in the region, quickly assumed the lead. The ensuing ground campaign was over so quickly that many coalition troops, who spent months in the desert without air conditioning, TV, internet, or any other creature comforts, did not fire a shot in anger.

Since the U.S. and its coalition partners “liberated” Kuwait, the nation, along with Qatar and a few others, has been an important staging area for U.S. troops. Staging areas require large numbers of contractors.

Contractors in Kuwait

Staging areas need people for maintenance, security, and construction. Private contractors fit the bill in all three areas.

Until around the Vietnam War, U.S. military strategy usually relied on numbers. Send enough guys to breach that strong point, and someone will make it through the walls. If some or most of those guys are casualties, that is just the cost of conflict. In the 1960s, U.S. planners finally recognized the value of firepower. A pilot can drop a bomb or fire a missile, accomplish basically the same objective, and usually come home in one piece. 

The advanced weapons available in the 1960s are nothing compared to the advanced weapons the military uses today. Advanced weapons need advanced maintenance. Contractors deliver the professional care needed in these situations.

Sabotage and theft are major concerns at U.S. bases in Kuwait. Some of these rapscallions have political motivations, some want to make a quick buck, and some just want to be disruptive. In America, a 10-foot fence usually provides all the security such places need. Kuwait is a lot different and the requirements are much higher.

To many regular servicemembers, all-night guard duty is a form of punishment. Many private military contractors are former law enforcement officers. They are used to late hours and deterring malefactors just by being on the station.

The regular influx of U.S. servicemembers means that U.S. bases are almost always under construction. Usually, construction contractors oversee the work onsite, while local men and women do the work. This arrangement pumps some money into the local economy and gives the community a stake in the successful outcome of the project.

Injury Compensation Available

All these duties involved serious injury risk. The Defense Base Act not only pays reasonably necessary medical bills. It also replaces lost wages, as follows:

  • Permanent Total Disability: This category usually includes fatal and nearly-fatal injuries. If the victim does not survive or is too hurt to work again, the DBA usually compensates these survivors or individuals based on their lost future income.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: Some injuries, like the loss of a leg or an eye, are instant PPD injuries. Others are lesser injuries that do not fully heal. For example, the bones and muscles in an injured shoulder might mend, but there might always be a permanent loss of motion in that joint. So, the DBA typically compensates these victims based on the loss of use.
  • Temporary Total Disability: Many victims must take time off from work to recover. Afterward, they are good to go. Unfortunately, as mentioned, this process could be lengthy. To prevent these families from sustaining a financial disaster, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the temporary disability.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: After a few weeks or months, some victims “graduate” from TTD injuries to TPD injuries. They may work, but they must accept light duty or restrict their hours, because of their lingering injuries. The DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new AWW in these situations.

The Average Weekly Wage is not just a snapshot. It accounts for past and future wages. Many injured contractors just arrived in-country. There is a big difference in salary between a police officer in Kalamazoo and a police officer in Kabul. Furthermore, most contractors earn performance bonuses based on the number of hours worked. An injury does not torpedo their qualifications for such bonuses.

For more information about DBA eligibility, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.