The American command in Afghanistan has told U.S. service members to ignore child rape by Afghan soldiers and police officers, reports The New York Times (NYT).
“Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law,” Col. Brian Tribus, the spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, told The Times via email, adding that “there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it.”
Col. Tribus said an exception is when child sexual abuse is being used as a weapon of war.
“The American policy of nonintervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban,” reports NYT. “It also reflects 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.”
Sexual abuse of children is rampant in Afghanistan. The practice is known as “bacha bazi,” which reportedly translates to “boy play.”
“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,” notes The Times.
“But the American policy of treating child sexual abuse as a cultural issue has often alienated the villages whose children are 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,” it adds.
The father of Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. believes the U.S. policy of ignoring child rape contributed to his son’s death, and has filed a lawsuit demanding more information about it from the Marine Corps.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” Gregory Buckley Sr., the Marine’s father, recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at an Afghan base in 2012.
The father 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,” he told The Times.
Lance Corporal Buckley was killed, along with two other Marines, “by one of a large entourage of boys living at their base with an Afghan police commander named Sarwar Jan,” notes The Times.
Another high-profile case involving U.S. service members who have spoken out against the child sexual abuse by American-trained Afghan security forces has to do with Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, a decorated Green Beret, who is being forcibly separated from the U.S. Army for striking an Afghan local police (ALP) commander accused of raping a 12-year-old boy in September 2011.
The Army relieved Sgt. Martland of his command after the beating and withdrew him from Afghanistan. Sgt. Martland wants to remain in the military.
Army officials also removed Capt. Daniel Quinn, Sgt. Martland’s Green Beret team leader, from Afghanistan after he was relieved form his duties for joining the sergeant in beating up the Afghan commander.
Capt. Quinn has since left the Army and joined the private sector.
“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) reportedly wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general in an effort to save Sgt. Martland’s career.
Rep. Hunter has written numerous letters to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, asking him to intervene on behalf of Sgt. Martland, who has been commended by Afghan authorities for standing up to the Afghan police commander who raped the boy and beat his mother for bringing attention to the crime.
“Some soldiers believed that the policy [of ignoring child sexual abuse] made sense, even if they were personally distressed at the sexual predation they witnessed or heard about,” notes NYT.
In an interview with The News Tribune, Col. Steve Johnson suggested that U.S. military personnel should tolerate all Afghan customs, even if they go against American moral values.
“You cannot try to impose American values and American norms onto the Afghan culture because they’re completely different… We can report and we can encourage them,” Col. Johnson said referring to the incident involving Sgt. Martland. “We do not have any power or the ability to use our hands to compel them to be what we see as morally better.”
Afghan security forces include the national army and police force.