The Pentagon is investigating how a Pentagon human trafficking unit, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), used a “deeply disturbing” memo to justify the targeting of women and children for recruitment, a new report says.
The Office of Military Sexual Trauma Prevention and Recovery (OMTRP), a Pentagon-run program, issued the memo to the head of the Office for Special Programs and Human Trafficking Prevention, Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Jones, on June 28, according to the Office’s Inspector General.
The memo outlined the Pentagon’s policy on the “human trafficking” of young people in the armed forces and recommended that the Pentagon “take appropriate action.”
The memo was signed by the OIG’s chief of staff, and included recommendations for “appropriate action,” the report said.
“The memo clearly states that DOD is investigating the circumstances surrounding this memo, including any potential for misuse of that memo and the process that led to it,” said OIG Director Michael Horowitz in a statement.
“These are grave and disturbing revelations, and we will hold DOD accountable for any actions taken that were not in the best interest of our service members, including this memo.”
The Pentagon’s human trafficking policies and procedures are “deep and troubling,” said Tom Vincenzetti, who served as OIG director for seven years.
“It’s really clear that this memo was never meant to be implemented, it was meant to just set the tone and set the direction,” he told Newsweek.
“This was meant as a political statement and it was never intended to be an honest conversation about how to respond to this issue, how to handle the situation.”
Jones has not yet responded to Newsweek’s request for comment.
The OIG report does not name any victims of human trafficking or the alleged victims of the human trafficking process.
The human trafficking policy is “deep-rooted in the very nature of military recruitment,” said Vincenzo.
“And I think this was never going to be the first, nor the last time that the DOD’s human services and its human trafficking units would use a policy that is rooted in a deep-rooting human trafficking culture, which is inhumane, which has never been a military policy,” he said.
The Pentagon has not addressed the matter in any way, according a Defense Department spokesperson.
“Human trafficking is an extremely complex and nuanced issue, and DOD takes these matters very seriously, and will continue to take appropriate action in accordance with DOD policy and guidance,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.
The DOD has long said it would not use the phrase “human smuggling” to describe its efforts to prevent the recruitment of children.
“There is no military policy in place that specifically addresses human trafficking, but DOD has taken action in the past to address these issues,” the Defense Department said in its 2014 policy.
The military has also taken a number of other steps to combat human trafficking in the military, including a “zero tolerance” policy that mandates commanders use “all reasonable means to prevent and deter human trafficking,” the Pentagon said in 2014.
A number of lawmakers have called for the Pentagon to remove the phrase from its recruitment policies and regulations.
“A human trafficking-focused military would help prevent recruitment of minors by addressing the issue at its root,” Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, wrote in a letter to Pentagon Secretary Ash Carter.
“DOD has failed to properly address this issue in its recruiting policy.
DOD needs to be held accountable for its failure to do so.”
The OIF report also said that the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) had been in contact with the Pentagon and the OTRP, and that it was seeking more information on the matter.
“We are encouraged by DOD’s acknowledgement of HRW’s concerns and the fact that we are looking into this matter,” the HRW statement read.
“In the meantime, HRW remains committed to working with DOD to address human trafficking issues and bring this issue to light.”
The Human Rights Act of 1948 (HRA), which prohibits forced labor, child labor, and sexual exploitation, applies to all federal agencies, including the Pentagon.
The report also noted that a 2016 HRW report identified the OIF as “a major source of misinformation” on the issue of human rights abuses by U.S. military personnel.
“At the same time, the OITG’s memorandum raises serious concerns about the DOD and DOD personnel’s ability to protect civilian personnel from potential recruitment into sex trafficking networks,” the watchdog group wrote.
“Moreover, this memo may serve to legitimize human trafficking activities and the DOD by perpetuating a culture of impunity.”