Book Excerpt: 'A Crime So Monstrous'

The second reason for paying attention was because my government did. A week before the 2000 election, President Bill Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. For the first time, an American president assumed global abolition as a national burden. The new law called for programs to eradicate slavery, and mandated that the State Department annually rank countries based on their efforts. Tier One was for those showing progress toward abolition. A Tier Three ranking, reserved for reprobate nations that countenanced bondage, could trigger sanctions. John Miller, whose office wrote the report, intended to "name and shame" foreign governments.

"Name and shame." It's a far cry from the nineteenth-century interdictions of the Royal Navy. Over a period of seventy years, 2,000 British sailors died freeing 160,000 slaves.

But the modern American war on slavery was nonetheless historic. Whereas President Lincoln used emancipation to win foreign government support for the Union, President George W. Bush used the nation's strength to win foreign government support for emancipation.

John Miller, his knight in the effort, began working on the issue at the same moment I did. Thus, in this book I have woven his years of discovery in with my own.

Three caveats. First, regarding language. For Bales's statistic to mean anything, "slavery" has to mean something. I adopt his definition. I met dozens of people who described themselves as slaves. Their stories were often tragic. Many were child laborers. Many faced terrible abuse. But, in this book, those who failed to meet all of Bales's three criteria — compelled to work, through force or fraud, for no pay beyond subsistence — are not slaves.

Second, regarding scope. The book is grossly insufficient in its reach.

Over five years, I visited twelve countries and recorded interviews with over a hundred slaves, slave dealers, and survivors. They were not a monolithic bunch. They had lives. Herein I tell the stories of only a few.

There are millions that I never reached, and dozens of afflicted countries that I never investigated.

Finally, regarding facts. I changed eight names. In Europe, "Tatiana" asked that I use pseudonyms for her and her fellow slaves as well as her traffickers; and I changed the names of my fixers in the Romanian and Turkish underworlds. In India, "Gonoo" asked that I change his name and that of his eldest son. Slaves in preindustrial societies like those in front-line southern Sudan rarely shared a Western sense of time, thus their personal chronologies may be imprecise. I was able to cross-check most of their stories, but not all, and I have noted inconsistencies when they occurred. I converted currencies into dollars, adjusted for inflation.

I altered no other details.

The first thing that John Miller ever said to me was that slavery is the greatest human rights challenge of my generation. He was right. But in the first couple of weeks in any new country that I visited, my greatest challenge was finding a single slave. After talking to the right people, often shady characters, I went through the looking glass. Then the slaves were everywhere. I often wondered whether I might have saved those that I found in bondage. With one exception, I did not. I withheld action to save one person, in the hope that this book would later save many more. Writing that now, it still feels like an excuse for cowardice.

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