BY YOCHI DREAZEN
Faycal Maroufi, a U.S. military translator from Florida, has spent the past three months confined to an American base in the deserts of Kuwait. The local authorities have promised to arrest Maroufi if he leaves the compound, and American officials have so far been powerless to help. Maroufi isn’t wanted for a crime or accused of wrongdoing. He, like more than 50 other U.S. citizens, is instead being effectively imprisoned in Kuwait because of a nasty and complicated business dispute between an American contractor and its local partner.
The histories of the Iraq and Afghan wars are littered with cases of low-paid contractors from countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan being kept in the war zones against their will by companies that forced them to work seven days a week and sometimes confiscated their passports to ensure that they couldn’t return home. The current standoff in Kuwait appears to be the first time that large numbers of American citizens have faced a similar predicament. The contractors are caught in the middle of a fight between two large companies, a battle they didn’t choose and don’t fully understand. For all intents and purposes they’re under house arrest despite not doing anything to deserve it.
Maroufi and his colleagues are currently living in hangars on Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring, the two main U.S. bases in Kuwait, and using lockers and curtains to carve out small slivers of personal space. Their makeshift barracks are infested with bedbugs, and the nearest bathrooms are in trailers several minutes away. They aren’t allowed to access the bases’ military hospitals or leave the country for personal emergencies. One employee lost his mother but was blocked from returning to the U.S. for the funeral; another lost his father but was similarly confined to the base by Kuwaiti authorities. Iowa resident Majdi Abdulghani was arrested at the Kuwait City airport as he was preparing to board a flight back to the U.S. to see his ailing mother. He was jailed for a week.
“We are prisoners here,” Maroufi said by phone from Kuwait. “We’re pawns in a fight between these two companies. I want to go home and be with my family, but instead I’m stuck here, and I don’t know when they’ll let me leave.”
The linguists are now trying to get even. Late last month, Maroufi and 18 colleagues filed a lawsuit against their employer, Global Linguist Solutions, or GLS, a U.S.-based firm that has a piece of a $9.7 billion Pentagon contract to provide translation services to military personnel across the Middle East. GLS is a joint venture between defense contracting giants DynCorp and AECOM, so Maroufi and the other plaintiffs sued them as well. Joe Hennessey, their lawyer, says he plans to ask for damages “in the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher.”
GLS and DynCorp declined to comment, citing the litigation, but GLS argues that the Kuwaiti subcontractor, Al Shora General Trading and Contracting Co., bears full responsibility for what has happened to their employees. Al Shora couldn’t be reached for comment, either. However, the company’s owner, Reham Aljelewi, told Stars and Stripes earlier this year that she no longer wanted to work with GLS and accused it of making false allegations about her firm to various Kuwaiti officials.
American military and civilian officials say they’re doing what they can for the contractors, but have gone out of their way to emphasize that the entire crisis boils down to a fight between two private companies.
Ron Young, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, which oversees the GLS contract, said the military was working with the State Department to find a way to get the contractors out of Kuwait. But he stressed that the “current situation regarding the American linguists in Kuwait is a legal matter under Kuwaiti law.”
A State Department official said the American embassy in Kuwait had “reached out to Kuwaiti government officials at a variety of levels in order to seek clarification and identify a path to allow the citizens to depart Kuwait or otherwise address the matter.” The official declined to say whether Ambassador Matthew Tueller had personally lobbied the Kuwaiti government to allow the contractors to return home.
The dispute stems from a Kuwaiti law that requires foreign firms to partner with a Kuwaiti company, or “sponsor,” which is responsible for obtaining work visas for individual employees. GLS had initially partnered with Al-Shora, but chose to work with a different Kuwaiti company when it’s initial contract ended last year and the firm decided to submit a bid for a new one.
Here’s where things get tricky. According to the lawsuit, Al Shora warned GLS that severing the relationship could lead to legal problems for their contractors. GLS, the suit says, “made a conscious business decision” to do so anyway. GLS, for its part, said it had to sever ties with Al Shora because the Kuwaiti firm refused to submit a formal proposal for a share of the new contract. GLS says that Al Shora’s managing director, the sister-in-law of the country’s prime minister, responded by threatening to “destroy” the American company.
