Pen­tagon al­lows Afghan com­man­ders to abuse boys

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - — St. Louis Post-Dis­patch

Last week’s sen­tenc­ing of Dr. Larry Nas­sar in the sex­ual abuse of mul­ti­ple young fe­male gym­nasts un­der­scores the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties peo­ple in au­thor­ity have to in­ter­vene when they know a sex­ual preda­tor is vic­tim­iz­ing chil­dren. In Afghanistan, such abuse has oc­curred since the early days of the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion, yet Amer­i­can com­man­ders have turned a blind eye.

Afghanistan is strug­gling for its sur­vival against a re­lent­less Tal­iban in­sur­gency. But that’s no ex­cuse for tol­er­at­ing wan­ton sex­ual abuse by the Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

Afghans have been war­ring al­most con­stantly since the 1970s — first against Soviet in­vaders, fol­lowed by war­lord-led mili­tia bat­tles that ended when the Tal­iban achieved dom­i­nance in 1996. Thugs and crim­i­nals re­mained in con­trol of anti-Tal­iban lo­cal mili­tias across the coun­try­side, in­clud­ing sev­eral who or­dered boys to be kid­napped as sex slaves.

U.S. law re­quires the de­fund­ing of for­eign mil­i­tary units known to en­gage in hu­man rights abuses . ... The United States has waived the law’s ap­pli­ca­tion in Afghanistan, ar­gu­ing that it could weaken the ten­u­ous bat­tle against the Tal­iban.

Those same mili­tia com­man­ders helped rout the Tal­iban and al-Qaida as al­lies in the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion. Top U.S. com­man­ders were aware that boys were held as sex slaves yet didn’t in­ter­vene. Last week, the Spe­cial In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion re­leased a de­clas­si­fied but redacted re­port out­lin­ing the wan­ton abuses that oc­curred on Amer­ica’s watch.

A search of Pen­tagon records since 2001 yielded a spread­sheet with 9,704 rows of po­ten­tial in­ci­dents of child sex­ual as­sault by Afghan se­cu­rity forces. The doc­u­men­ta­tion in Pen­tagon files means com­man­ders were aware of such abuses but kept it se­cret.

They likely would have con­tin­ued tol­er­at­ing the rape of Afghan boys had The New York Times not ex­posed the prac­tice in a 2015 re­port. U.S. troops were quoted as hav­ing re­ported abuses to their su­pe­ri­ors, only to be told to mind their own busi­ness.

“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 Spe­cial Forces 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.”

Quinn beat up a U.S.-backed mili­tia com­man­der for keep­ing a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. Quinn lost his com­mand as a re­sult. Other U.S. ser­vice mem­bers suf­fered reper­cus­sions for speak­ing out.

U.S. law re­quires the de­fund­ing of for­eign mil­i­tary units known to en­gage in hu­man rights abuses. The law was ap­plied with sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess to root out abusers in the mil­i­tary forces of El Sal­vador and Colom­bia. The United States has waived the law’s ap­pli­ca­tion in Afghanistan, ar­gu­ing that it could weaken the ten­u­ous bat­tle against the Tal­iban.

But, to para­phrase Quinn, what’s the use of de­feat­ing the Tal­iban if it only serves to em­power an army of even worse abusers?

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