U.S. troops in Afghanistan told to ignore abuse of youth

A long-standing U.S. military policy in place to avoid interference with local customs is facing widespread inspection after interviews with former servicemen and court cases revealed Afghani military personnel and local police commanders were involved in or aware of sexual misconduct among Afghani military, police units and local militia.

The New York Times is reporting several current or former U.S. servicemen were disciplined for intervening in settings where they observed conditions where sexual abuse occurred.

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, “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.”

Quinn, a former Army Captain who served with Special Forces in Afghanistan, was disciplined for his striking an Afghan militia leader who kept a young boy as a sex slave.  Stripped of his command, Quinn left the military shortly after he was sent home from Afghanistan.

A fellow soldier, First Sergeant Charles Martland, who aided Quinn in the fray with the Afghan militia leader, is in the midst of a court fight to remain in the military.  In his defense, Martland wrote to the Army:  “I felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our Afghan Local Police (A.L.P.) to commit atrocities.”

The tradition of bacha bazi, or “boy play,” apparently is an accepted habit in the region and not limited to boys.  Some youth are kept as domestic servants; known as “tea boys,” their use often includes being held as sex slaves.

When Quinn became aware of an Afghani militia leader raping a 14-15 year-old girl and brought it to the attention of the Afghani province chief, the accused drew one day in prison.

Quinn later inquired if there was further action need on his part.  He was told by his immediate superior nothing more could be done.

We’re being praised for doing the right thing, and a guy just got away with raping a 14-year-old girl,” Mr. Quinn said.

Most, if not all, will quite understand the dilemma facing servicemen and women who witness these detestable acts even though it may be a cultural norm in Afghanistan.

Hesitating to interfere out of delicacy to a differing culture is admirable.  The same can be said of Quinn’s actions when his conscience was offended by what he witnessed or became aware of.

While these incidents raise legitimate questions of a clash of culture, conflicts over the heinousness of the act of molestation should be taken into consideration as consistent with codes of behavior for servicemen and women who serve in the U.S. military.

Equally important is the revelation American personnel are known to extend grace to victims and report these appalling crimes to their superiors despite being versed in the rules as occupiers in the region.


[New York Times] [Photo courtesy The Independent]