The president issued a declaration. The Congress passed a law. The Pentagon turned a blind eye, ignoring defense contractors that engage in human trafficking—prostitution and slave labor.
According to the Chicago Tribune, President Bush signed a directive in December 2002 that expressed “zero tolerance” for human trafficking by federal employees and contractors.
Bush’s action came after media reports that DynCorp (a major military contractor) employees in Bosnia had purchased women as sex slaves in the 1990s when the American military was deployed there.
In 2003, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) introduced legislation ordering U.S. agencies to include anti-trafficking in all contracts. The law applied to corporations and their subcontractors.
However, the Pentagon has yet to adopt a policy banning human trafficking and may not do so until April 2006. This means that corporations such as DynCorp and KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton–the multibillion dollar firm that Vice President Dick Cheney ran–could continue to escape punishment for prostitution and enslaving labor.
“American tax dollars and wartime needs of the U.S. military are fueling an illicit pipeline of cheap foreign labor, mainly impoverished Asians who often are deceived, exploited and put in harm’s way in Iraq with little protection,” said the Tribune.
The newspaper reported: “The U.S. has long condemned the practices that characterize this human trade as it operates elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet this very system is now part of the privatization of the American war effort and is central to the operations of Halliburton subsidiary KBR, the U.S. military’s biggest private contractor in Iraq.”
While U.S. law requires sanctions against nations that engage in the human trafficking, in September President Bush waived sanctions against Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their efforts in the war on terror.
The State Department had placed these nations in June at the top of its list of countries that were not making progress fighting human trafficking, according to the Tribune.
Campaigning for reelection in July 2004, Bush said that human life was a gift from God and “should never be for sale.”
He noted that up to 800,000 human beings were trafficked across international boarders with 80 percent of those being females. Seventy percent of these women and girls “were forced into sexual servitude,” he said.
Bush said: “America will not tolerate slave traders who bring women and children into our country for abuse. We will not tolerate American citizens abusing innocent children abroad.”
Given the president’s rightful and forceful statements about human trafficking, one wonders why he tolerates the Pentagon’s foot-dragging and acceptance of military contractors that practice sexual servitude and slave labor.
How difficult is it for the president to give Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an ultimatum—stop doing business with corporations that violate the human rights of women and children and prosecute those corporations, corporate heads and their boards that profit from cheap labor and prostitution?
How difficult would it be for U.S. readers of EthicsDaily.com to contact their congressman and senators, asking them to support an immediate end to the Pentagon’s tolerance of human trafficking?
What better New Year’s resolution could one make than to pursue justice on the behalf of powerless—those caught in human trafficking?
The biblical witness is clear: “the Lord loves justice” (Is. 61:8) and “executes justice for the needy” (Ps. 140:12).
And what does God require from us? We are to “do justice” (Micah 6:8).
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.