An investigation by the New York Times revealed that it was U.S. policy for soldiers to ignore the sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan officials. After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the United States organized a coalition of Afghan militias to fight against the Taliban. The Taliban had instituted strict punishments for men found to be practicing “bacha bazi,” a Perisan word meaning boy-play. When the Taliban were ousted, many U.S.-backed militia, commanders and Afghan officials revived the practice.
To find out more about this situation I spoke with Dr. John Westerman, a professor at Portland State who spent months working in Afghanistan for Mercy Corps, an American aid agency that focuses on community development. He recalled boarding a plane in December 2002 and seeing the then-governor of Kandahar province traveling with a young boy.
“I was really hoping the boy was a relative,” Westerman said, “but it seemed pretty clear what was going on. Everyone knew, but no one could prove it—we were powerless to stop it.”
The spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, Colonel Brian Tribus, wrote a statement saying that “allegations of child sexual abuse…would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law.” Unless rape is used as a weapon of war.
As the Pentagon would like to pretend that the abuse is strictly an Afghan problem, in 2012, three marines were killed on their base by an Afghan police commander’s sex slave, according to the Washington Times. As stated by the New York Times, Two years earlier the very same Afghan police commander, Sarwar Jan, had been arrested on charges of corruption, supporting the Taliban and child abduction; however, as of September 2015, the Afghan police commander had been promoted to a higher position in the same province.
Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain, said that the U.S. was “putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did—that was something village elders voiced to me.” Quinn was relieved of his command and pulled from Afghanistan after battering an Afghan police commander for “keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave.”
While the Afghan local police and Afghan national army are notorious for corruption, there is a clear line between embezzlement and sadism. There are many examples of abducted young boys being killed while trying to escape their captors. A prime example of this is in the documentary This Is What Winning Looks Like by Ben Anderson, where he talks about witnessing a boy being shot to death in the middle of a local Afghan police station.
It’s important to remember that the people carrying out these atrocities are U.S. allies entrusted with the security of the Afghan people. U.S. military and financial support of kidnappers and child molesters only further alienates the Afghan population living under their rule. This issue is sure to persist as President Barack Obama recently announced that larger numbers of U.S. forces will be staying in Afghanistan through the end of his term in 2017, longer than previously projected for the troop withdrawal timeline.
“It feels like we’ve broken things and we feel a responsibility to fix it, but I’m not sure that there is any way to do such a thing,” Westerman said when speaking about the continued American military presence in Afghanistan. “Had we not gone [into Afghanistan], it would have been brutally conservative, but potentially more peaceful.”
As educated, globally-conscious students, we must demand accountability from the U.S. government when justice is substituted for expediency. This situation is not the fault of the brave U.S. soldiers fighting against the Taliban, but is due to policies instituted by a Pentagon desperate to find allies against the Taliban. Cultural relativism is no excuse for the sexual abuse of children, and if the U.S. wants to protect and win over the Afghan people, then maybe the U.S. should stop appointing pedophiles to positions of power.
For an informative video on the Afghan war, government corruption and commentary from Ben Anderson, winner of the Foreign Press Award, please click through to this video.