The U.S. Defense Department is throwing its might against the global problem of sex trafficking. The target is not any foreign country, but preventing any wrongdoing or even the appearance of wrongdoing within the American military community itself.
A memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz outlines a strict new no tolerance policy. It says human trafficking will not be facilitated in any way by the activities of service members, civilian defense employees or Pentagon contractors.
It goes on to state that the Pentagon opposes prostitution and related activities. It calls the phenomenon of trafficking in persons "inherently harmful and dehumanizing" and says this "cruel and demeaning" human rights violation is incompatible with military values. It says it could undermine peacekeeping efforts.
The memo, dated January 30, was first reported this week by the Army Times newspaper and obtained by the Voice of America on Wednesday. It is accompanied by a list of key Pentagon objectives in the effort to combat human trafficking.
These include the education of all service members and defense department civilians working overseas in what is termed the trafficking "menace." There is also a call for increased efforts by commanders to crack down on sex traffickers in bars and other commercial establishments patronized by defense personnel. In addition, the document calls for the incorporation of anti-trafficking clauses and penalties in overseas contracts to prohibit any activities by contract employees that promote human trafficking.
Defense officials deny the Wolfowitz memo indicates there is a trafficking problem within the U.S. military community. Instead, they say it is a follow-up to last year's national security directive issued by President Bush which established as U.S. policy efforts to vigorously attack the worldwide problem of trafficking in persons.
"The intent is to ensure that our forces overseas are trained and disciplined with regard to trafficking in persons and specifically to report any observations of events or practices that may involve trafficking in persons to all of the appropriate local authorities," explained Navy Lieutenant Commander Jane Campbell, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Still, the memo does follow the release of two reports by the Pentagon's inspector general, who investigated possible U.S. military activities that might be fueling sex trafficking in South Korea as well as in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The first report, written last July, found what were termed "some deficiencies" in the Defense Department's efforts to combat human trafficking in South Korea. The document cited news reports that depicted women in bars frequented by American troops as victims of trafficking. The reports suggested the U.S. military, by providing patrols to monitor soldier behavior in the establishments, was condoning illegal activity.
But the report on the situation in South Korea also credited commanders with taking what were described as bold and proactive measures to remedy the deficiencies and to implement forceful anti-trafficking measures.
The second report, written last December, found what was called "negligible evidence" that U.S. armed forces in the Balkans patronized prostitutes or engaged in other activities that supported human trafficking. But it said there was some, undefined evidence of possible involvement, particularly by Defense Department contract employees.
The report also said Pentagon investigators heard testimony indicating that African, Pakistani, Romanian and Russian soldiers were what it called "the worst offenders" with respect to human trafficking. The report urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to support efforts to get the NATO alliance to crack down on the problem.