INDENTURED screening in Mumbai, April 24th

INDENTURED, my doc short about labor abuse on U.S. military bases in Iraq will screen tomorrow at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai. The location and RSVP info:

NKM International House, 5thFloor, Behind LIC Headquarters Yogakshema, Nariman Point, Mumbai 400020

RSVP: Dhaval Desai – Tel: 022-61313800

The INDENTURED webpage includes the film (10 min) and links to most of the major articles done by American publication on the subject.


INDENTURED, my short doc film about labor abuse on US bases in Baghdad, now has a web page. Please take a look and send the page link on to your representation in D.C. Reform is a slow process, so even though the war is technically over, this has to be held up to the light for years to come if it's ever going to be addressed.

I took this photo in 2008 inside the US State Dept facility in Baghdad where I worked for two years. These men all paid four thousand dollars to illegal labor brokers in Nepal to get their jobs on the base. They made about $1.50 an hour and they worked 12 hours a day 7 days a week. That means they worked about a year to pay their loans off (their loans all have usury interest rates). Basically everything about their status is illegal in America. The bitter part for me was that I was working at a facility run by the State Dept and shared by the DOJ. These are the two agencies that write and enforce the rules on human trafficking, yet guess who was inside EVERYDAY cleaning the office and the bathrooms? It's the absolute height of hypocrisy. The cherry on top is that every year the State Dept writes a report in which it makes recommendations to other countries to identify and address human smuggling and human trafficking problems in those nations - because we are the gold standard.

We had/have 70,000 of these laborers in our war zones at any one time. To put that in perspective, in 2009 we had a total of 30,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. The New Yorker was right to call it an Invisible Army. Please do send the web page URL to your reps (there's a button on the page that will take you there) because they really do care about the opinions of their constituents.


Oct/Nov Screenings

There's lots of good news coming in from Washington D.C. about the possibility of new legislation to address the status and living conditions of foreign laborers on US military bases abroad. Thanks to a connection from Sarah Stillman who wrote a great piece for the New Yorker magazine last summer INDENTURED is in the hands of a highly motivated attorney who's working hard to make things happen in Congress. Feels great to have finally broken through and found the right place, scratch that, person for the film. It looked bleak for a long stretch. In the meantime, I'm in touch with some workers in Afghanistan via facebook who are getting shafted by a Turkish company on a US war contract there. There aren't too many options but I'm trying to cook something up to help these guys out. On the other end, Bush League will screen at a special event at Rutgers University, New Brunswick campus Nov 17th at 7pm. This is a exciting opportunity to present the film to college students and faculty from several departments. I'm really looking forward to this one.

Bush League screening at Rutgers and INDENTURED news

Bush League will screen 7pm Friday October 14th at Rutger's, New Brunswick (Voorhees Hall #105) in the "Best of" section of the NJIFF Fall edition. NJ + Bush League forever. Heart heart heart. In other news, INDENTURED, my short film about labor abuse on US bases in Iraq screened last week at the US Pentagon during a workshop on human trafficking. Attorney Sam McCahon presented the film to Pentagon staff, which is amazing because this is truly who the film was made for - hence all the text in the film. I'm trying to guide them right to the bureaucratic waters though the problem is really one of human rights and decency.

INDENTURED is now on-line

I was prompted to go ahead and put INDENTURED online after reading Sarah Stillman's piece The Invisible Army in the New Yorker magazine. From the article (June 6, 2011 edition): The expansion of private-security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan is well known. But armed security personnel account for only about sixteen per cent of the over-all contracting force. The vast majority—more than sixty per cent of the total in Iraq—aren’t hired guns but hired hands. These workers, primarily from South Asia and Africa, often live in barbed-wire compounds on U.S. bases, eat at meagre chow halls [...] A large number are employed by fly-by-night subcontractors who are financed by the American taxpayer but who often operate outside the law.

It's an important article that I hope you'll take a few minutes to read.

Below is the film that I made on the same subject and sent to my representation over eighteen months ago (Rep Davis, Senators Feinstein and Boxer). I'm still waiting for a reply - any reply - from all three offices. Might be time to write some more letters.

If you or anyone you know has any suggestions on who to send this film to, either as a link or a DVD please write to me at The on-line version is linkable and embeddable - please don't hesitate to share it, blog it or email it to your representation in D.C.

