Privatizing many military support operations in combat zones may have yielded savings in reduced overhead. But human trafficking practiced by some foreign subcontractors - involving forced prostitution and forced labor - has tarnished our reputation.
In late 2002, President George W. Bush issued a national security directive declaring zero tolerance for such trafficking engaged in by federal contractors and employees, following revelations of abuses during the Bosnia deployment.
In 2003, Congress legislated a requirement for federal agencies to include anti-trafficking provisions in all contracts with overseas contractors and their subcontractors. When it was extended this fall, lobbyists got a new Pentagon trafficking watchdog post removed.
Here it is 2006 and, under heavy lobbying by American contractors who employ these subcontractors, the Pentagon has not yet adopted a policy to bar human trafficking.
A proposal it floated last summer, according to the Chicago Tribune, was blocked by five defense lobbying groups. And even that proposal, trafficking experts say, lacked sufficient teeth.
Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., who wrote the 2003 legislation, said the Pentagon's delays in developing an implementation plan could mean more people "were being exploited while they were sharpening their pencils."
Halliburton subsidiary KBR relies on more than 200 subcontractors for its support operations in Iraq war zones. The Tribune reported last fall that some Middle Eastern firms under American subcontracts worked with brokers to recruit and employ labor in ways associated with human trafficking.
The contractors' lobby objected to a provision in the proposed Pentagon plan requiring them to police their overseas contractors for human trafficking. Their spokesman said it was not realistic to expect foreign companies operating overseas to accept or act on U.S. foreign policy objectives.
They could certainly be expected to do so if the American contractors who employ them were required to adopt the anti-human trafficking policy as their own - and (with their own revenue at stake) to refuse to hire or pay subcontractors who would not buy in.
Or has money quit talking overseas?
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