‘Lord of the Flies’ at U.S. Embassy in Kabul?
Posted by princessxxx on September 2, 2009
Oversight group: Workers subjected to hazing, other inappropriate behavior
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WASHINGTON – Guards hired by the State Department to protect diplomats and staff at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan live and work in a “Lord of the Flies” environment in which they are subjected to hazing and other inappropriate behavior by supervisors, a government oversight group charged Tuesday.
In a 10-page letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the independent Project on Government Oversight contended the situation has led to a breakdown in morale and leadership that compromises security at the embassy in Kabul where nearly 1,000 U.S. diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals work.
In a statement on Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy said it was aware of the POGO report. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of all Embassy personnel — Americans and Afghan — and respect for the cultural and religious values of all Afghans,” the embassy said.
“We have taken immediate steps to review all local guard force policies and procedures and have taken all possible measures to ensure our security is sound. We will work closely with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate the issues raised in this report, but cannot comment further on this ongoing investigation.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on Tuesday called on the State Department to open an investigation into the performance and management of the contract with ArmorGroup North America. McCaskill, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight, said the new evidence calls into question the company’s ability to provide adequate security at a key facility.
In a letter to Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, McCaskill also demanded a slew of documents related to the contract, including any department reviews of alleged misconduct by ArmorGroup employees.
The nonprofit group’s findings are based on interviews with ArmorGroup guards, documents, photographs and e-mails that it says depict “Lord of the Flies” conditions. The reference is to the 1954 novel by William Golding about a group of British schoolboys who are stranded on a desert island and try, but fail, to govern themselves in a chaotic setting.
Lurid conditions described in e-mail
One e-mail from a guard describes lurid conditions at Camp Sullivan, the guards’ quarters a few miles from the embassy. The message described scenes of abuse including guards and supervisors urinating on people and “threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity.”
Photographs show guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties that took place near the housing of other supervisors.
Multiple guards say these conditions have created a “climate of fear and coercion.” Those who refuse to participate are often ridiculed, humiliated or even fired, they contended.
ArmorGroup’s management is aware of the conditions but has not stopped it or disciplined those responsible, the letter says. Two supervisors alleged to be the worst offenders have been allowed to resign and may now be working on other U.S. contracts, the group said.
Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup North America’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Tuesday that Clinton has been apprised of the allegations. The group also sent the letter to the State Department’s inspector general, the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting and members of Congress.
“These are very serious allegations,” Kelly said, adding that the State Department has been talking to the contractor about “addressing deficiencies in their performance.”
The group’s investigation found sleep-deprived guards regularly logging 14-hour days, language barriers that impair critical communications, and a failure by the State Department to hold the contractor accountable.
The State Department has been aware of ArmorGroup’s shortcomings, the letter says, but hasn’t done enough to correct the problems.
Performance deficiencies detailed
It cites a July 2007 warning from the department to ArmorGroup that detailed more than a dozen performance deficiencies, including too few guards and armored vehicles. Another “cure notice” was sent less than a year later, raising other problems and criticizing the contractor for failing to fix the prior ones.
In July 2008, however, the department extended the contract for another year, according to the notice. More problems surfaced and more warning notices followed. Yet during a congressional hearing on the contract in June, State Department officials said the prior shortcomings had been remedied and security at the embassy is effective.
The contract was renewed again through 2010.
Nearly two-thirds of the embassy guards are Gurkhas from Nepal and northern India who don’t speak adequate English, a situation that creates communications breakdowns, the group says. Pantomime is often used to convey orders and instructions.