The film (10 min):


Trucker Buddy There are some people in life who you meet and you can’t and don’t know why but you just love them right off the bat - that’s how I feel about my friend Danny Kupkie. He and I worked in Iraq for almost two years together. At that time he was putting a lot of his income into his heavy haul trucking business back in Illinois while I was working to pay off my student loans. As I got to know him I also heard a lot about the Peterbilt truck he had back home. He told me that it had gold flake paint and custom 9/11 murals on three sides, which I found impressive. I got to see him and his truck when he was passing through San Diego last spring, which resulted in the video below.

Danny is headed out to Afghanistan this month to work. I’m wishing him success and a VERY safe return.

Unpacking Bush League

The worst thing about finishing Bush League is knowing 98% of the footage will never be seen so over the next few weeks (months) I'll to pull out and post a few things that work independently. Below are three more songs from one of the church choirs in Zolokere. I posted one song from this group a few years ago and it got a really strong response, I just didn't have time to get these others sorted out, but here they are. In addition to the music, I got a kick out of the little boy in the pink shirt:

Drinking the Tigris: Last Drink

last morning in Iraq

Iraq is behind me for good. I flew out to Jordan then traveled by taxi to the Israeli border and then caught a ride down to Tel Aviv. It feels wonderful to know it's behind me. I'm staying in Israel for two weeks relaxing but also to interview anyone I can find from the Litvak community. In 2005 I started shooting a doc in Lithuania about the Jewish holocaust there. Like Bush League, I want to do a village level survey of what happened. I'm trying to find survivors from Kupiskis (where I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer) here in Israel. I got some numbers and contacts, we'll see what happens. Bush League is my real focus right now but I couldn't pass up the chance since I was so close to Israel.

Drinking the Tigris: Final Reminder

If I needed any reminders of why I'm leaving Iraq this Sunday, I got them this week. Two nights ago our area was hit with a rocket; big one that landed somewhere just outside the base parameter. It's been more than six months since we had incoming. Took me a second to register it, then bail for the shelter. It was only one shot, but a thumper. Tonight is a bad dust storm. Kind of a mix really. A tiny bit of rain mixed with fog and loads of dust. With these storms comes gooey eyeballs, allergies, headaches, and massive delays and cancellations of flights, so the whole rhythm of the air port goes to pot. It's a great time to get out.

Drinking the Tigris: Local Music

Sometimes the only thing I can do to remind myself that I'm in Iraq is turn on the radio. I'm buried deep inside a military complex outside the city. I could be anywhere. The only thing that makes it through to me are the radio stations. Here's a link to an Iraqi hit song posted by the NY Times Baghdad Bureau. The song is by Hussam al-Rassam.

The lyrics are:

"Hey brother hand me the Brno (Czech made rifle).

I want to fire some shots.

The eyes of my beloved have cast a spell on me.

I am on fire.

Her stare is more precise and lethal than the Brno.

Mr. GMC driver take me to Ramadi, my beloved is in Ramadi.

All men tumble to the wayside with a blink from her eyes.

When she stares at you it feels like being fired at with a machine gun.

You do not know where you are going to be hit.

She's lethal."

The GMC is a reference to the armored Suburbans which are a ubiquitous status symbol in Iraq.

The origional piece at NYTimes Baghdad Bureau:

Drinking the Tigris: A New Day for America I feel great. The sun is rising here in Iraq. In eight hours the sun will rise in D.C. and later today Obama will swear in.

George Bush's photo was still up as I entered the Air Force chow hall a few minutes ago. The two young Airmen that watch the entrance every morning are both happy about the political changes, but added a caveat. "There are so many problems he's going to have to deal with," they told me cautiously.

I, on the other hand, think we've already dealt with the biggest problem. His picture comes down tomorrow.

Drinking the Tigris: Relief!

What an astonishing moment in our history. From my perspective here in Iraq, while I love the message of hope and I believe in that whole heartedly, mostly I feel relief. Ethan Bronner wrote this in the NY Times from Palestine. It sums it up for me: "But wonder is almost overwhelmed by relief. Mr. Obama's election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm - a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos - saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course."

Drinking the Tigris: The World is Watching

Just back from Malawi yesterday. A lot to report from there, but on the eve of the election, I want to share this instead: From the Economist:

The whole world is holding its breath!!!

