|Credit Kirsten Luce for The New York Times|
Too often throughout its history America has looked the other way when it comes to human rights abuses perpetrated by foreign "allies." Worse yet, at times American soldiers have committed such abuses against enemies they deem inferior and/or less than human - think of Vietnam and the My Lai massacre and more recently the atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. But back to the issue of looking the other way when it comes to abuses by allies. In Afghanistan, Islam is the predominant religion, but despite this fact and the dim view of homosexuality by Islamic clerics, many Afghan military commanders and local war lords engage in bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” often with brutal effect on the boys they victimize. It is yet another example of America being anything but "exceptional." A piece in the New York Times looks at the complicity of American military commanders in the brutality and the possibly deadly consequences faced by soldiers who did not remain quiet. Here are highlights:
In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militia to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” said Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”The policy of instructing soldiers to ignore pedophilia by their Afghan allies is coming under new scrutiny, particularly as it emerges that service members like Captain Quinn have faced discipline, even career ruin, for disobeying it.[T]he Army is also trying to forcibly retire Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, a Special Forces member who joined Captain Quinn in beating up the commander.“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who hopes to save Sergeant Martland’s career, wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general.The American policy of nonintervention was intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflected a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status.But the American policy of treating pedophilia as a cultural issue has often alienated the villages whose children were being preyed upon. The pitfalls of the policy emerged clearly as American Special Forces soldiers began to form Afghan Local Police militias to hold villages that American forces had retaken from the Taliban in 2010 and 2011.By the summer of 2011, Captain Quinn and Sergeant Martland, both Green Berets on their second tour in northern Kunduz Province, began to receive dire complaints about the Afghan Local Police units they were training and supporting.[A]nother commander absconded with his men’s wages. Mr. Quinn said he later heard the commander had spent the money on dancing boys. Another commander murdered his 12-year-old daughter in a so-called “honor killing” for having kissed a boy. “There were no repercussions,” Mr. Quinn recalled.In September 2011, an Afghan woman, visibly bruised, showed up at an American base with her son, who was limping. One of the Afghan police commanders in the area, Abdul Rahman, had abducted the boy and forced him to become a sex slave, chained to his bed, the woman explained. When she sought her son’s return, she herself was beaten. Her son had eventually been released, but she was afraid it would happen again, she told the Americans on the base.She explained that because “her son was such a good-looking kid, he was a status symbol” local commanders coveted . . . . Captain Quinn summoned Abdul Rahman and confronted him about what he had done. The police commander acknowledged that it was true, but brushed it off. When the American officer began to lecture about “how you are held to a higher standard if you are working with U.S. forces, and people expect more of you,” the commander began to laugh.“I picked him up and threw him onto the ground,” Mr. Quinn said. Sergeant Martland joined in, he said. “I did this to make sure the message was understood that if he went back to the boy, that it was not going to be tolerated,” Mr. Quinn recalled.Sergeant Martland, who received a Bronze Star for valor for his actions during a Taliban ambush, wrote in a letter to the Army this year that he and Mr. Quinn “felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our A.L.P. to commit atrocities,” referring to the Afghan Local Police.The father of Lance Corporal Buckley believes the policy of looking away from sexual abuse was a factor in his son’s death, and he has filed a lawsuit to press the Marine Corps for more information about it.Lance Corporal Buckley and two other Marines were killed in 2012 by one of a large entourage of boys living at their base with an Afghan police commander named Sarwar Jan.Lance Corporal Buckley had noticed that a large entourage of “tea boys” — domestic servants who are sometimes pressed into sexual slavery — had arrived with Mr. Jan and moved into the same barracks, one floor below the Marines. He told his father about it during his final call home.Word of Mr. Jan’s new position also reached the Marine officers who had gotten him arrested in 2010. One of them, Maj. Jason Brezler, dashed out an email to Marine officers at F.O.B. Delhi, warning them about Mr. Jan and attaching a dossier about him.The warning was never heeded. About two weeks later, one of the older boys with Mr. Jan — around 17 years old — grabbed a rifle and killed Lance Corporal Buckley and the other Marines.Lance Corporal Buckley’s father still agonizes about whether the killing occurred because of the sexual abuse by an American ally. “As far as the young boys are concerned, the Marines are allowing it to happen and so they’re guilty by association,” Mr. Buckley said. “They don’t know our Marines are sick to their stomachs.”The one American service member who was punished in the investigation that followed was Major Brezler, who had sent the email warning about Mr. Jan, his lawyers said. In one of Major Brezler’s hearings, Marine Corps lawyers warned that information about the police commander’s penchant for abusing boys might be classified. The Marine Corps has initiated proceedings to discharge Major Brezler.
I have no problem with gay sex among consenting adults. But sexual abuse and worse - be it against boys or girls - is simply immoral and NOT something America should be condoning by its inaction. Afghanistan has been a Hell hole for millennia and, as this story shows, little has changed. Bush/Cheney embroiled the nation in an non-winable war and set the stage for such horrors. Action against members of the military who did not remain silent or turn a blind eye needs to cease and instead be directed at their superiors who used supposed expediency to allow evil. By teaming up with monsters, America has often defeated its own purposes.