Things soon deteriorated even further. GLS says that Al Shora promised to transfer all of the U.S. contractors to the company’s new Kuwaiti sponsor, but never did. Instead, Al Shora told Kuwaiti authorities that Maroufi and the other GLS contractors had failed to show up their jobs, violating the terms of their work visas and putting them in breach of Kuwaiti immigration law. GLS said it tried to negotiate with Al Shora to rescind the allegations, only to have the Kuwaiti company demand $22 million in exchange for doing so. When GLS refused to pay, the Kuwaiti government began arresting individual contractors like Abdulghani, the Iowa resident trying to return home to see his sick mother.
The lawsuit claims that after the arrests of Abdulghani and a pair of other contractors, Maroufi and his remaining colleagues found themselves effectively under house arrest at Buehring and Arifjan.
“They were trapped because they could not venture out beyond the compound for fear of arrest by Kuwait authorities,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, the Kuwait government would not issue exit documents or other papers to such plaintiffs because they were considered to be in the country illegally.”
Three months later, the bulk of the contractors remain marooned at the bases. The Army flies aircraft in and out of Arifjan and Buehring every day, and it’s not clear why the military doesn’t simply take the contractors out of the country on their own. It’s also not clear why the U.S. government, which sells large quantities of weapons to Kuwait and once went to war to restore its independence, isn’t doing more to pressure the Kuwaiti government to let the contractors leave. For the moment, only a lucky few have managed to do so.
Nada Malek has worked for GLS in both Iraq and Kuwait since the summer of 2010. This past February, her husband developed serious health problems and was put into an intensive care unit, but she was told she couldn’t return to her home in Nevada because of the fight between GLS and Al Shora. Malek’s husband eventually recovered, but she suffered a bigger blow last month when her son tried to kill himself. Staffers from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid interceded on her behalf and she was finally allowed out of Kuwait. She returned home last Sunday.
Despite her family problems, Malek is paradoxically one of the lucky ones. The remaining contractors don’t have powerful political allies and face the real prospect of being stuck in Kuwait for months as the new lawsuit winds its way through the U.S. legal systems and back channel talks with the Kuwaitis plod forward. This Saturday is Maroufi’s birthday, and he will spend it thousands of miles from home.
“I still don’t believe that I can sit in my backyard and watch my husband take care of our garden,” she said. “I still feel like I’m stuck in Kuwait.”
Have y’all noticed the emerging liberal media spin on the opposition to US military intervention in Syria where the mediots insinuate or outright say that the reason most Americans aren’t behind us taking direct action there is due to the “deception over Iraq” – translation: Blame Bush? Of course, liberal politicos like Nancy Pelosi have repeated this talking point over and over again, and even former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, our staunchest ally during the Iraq war, has said more or less the same. But the media picking up with it and running with it as if its an unassailable assertion is a prime example of much of what is wrong with the US media today.
Is America war-weary? Absolutely. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people are tired of seeing their sons and daughters come home with life-altering injuries, or in body bags, are tired of hearing about how the murders of innocents by jihadis are continuing in both Iraq and Afghanistan, NOT exactly what we signed on for when we went to war in both countries. Are some Americans understandably skeptical about the rationale given by the administration and their allies to date on why we “must” intervene in Syria, considering the massive stockpiles of WMD we thought were in Iraq that were never found there? Yes. Are these the only considerations the American people are taking when it comes to determining whether or not to support action in Syria? No.
The real issue here is not weariness and skepticism due to Iraq. It’s the fact that our celebrity President, the supposed “greatest speech-giver evahh!!!!” hasn’t made a convincing case to date on Syria action, nor have the doves-turned-hawks in his party, nor have his adoring press. Why do you think he’s going before the American people next week? Because the communications/PR effort on this issue has been a disaster from the get-go, and this administration knows it. And they also know the more information that comes out about the Christian-hating jihadi “rebel forces” who oppose Assad, the likelihood that the opposition to using force in Syria will continue to grow.
