Friday, July 17, 2009


*Retold with permission

We had a lot of weird experiences when we were manning the ECPs [entry control points] into the International Zone. There was the usual array of local vendors, political guests and day laborers, but every now and then it was something completely unexpected.

I remember one situation vividly, mostly because it infuriated me. It was obscenely hot out, and I was already pissed about that – standing there for hours listening to each person tell me why their business in the IZ took precedence over everything else. Then this three car convoy rolls up. We in-processed high-level guests all the time, so I just assumed these cars were more dignitaries. They were all BMWs or Mercedes, new, and impeccably clean. But the passengers were a different matter.

Each car had a single driver, and in the back seat of each sat one young girl. All three of them were gorgeous and well-dressed, right down to the perfume. That was kind of odd, but whatever. We asked them to step out, and then we conducted the security search of the vehicles.

That was when I started to suspect something. Each trunk had a suitcase in it, full of lingerie, body oils, fragrances, and basically what’s best described as sex worker clothing. None of it was typical attire for this region, this country, or for girls their age. One of the three drivers was pretty mouthy and spoke broken English, so I asked him what their business was in the IZ.

“We have meeting with minister.”

Okay, that’s nothing new. Why, though? What for? Is this an appointment?

“I have gift for him.” When he said that, he gestured towards the three girls. That’s when I knew exactly what he meant. He was pimping them.

They were young, too; maybe thirteen or fourteen, and they stood there on the side of the road silently, looking down, like they’d just been caught doing something shameful. I’m fairly confident they knew exactly what was going to happen to them, but I have no idea if they consented to it. They were only children.

I also knew the guy wasn’t going into the IZ to sell the clothing in the suitcases, since none of it was packaged or marked. It was loose, and it’d been worn before. Besides, we dealt with vendors all the time. They’d come in with trunks full of DVDs or truckloads of produce. The clothing wasn’t for sale here; the girls were the merchandise.

I don’t have a sister, but the first thing I thought about was this: what if they were my sisters? What if they were my daughters? They were only kids, and this guy was about to permit an unspeakable crime to take place. I looked at him squarely in the eye and told him to get out of there. Go.

Then he started to fuss and complain, which made me even angrier. I got in his face. You need to go. Now. Leave. I guess he figured out that I was genuinely pissed, so he and the other drivers put the girls back in the cars, climbed in, and drove off.

I have no idea who he was or even who he was going to see, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. This isn’t my country and they may have different rules here, but that doesn’t matter. As a Soldier, I have a warrior ethos; and as a civilian and an American, I have a code of ethics. This wasn’t acceptable under any terms, and I wanted no part in what was going to happen to those girls. I didn’t matter if they consented or not. They were only children.

I called in the whole incident to my NCOIC (non-commissioned officer-in-charge), and to my amazement, he chewed me out. When he’d calmed down a little, I explained the whole situation, and then he completely understood. In fact, he told me good job.

Later on, my CO [commanding officer] got after me, too. But again, when I explained the circumstances, he agreed with my decision. He simply said I could have handled it more diplomatically. Maybe I could have, but I really don’t regret what I did. In fact, I wish I could have done more. That sort of behavior is completely unacceptable, and those men should have been arrested. The worst part is that these girls were purchased by a high-ranking Iraqi political figure – the very ones we protected and supported. But if he had no moral objection to having sex with three children, what else was he willing to do?

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. You can delay and postpone, but never change a culture. That has to happen from within. Like a sponge, you can wadd it up and throw it against the wall, jump up and down on it, and even drive over it with a steam roller, but when you leave it goes back to the same shape it was before you arrived.

  2. I am totally sickened by this.

  3. At one time I was one of "those girls". Thank you for having the guts to try and protect them. They won't forget you and what you tried to do for them.

  4. Diverse readership! Appreciate the comment, Anonymous. Gives one pause.