I write about this story almost every year. This is the second time I wrote about it this year. For the last 12 years, United States forces worked with Afghan police and soldiers to fight the Taliban. Unfortunately, the people the U.S. forces work with rape boys. This is a cultural tradition that was ironically prohibited by the Taliban. Once the forces removed the Taliban from power and reinstated the previous warlords, those men went back to raping boys.
Not only did they go back to the practice of bacha bazi, but they do it brazenly. They make no effort to hide what they do, going so far as to bring boys to U.S. bases and rape them there. The State Department released a report last year about the situation, however, the concern was preventing future violence against women, not protecting boys.
What makes this so frustrating is that this story has never hit the mainstream media. While it may appear in random articles in newspapers and online, I cannot recall seeing anyone talk about it on a major news network.
Until this morning. Joe Scarborough mentioned the recent New York Times article on Morning Joe. Both he and his cast were astounded by the findings listed in the article, particularly this part:
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 militias 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 child sexual abuse 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.
Scarborough asked on his show how far up this goes and who knows this happened. Based on the available information, it is highly improbable the highest commanders in the military did not about this. Certainly those working in Afghanistan had to know. To this point, the new U.S. military handbook instructs soldiers not to criticize the rape of boys because “better situational awareness/understanding of Afghan culture will help better prepare [troops] to more effectively partner and to avoid cultural conflict that can lead toward green-on-blue violence.” Chances are this goes all the way to the top, and while I cannot be certain, I would not be surprised if President Obama were aware of this situation.
Now that the New Times featured this story, perhaps people finally talk about this problem. I do not expect anyone to do anything about it. We have done a terrible job of actually addressing problems like these. At this point, mere lip service would be nice. Can we least pretend to care about the systematic rape of boys by supposed allies?
As for the NY Times article, it centers around the killing of Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. Buckley told his family about the situation in Afghan. He stated in his last call to this father:
“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.”
That astounding position may have led to Buckley’s murder. He and two other Marines were killed in 2012 by a boy living with an Afghan police commander. This man, Sarwar Jan, kept a group of “tea boys” (domestic servants who are sometimes used as sex slaves), with him. Jan had a history of violence, corruption, child abduction, and support for the Taliban. He was, however, sill allowed on the military base.
When Jan received his new position, Major Jason Brezler heard about it and sent an email to the officers at the base warning them about Jan. They ignored it the email, and this is what followed:
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.”
That is why the policy of turning a blind eye is so misguided. Perhaps this boy killed the marines out of fear of what they may do to him. Perhaps he did it at Jan’s command. If our policy were to reach out to help these boys rather than ignore them, it is possible that the boy would have asked for or accepted help.
Even if that were not the boy’s motivation, we still send the message that we accept the rapes by doing and saying nothing.
What makes this truly astounding is that our soldiers want to stop to it and have the power to do so, yet we will not allow them. Instead, we force them to literally listen to boys screaming in pain, as if this will have no emotional or psychological impact on them at all.
This is our current military policy in Afghanistan. We ought to be ashamed, but we are not.