Moral Low Ground

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US Troops Ordered to Ignore Child Sex Slavery Among Afghan Allies

Former US Green Beret Paul Avallone, who says he often saw Afghan fighters with unrelated boys wearing makeup, snapped this photo of a bacha bazi during his tour in Afghanistan.

Former US Green Beret Paul Avallone, who says he often saw Afghan fighters with unrelated boys wearing makeup, snapped this photo of a bacha bazi during his tour in Afghanistan.

US troops in Afghanistan have been instructed to ignore rampant child sex slavery and rape committed by friendly Afghan warlords, even when abuses occur on American bases, because it is part of the local culture.

The New York Times reports the policy of turning a blind eye to horrific child sex abuse endures as US forces recruit and train Afghan militias to fight the Taliban.

“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,” Dan Quinn, a former Army Green Beret captain, told the Times. “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.”

In September 2011, a bruised and battered Afghan woman showed up at an American base with her limping son. The woman explained that a local warlord, Abdul Rahman, had sexually enslaved her son, chaining him to a bed so he could not escape. When she tried to get him back, she too was beaten. The boy was eventually released, but his good looks condemned him to be constantly coveted by other commanders.

When Quinn confronted Rahman, the warlord allegedly acknowledged what he’d done but laughed when the captain lectured him about how Afghan fighters who work with US forces are held to a higher standard of behavior.

“I picked him up and threw him onto the ground,” Quinn recalled. “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.”

For attempting to prevent grievous bodily harm to a child, Quinn was subsequently relieved of his command and removed from Afghanistan. Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, a decorated Green Beret who assaulted the militia commander with Quinn, also finds himself facing discharge over the incident.

In a letter to the Army, Martland explained that he and Quinn “felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our ALP to commit atrocities,” referring to the Afghan Local Police.

“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), who is trying to prevent the soldier’s expulsion, wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

At issue is the ancient Afghan institution of bacha bazi, or ‘boy play,’ in which pedophiles, often wealthy, powerful and dangerous men, buy and sell prepubescent and adolescent children to serve as entertainers, sex slaves, servants and status symbols. The boys are forced to dress in women’s clothing and to sing, dance, and sexually service men. Although the practice of bacha bazi is illegal under Afghan law, it endures because many of the men involved in it are well-armed warlords who play important roles as US allies in the fight against the Taliban. The State Department called bacha bazi “a widespread and culturally sanctioned form of male rape.”

From his bunk at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. could hear the screams of boys being raped. He then told his father, Gregory Buckley Sr., about the horrors of bacha bazi.

“[He said] ‘we can hear them screaming but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,'” Buckley Sr. told the Times. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Sarwar Jan, a notorious Afghan police commander, lived and operated on the same base as Buckley. Also present was a large group of Jan’s ‘tea boys,’ or domestic servants who are often forced into sex slavery. Although Jan was a known drug trafficker and Marine officials had previously secured his arrest for corruption, supporting the Taliban and child kidnapping, the commander was deemed fit to work with Americans at a different base. Weeks later, one of Jan’s ‘tea boys’ picked up a rifle and killed Buckley and two other Marines. Buckley Sr. wonders whether the killing had anything to do with the Marines’ tacit endorsement of child sex slavery.

“As far as the young boys are concerned, the Marines are allowing it to happen and so they’re guilty by association,” Buckley told the Times. “They don’t know our Marines are sick to their stomachs.”

Another former Marine, who spoke under condition of anonymity, told the Times that he felt sickened when he witnessed a group of allied fighters laying with children between them.

“I’m not a hundred percent sure what was happening under the sheet, but I have a pretty good idea of what was going on,” he said. “[But] the bigger picture was fighting the Taliban. It wasn’t to stop molestation.”

Paul Avallone, a former Green Beret in Afghanistan, told the Toronto Star that he routinely saw Afghan soldiers with unrelated young boys, many of them wearing makeup.

“You never saw them in the act of sex,” Avallone said. “The men would be with the boys, and in close physical contact, and then they’d disappear into a tent. To suggest that we could have stopped this is ridiculous. It’s their country. It’s not for us to change. And it’s a place we still don’t understand.”

“But I do blame the command for ignoring this and not discussing the issue when it came up,” Avallone added. “To ignore this when soldiers brought it up, and try to instead shift the conversation for the public at home to how we were helping build ditches and schools, was just wrong.”

In some cases, employees of US and other corporations hired to train Afghan forces or help rebuild the country have participated in the sexual abuse of children. In 2010, the whistleblower website Wikileaks released classified US government documents revealing employees of DynCorp, whose contractors at US military bases in the Balkans openly bought children as young as 12 as sex slaves with impunity, purchased drugs and boys for Afghan police officials.

It isn’t just boys who suffer. Special Forces received complaints about Afghan militia commanders raping girls too. When Quinn informed a provincial police chief that a commander raped a 14- or 15-year-old girl who he spotted working in a field, the chief punished the perpetrator by jailing him for a day and by forcing rapist and victim to marry.

Another commander murdered his 12-year-old daughter in a so-called ‘honor killing’ for allegedly kissing a boy.

“There were no repercussions,” said Quinn.

Only one person was punished in the wake of the investigation of Buckley’s death. Maj. Jason Brezler, who had sent an urgent email containing an unheeded warning about Jan’s crimes, was subjected to discharge proceedings after Marine lawyers said that information about the militia commander’s history of pedophilia could be classified.

When asked about official US military policy regarding the rape and sexual abuse of children by US-allied Afghan fighters, the spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, told the Times that “there would be no express requirement that US military personnel in Afghanistan report it.”

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