The Obama administration “issued policy guidance authorizing” the U.S. to waive a ban that prohibits the American military from funding Afghan security forces accused of engaging in the ancient custom of child rape and other gross violations of human rights, according to a watchdog agency.
In a press release announcing the recently unclassified report on child sexual abuse in Afghanistan, including the Afghan custom of bacha bazi, or “playing with boys,” the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported:
[U.S. President Barack Obama’s] Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter issued policy guidance authorizing USFOR-A [U.S. Forces-Afghanistan] to “petition” for expanded application of the notwithstanding clause to provide funding to Afghan security forces units for which there are credible allegations of a gross violation of human rights, [including child rape].
Under a 2015 guidance, Hagel and Carter authorized the top commander of U.S. troops to employ a waiver (notwithstanding authority) to the Leahy laws against human rights violators so that they can fund Afghan forces “for which there are credible allegations of a gross violation of human rights” under certain circumstances:
Where withholding assistance from a specific implicated unit would present significant risks to U.S. or coalition force; Where withholding assistance from a specific implicated unit would significantly undermine or damage the U.S. mission or national security objective; Consulting with appropriate Afghan officials would reveal DOD’s sources and methods for obtaining the credible information; [and] The assistance is for human rights and/or law of war training for any Afghan security forces unit, separate from formal training events.
SIGAR explained that the DOD interpreted the “notwithstanding authority” (waiver) as a clause that allows the Pentagon chief to “forgo implementation of the Leahy Law in specific cases or more broadly if necessary.” Employing the “notwithstanding authority” does not require formal congressional notification.
The DOD used the waiver to continue providing “select training, equipment, and other assistance to some of the Afghan security forces units implicated” in heinous human rights incidents, reported SIGAR.
In 2014, the Pentagon mandated Leahy vetting as a requirement for all access to the Afghanistan Security Forces Funds (ASSF).
Some U.S. troops told SIGAR that when they witnessed Afghan security forces engaging in “inappropriate behavior” with children, “they thought it would be best to ‘leave it alone’ rather than report it to a higher authority.”
Some American troops appeared to find the rampant child rape amusing.
“An interviewee told SIGAR that he heard the sounds of Afghan men and boys screaming in ‘what sounded like sex.’ He said he and other service members talked and laughed about it happening, but did not take action to address it,” noted the auditor.
Although “sexual assault of children” is not explicitly identified as a human rights violation by the Leahy laws, the Pentagon and State view the heinous act as such.
Under U.S. law:
The term “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” includes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child compels state actors to “protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” The United States and Afghanistan are both signatories to this convention; Afghanistan has ratified it.
The U.S. government does not reportedly vet all Afghan forces for human rights violations such as sexual abuse of children, revealed SIGAR.
Pentagon officials only vet Afghan troops assigned to U.S. training or if there is a specific complaint lodged against them.
Although “U.S. embassy personnel are now responsible for reporting any known or suspected incidents of gross violations of human rights,” State still “does not have specific guidance or training on reporting incidents involving the sexual assault of children,” reports SIGAR.
Meanwhile, the “Secretary of Defense [has already] issued guidance on how to report gross violations of human rights by units of foreign security forces worldwide, including in Afghanistan.”
However, “DOD nor State has language in its contracts requiring that contractors report gross violation of human rights incidents or allegations of child sexual assault,” SIGAR pointed out, adding, “It is not clear that the U.S. government is fully using resources with the [Afghan government] to encourage action on gross violations of human rights, particularly child sexual assault.”
The U.S. implemented requirements to report child sexual abuse at the hands of the ANDSF, which includes police and army units, came after the New York Times (NYT) found in September 2015 that superiors were telling American troops not to report the allegations of sexual abuse of children at the hands of powerful men, including U.S.-funded ANDSF troops.
However, SIGAR maintains that it “found no evidence that U.S. forces were told to ignore human rights abuses or child sexual abuse.”
Between 2010 and 2016, the Pentagon tracked 75 reported gross violation of human rights incidents allegedly committed Afghan security troops, including seven involving child sexual assault and 46 involving other gross violations of human rights as well as 22 that were classified “because of the sensitivity of the information or the sources and methods used to obtain the information.”
The watchdog conceded that there was likely more than seven child rape incidents, given “that individuals and organizations with knowledge of incidents lack details, were reluctant to share information with the U.S. government, or did not have explicit guidance on how to report the information.”
SIGAR noted that “the full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known.”
In November 2015, SIGAR reported that the bacha bazi practice was “resurrected” after the U.S. military overthrew the Afghan Taliban from power in late 2001, noting that the jihadist group “made the practice punishable by death.”
The Taliban has reportedly used the Afghan military’s affinity for young boys against them, deploying young men to kill them.
In November 2017, the Pentagon inspector general (IG) reported that U.S. troops have only recently been required to report the sexual abuse of young boys, but they are “not obligated” to intervene and may face criminal punishment.