Tuesday, June 06, 2006What's next, American soldiers bathing in the blood of Iraqi children? Good lord.
U.S. taxpayers financed human trafficking, report says
BY CAM SIMPSON
WASHINGTON - For the first time since Congress mandated its annual publication, a State Department report cataloging human trafficking across the globe includes allegations that American taxpayers financed such abuses.
This year's Trafficking in Persons Report, released Monday, also ranks Iran among the 12 nations in the world with the worst records for limiting human trafficking within and across its borders, just as the Bush administration is attempting to bring pressure on Tehran because of its developing nuclear program.
Other familiar Bush administration targets, such as Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, also made this year's list of the worst dozen, while White House allies and other strategically important nations - including India, Mexico, Russia and China - escaped the roll call despite evidence in the report of growing problems.
People can be trafficked across or within borders for prostitution or forced labor, a practice officials describe as a modern form of slavery.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice unveiled this year's report by telling reporters that the United States and its allies "will stop at nothing to end the debasement of our fellow men and women."
Yet this year's report includes a special section on reforms the Defense Department instituted after an investigation prompted by "Pipeline to Peril," a series published by the Chicago Tribune in October that detailed human trafficking into Iraq for privatized U.S. military support operations.
Human brokers and subcontractors from Asia to the Middle East have worked in concert to import thousands of laborers into Iraq from impoverished countries, often employing fraud or coercion along the way, seizing workers' passports and charging recruitment "fees" that make it difficult for workers to escape employment in the war zone.
U.S. military leaders in Iraq have acknowledged confirming widespread abuses against such workers, who are brought to Iraq to do menial labor on U.S. bases for contractors and subcontractors. Those businesses ultimately receive their checks from the U.S. government. The abuses corroborated by military investigators included violations of U.S. human-trafficking laws.
In a section of the 2006 report titled "Department of Defense Responds to Labor Trafficking in Iraq," the State Department notes that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered sweeping changes in April for privatized military support operations.
The report also says the Defense Department "has responded swiftly with a number of measures to closely monitor the hiring and employment of foreign laborers."
John Miller, who heads the State Department's trafficking office and is responsible for the annual report, said it was the first time in the report's six-year history that it contained allegations that U.S. taxpayers had financed such abuses.
In an interview, Miller also suggested the Defense Department moved too slowly, saying, "All of this should have happened faster, ideally." But he praised the measures and pledged to press the State Department itself to adopt reforms similar to those instituted by the military.
While the Tribune series, and subsequent Defense Department investigations, detailed abuses of workers contracted for American military bases, thousands of other such workers have been imported into Iraq for contractors paid by the State Department or other agencies.
One of the State Department's largest contractors in Iraq, a Kuwaiti construction firm, is building the new U.S. Embassy on a nearly $600 million contract. The company was implicated by the Tribune last year for allegedly trying to force unwilling Nepalese workers into Iraq from Kuwait, allegations denied by the firm but corroborated by a Nepalese Foreign Ministry official who rescued nearly 200 of his countrymen from Kuwait.
Miller said he would work to make sure the Defense Department's standards become the minimum rules for everyone in Iraq.
"I expect that this department, the State Department and other departments, will do no less than the Defense Department has done to try to stop any trafficking anywhere," he said.
The four nations that are strategically important to the Bush administration but were not included on the State Department's list of the worst dozen offenders are all making repeat appearances on the report's so-called "Watch List." That special list, specifically created by Congress for the 2004 report and the two issued since, is meant only as a temporary refuge for governments with questionable records, according to Miller and officials in his office.
Without what Miller called "significant efforts in the coming year," such nations are supposed to be included among the worst of the worst. But China has stayed on the special watch list for two straight years, while India, Mexico and Russia made their third straight appearance on the watch list.
This year's report marks the first time since 2002 that Iran was included among the worst offenders. The report alleges there are "persistent, credible reports of Iranian authorities punishing victims of trafficking with beatings, imprisonment and execution."