1. The Telegraph (linked as a reference by Lenin’s Tomb, which is where this link goes), says:

    “Once on the ground, an unspecified number of labourers had their passports seized, effectively trapping the workers in Iraq for the duration of their contracts. Although the labourers are relatively well paid, receiving $1,000 (£550) a month, they endured harsh conditions on the site.”

    To call that slavery demeans the experience of those who have endured real slavery (in the U.S. and elsewhere)– i.e. being bought and sold like property, having no civil rights (including the right to life), and being forced to work for nothing, with no way out.

    I’m not saying forced labor is good. But to label it as slavery is unnecessarily inflammatory. It may be comparable to some types of indentured servitude, but slavery it is not.

  2. Point well taken, but if you can’t leave and are treated badly, does how much you are being paid really matter?

    They were forced to sleep 20 to a room and drink water from contaminated sources.

    And how could the US not have known?

  3. Sure it was deplorable, and our government should be held accountable if (as is likely) it knew. But it was temporary– not a life-long condition of servitude. Let’s kjeep our perspective, lest we forget how bad things can really get.

    BTW, there are workers in Sri Lanka who have to sleep in shifts because there is not enough floor space for them to all lie down at once. They do this not because they are forced to, but because it’s all they can afford. Sometimes what we (with our western sensibilities) consider deplorable is the only way people can survive.

  4. The problem is, once you’re there and in that position, there’s no way of knowing if you’re going to be freed or paid. The fact that they got paid and released later is little consolation to those who became ill or died while there because of the conditions. (And while the article doesn’t report if anyone did, I can assure you there were probably a few that did.) Taking someone and locking them up for months is a crime, even if you pay them when you let them go.

  5. Agreed. But there are degrees of crime, and to equate this with slavery is to equate a lesser crime with murder.

  6. DJ… I think you’re misunderstanding the definition of slavery. It existed before 1850 in the United States, FYI. And, as locke would say, “He who would take away my liberty, I have no reason he would take away everything else when he had me in his possession.” In other words, slavery. Thank you.

  7. Interestingly, the first slaves in the English colonies (later to become the U.S.) were delivered to Jamestown in 1619 by Dutch traders. The colonists didn’t understand slavery, so they treated these Africans as indentured servants– they worked for free for seven years and were then freed.

    That changed, of course. Later shipments were treated like livestock, sold at auction and kept without any rights or recourse whatsoever. A slave could be separated from his/her family, whipped even unto death, castrated, or raped– all without any repercussions. He/she could even be killed at the whim of his/her owner. Of course, like expensive livestock, you wouldn’t kill one unecessarily, but there were no laws against it.

    While I object to anyone taking away someone else’s liberty without good cause, and I agree that what was done in this instance was wrong, I stand by my opinion that there’s a huge difference between temporary forced labor and slavery– and I hope we never forget it.

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