Why is the Pentagon Punishing Those who Report on Sexual Abuse of Boys?
USA TODAY Gen. Campbell: Any abuse is reprehensible
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan has led to significant improvements over life under the Taliban, including opening the way for millions of Afghan girls to go to school and work in jobs that were forbidden to women when fundamentalists ruled the country.
But what Afghans call bacha bazi, or "boy play," seems to be a terrible exception. U.S. troops report that while the U.S. military officially opposes sexual molestation of boys by powerful Afghan men, including police and military commanders, the unofficial policy in U.S. units has been to look the other way or go through the motions of reporting abuse to Afghan authorities, with the understanding that nothing will be done.
A recent New York Times story told of the Army’s punishment of two Green Berets who tried to rein in abuse at a remote outpost shared by U.S. and Afghan forces in 2011. U.S. forces got reports that an Afghan local police commander they were working with had taken an 11-year-old boy prisoner and raped him for as long as two weeks. When the boy's mother tried to intervene, the commander beat her.
After checking with village authorities to make sure the story was true, the two U.S. soldiers confronted the commander, who confirmed what he had done and laughed at them, saying it was just a boy. Enraged, they repeatedly body-slammed him to the ground and dumped him at the gate to their camp, where he got up and ran away. And how did U.S. commanders react? They disciplined the two Americans; one left the service, and the Army is trying to force the other to retire.
There’s no question both men broke military regulations, but their action was driven by justifiable moral outrage and, even more important in a combat zone, the safety of U.S. troops. “Our (Afghan local police) were committing atrocities, and we were quickly losing the support of the local populace,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland in a statement released by the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who is pressing the Pentagon to save Martland’s career. The situation “caused many locals to view our ALP as worse than the Taliban. If the locals resumed supporting the Taliban, attacks against U.S. forces would have increased dramatically.”
In a letter to the Pentagon inspector general, Hunter said, “The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is absolute nonsense).”
Officials say the right things but often either won’t do more, or perhaps cannot. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promises to fight the abuse of young boys. "I’m not going to tolerate this,” Ghani told The Times. But he noted that the roots of the practice go back centuries. “The larger cultural dynamic needs time,” Ghani said.
The two American soldiers accomplished what U.S. military policy, official or not, has failed to do — make clear that there will be zero tolerance for the rape of boys by Afghans working with U.S. forces.
Even the Taliban banned the ancient practice of bacha bazi when they ruled the country in the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Americans can’t be complicit in this kind of abuse, and it’s up to the Pentagon to find a way to make that so.