Accuracy in Media

With the U.S. at war, the natural reaction of Americans is to support the troops. But that shouldn’t prevent scrutiny of abuses being committed by American soldiers stationed abroad. The Fox-owned television station in Cleveland, WJW-TV, has run a very disturbing story by investigative journalist Tom Merriman on a human trafficking operation stretching from South Korea to the U.S.

He found that many of the women employees at several Cleveland massage parlors started out as prostitutes in South Korean brothels used and protected by the U.S. military. His crew used hidden cameras to reveal that U.S. military officers were assigned to patrol brothels so that American soldiers could get sex from the prostitutes in safety.

The story has prompted a letter from 13 members of Congress to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking for an investigation into U.S. military involvement with the brothels. Rumsfeld has not yet responded. One of the signers, Congressman Chris Smith, questioned Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky about the allegations at a congressional hearing.

Some film from Merriman’s report was shown on the Fox News channel program hosted by Greta Van Susteren. It was called the Pentagon’s “dirty secret.” Merriman, a guest on the program, said, “This is so wide open. This is no super secret hidden camera operation. We walked in as tourists. We had U.S. military officers take us sight unseen on a tour of these brothels [and] introduce us to women?and [they] say it’s our job to protect these places, to make sure GIs are safe here. It’s imbedded in the South Korean military experience.” Merriman called it a U.S.-taxpayer-funded human trafficking system.

Merriman said some of the women appear to be 13 and 14 years of age. Congressman Smith, who was on the show with Meriman, agreed that many of the prostitutes are minors ? teenagers. “They are very young girls,” he said. The U.S. Military Police caught on camera spoke candidly about the women’s passports being taken from them by traffickers when they entered South Korea and about the women then being sold at “auctions” to bar owners. Some are sent to other countries, including the U.S., to make more money for the traffickers.

In their letter to Rumsfeld, members of Congress say, “If U.S. soldiers are patrolling or frequenting these establishments, the military is in effect helping to line the pockets of human traffickers.” They added, “As you know, the standing order issued by the U.S. Command in South Korea? prohibits service members from visiting houses of prostitution anywhere in the theater while they are stationed there. Korean law – which these service members have a duty to respect – also prohibits the hiring of prostitutes. It is disturbing to receive information indicating that these orders are apparently being ignored and not enforced by the Command. We are also deeply concerned that American soldiers are knowingly procuring the services of trafficked persons and that some of these soldiers may even be ordered to protect and patrol the brothels.”

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