By Ryan McMaken Thursday, September 5th, 2013
As Rothbard pointed out, war and militarism are socialism writ large, and not surprisingly, war is very expensive to the taxpayers, and especially to those who are the targets of military intervention.
There is presently a debate in Congress and in the media about how expensive the war in Syria will be. In the American policy debate The expenses are only calculated in estimated monetary terms, and so we know that the debate will of course ignore all damage done to the Syrians themselves and to global markets, which are always damaged and stunted by wars.
Nevertheless, even the very tame and limited argument over the costs to the U.S. treasury will be based mostly on conjecture and dishonest assessments of the true cost.
We might get some glimpses of some of the honest estimates as the debate rages between the bureaucrats and the politicians, although even those are still nothing more than estimates. The bureaucrats (i.e. the Pentagon) will use the drive to war in Syria as an opportunity to demand that more taxpayer money flow into their coffers. We have seen this already with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s claim that the tiny cuts imposed by sequestration “are weakening the United States’ ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world.” It will be in the Defense Department’s interest to high-ball the costs of the war.
Nevertheless, even the Defense’ Department’s claims of costs for the Syria war will likely be well below the true cost by the time the public hears them, for the Department will be restrained by the Obama Administration’s competing interest to make the war appear as cheap as possible. Fearing resistance from some taxpayers, the Administration will naturally wish to have the war appear cheap, easy, and no big deal, as regards to cost.
Indeed, John Kerry was claiming yesterday that unnamed “Arab countries” have offered to pay for the war. This claim by the Obama Administration should be seen as being on more or less the same levels as the Bush Administration’s claim in 2003 that the Iraq war and the reconstruction of the country would be paid out of Iraqi oil revenues.
Those who remember the debate of Iraq War costs a decade ago will also recall the Bush Administration’s outrage over General Eric Shinseki’s (correct) estimate that hundreds of thousands of troops would be necessary to restore peace to Iraq in a reasonable amount of time. The Administration claimed only a fraction of that number, and thus, only a fraction of the funds, would be necessary.
So, politicians want a war to appear cheap, at least up front, while the bureaucrats want bigger budgets. Once the war starts, though, all bets are off, and any political or legal authorization given to the administration to wage war will be a de facto blank check for future unlimited outlays for occupation and conflict on an unlimited timeline. We’ve already seen this in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and while the two countries descended into chaos, the claim was made that since the U.S. regime had “broken” Iraq and Afghanistan, the taxpayers were now on the hook to finance the “fixing” of the broken countries.
The regime knows that all it needs to do is start a war, and the money will begin to flow indefinitely. Thanks to Robert Higgs’s Crisis and Leviathan, we know that war is generally a winning proposition for states, for it leads to greater revenues and more control of the domestic population, continually ratcheted up by new wars. Rothbard noted in his essay “War, Peace, and the State” that while wars can lead to the downfall of states, they upside is often enormous for them, as wars secure vast new powers for the regime both domestically and internationally. And since Syria poses no threat to the U.S. military or to U.S. territory, the prospects are all excellent for the politicians, bureaucrats, government contractors and intellectuals who all stand to get rich off the latest conflict.
The taxpayers will of course fare less well, whether in the form of a far greater tax burden or by their misfortune in holding a currency ever more de-valued by the need to deficit-finance endless war.
For the government class though, times are good, as long as enough of the population can be neutralized or even convinced to support the latest conflict. Thanks to what Hans-Hermann Hoppe calls “the myth of national defense,” wars are among the easiest big government programs to sell to the citizenry, for so few are willing to entertain possibilities outside the status quo of state monopolies for the provision of defense.
And in those cases where convincing the voters might prove more challenging, the state can always goad foreign nations into making an aggressive move than can lead to war, or the state may rely on a small army of intellectuals to provide the propaganda necessary to sweep all opposition aside.
The cost to Americans in the form of higher energy prices, lost trade opportunities, and other hidden costs will be immense, but even the cost in dollars to the taxpayers when calculated in terms of the true costs of empire, cannot be predicted.