"They're guilty by association": American armed forces "look the other way" as Afghan soldiers rape children

Horrifying New York Times reports alleges the U.S. military has punished officers who spoke out against the abuse

Sophia Tesfaye
September 22, 2015 12:51AM (UTC)

A new New York Times report reveals that court records and interviews show U.S. soldiers have been instructed to ignore the sexual abuse of boys by military allies in Afghanistan, including instances that occur on American bases and that shockingly, at least one American soldier has been kicked out of the military for coming to the defense of an abused young Afghan boy. 

The common practice of Afghan boys being used as sex slaves by military commanders known as bacha bazi, whose literal translation means "boy play," is an illegal but longstanding practice in Afghanistan and according to some reports, the more-than-300-year old-tradition is not relegated to only the most rural parts of the country, but has infected the Afghan military. As the Times explains, "boys as young as 9 are dressed as girls and trained to dance for male audiences, then prostituted in an auction to the highest bidder. Many powerful men, particularly commanders in the military and the police, keep such boys, often dressed in uniforms, as constant companions for sexual purposes."


Often, these street orphans or boys bought from poor families in the countryside, are paraded at parties popular among wealthy or well-connected men, including at least one former governor of Kandahar Province, and then brought onto U.S. military bases. The Times spoke with one former Marine lance corporal who "recalled feeling sickened the day he entered a room on a base and saw three or four men lying on the floor with children between them."

Another American-backed militia commander, said former Special Forces Captain Dan Quinn, kept a young boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. When Quinn's confrontation of the abusing Afghan turned physical, Quinn says he was relieved of his command by the U.S. Army and pulled out of Afghanistan entirely. Now the Army, four years later, is trying to forcibly retire an 11-year Special Forces member who aided Captain Quinn:

One day in early September 2011 at their remote outpost, a young Afghan boy and his Afghan-Uzbek mother showed up at camp. The 12-year-old showed the Green Berets where his hands had been tied. A medic took him to a back room for an examination with an interpreter, who told them the boy had been raped by another commander by the name of Abdul Rahman.

After learning of the meeting, Rahman allegedly beat the boy's mother for reporting the crime. It was at this point, the Green Berets had had enough. Quinn and Martland went to confront Rahman.

"He confessed to the crime and laughed about it, and said it wasn't a big deal. Even when we patiently explained how serious the charge was, he kept laughing," Quinn said.

According to reports of the incident, Quinn and Martland shoved Abdul Rahman to the ground. It was the only way to get their point across, according to Quinn. "As a man, as a father of a young boy myself at the time, I felt obliged to step in to prevent further repeat occurrences," Quinn said.

Rahman walked away bruised from getting shoved and thrown to the ground, but otherwise okay, according to teammates. But Rahman quickly reported the incident to another Army unit in a nearby village. The next day a U.S. Army helicopter landed and took Quinn and Martland away, ending their work in Kunduz Province.

The Times report also accounts a time when an Afghan military commander raped a 14-year old girl abducted while working in the fields, only to be sentenced to one day in jail after U.S. soldiers reported his crime. The raped girl was forced to marry her abuser. Another commander, reports the Times, murdered his 12-year-old daughter in a so-called honor killing for having kissed a boy.


Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr.'s father believes his son was murdered by a young Afghan boy kept as a sex slave by an Afghan military commander on a U.S. military base. “At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” Gregory Buckley Sr. recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death by a 17-year old who was forced to sleep in U.S. military barracks with a prominent Afghan police commander in 2012.

“My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture,” Buckley told the Times. “As far as the young boys are concerned, the Marines are allowing it to happen and so they’re guilty by association,” Buckley explained. “They don’t know our Marines are sick to their stomachs.”

Spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus explained to the Times that “generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law.” In 2011, Afghanistan signed a UN resolution banning the ancient practice that had previously been outlawed under Taliban rule. “There would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it,” Tribus explained.


Lance Corporal Buckley’s father has now sued the Marine Corps for more information on the event.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia TesfayeFOLLOW @SophiaTesfaye

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Afghanistan Afghanistan War American Military Child Rape Military New York Times Sexual Assualt

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