Bush League: Shooting THE END

I've been looking forward to this for a long time. I start the trip back to Malawi tomorrow. It'll take five days to get from Baghdad to the village. I'll have a full week to shoot the epilogue for Bush League then Jake and I will make our way to the south of the country. I'm really excited to see everybody and really hoping there isn't much bad news. Gama, the guy who took care of us in the village, died last autumn of HIV/AIDS. I'm a little worried about who else might be sick, or worse.

It's been two years since I started shooting the film. I don't know how much longer it will take, but I hope it doesn't end too soon. I love that place and I've learned a great deal from its people.

Drinking the TIgris: New Shots from Baghdad

Some new shots from Baghdad.

This, for me, is the untold story of this war. All the labor; cleaning, cooking and washing is done by S. Asian laborers. Their pay is meager. The guys who clean at the Dining Facility work 12 hours per day seven days a week and make, in total, $350.00 per month. If Nike or Coca Cola made a fat profit off their backs the way KBR (Halliburton) does, people would be up in arms. But nobody knows about this, and it's happening at every base in Iraq. In our Dining Facility there are NO Americans serving food. Maybe one now and then. The staff is well over 25 guys per shift and they serve thousands of meals per day. They clean the floors, take out the trash, pour the coffee, they work the registers at the PX, they do everything except fight.

The truth is, for many of these people it's a great opportunity but what I wonder about are their labor rights and how many of them are indentured servants.

Drinking the Tigris: Sandstorm taken Sept, 2008 at 3pm

the next morning

Sandstorms here aren't like the ones in movies. The wind doesn't pick the desert floor up to snap it out like a bull whip. It's more like a surprise sneeze. A gust and a squint of the eyes. A diffused red wall rolls in like fog. Then the wait. How long it will take for the billions and trillions of tiny particles, finer than talcum, to find a gentle landing? Last year they only lasted a day. This year, because of the drought in Iraq, they last for days. It sticks to the TV. It fills nostrils and sinus cavities. It fills the windshield wipers. It fills the carpet, and turns the floor of the shower red. It lies across the bed waiting, suppressing its sly joy before it crawls up on your tired face and covers your skin. Finally, it creeps into your consciousness where it smoothers your patience and dries up your imagination. It's in everything. It's everywhere. It creeps and curls and corkscrews and connives its way into every crack and seam in life. It turns the world red.

A Day's Pay for Obama!!! Day 3

Wow! Hey everybody, the ONE DAYS PAY group raised $1075.00 during the last 48 hours! I think this is a real testament to how strongly people feel about the coming election. If you already made a contribution, I'd like to thank you again. If you haven't, don't forget, even a modest contributions of $5.00 really counts! In fact, it's those small donations that have made the difference for Obama this year. If you're strapped for cash, then of coarse, save your money for those things you need to get by. But don't forget that you have lots of people around you who may be indifferent, disillusioned or disappointed with politics. Your words are worth just as much as your dollars. Let them know how you feel, let them know its important, talk about it and let's make sure our less motivated friends and family get out to vote! For Obama!

All the best from Baghdad,

Cy Kuckenbaker

You can make a contribution here!:

A Day's Pay for Obama!!! Day 2

Hey Everybody! We raised $525.00 in 24 hours! That's great. For those who contributed thank you so much. For those who haven't, remember even 5 dollars makes a big difference.

I had the opportunity today to talk with a high level State Dept official who just returned to Iraq from D.C. He had a meeting with Joe Biden, who he says is a great guy. More importantly, he says the buzz behind the scenes in DC is that everyone is scared to death the election is going to be REALLY tight and end in gridlock again. It's going to be close. Get involved while you still can. If you’re broke, no worries. Get out and talk to your friends and family, get registered and VOTE. And, if you've got a five to spare, don't be shy.

All the best from Baghdad,

Cy Kuckenbaker

contribute here:

A Day's Pay for Obama!!!

Hello everybody, Cy here, and I'm really worried. Seven years of George Bush and 15 months in Iraq is more than enough to teach me that I, we, must get involved in our politics and that we really do need CHANGE.

I've decided to contribute all the pay I earn from today, Sept 11th, to Obama's campaign and put my money where my mouth is. The Republicans have been using this day for seven years to keep us off balance and fearful. I want to reverse that and put my day, and my days pay behind something that I believe in. Please join me and make a contribution. Whether its one hours pay or a days pay. We have an extraordinary opportunity before us; lets do everything we can to make it happen! WE MUST WIN THIS ELECTION.

Please follow the link below or go to!

All the best,

Cy Kuckenbaker