Afghanistan — “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 shortly before he was shot to death on base in southern Afghanistan in 2012.
Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. was distressed about the ongoing sexual abuse by Afghan police of boys brought back to base.
“My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture”
Once again, organized sexual abuse of children has returned to Afghanistan as an acceptable and even expected practice; and the problem is so pervasive it has a name — bacha bazi — literal translation: “boy play.”
Bacha bazi is an ancient practice where powerful and wealthy businessmen and military commanders exploit orphans and boys they ‘purchase’ from village families whom they train to dress in women’s clothes to sing and dance — and become their sexual slaves — for personal entertainment. And Marines and other U.S. troops are not permitted to stop the abuse or say anything about it — even when it occurs inside a military base.
According to the New York Times, “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 commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.”
Looking the other way is ostensibly customary, and going against the grain by speaking out or otherwise has consequences — as former Special Forces Captain Dan Quinn explained.
“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 Quinn. “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 was relieved of duty and removed from Afghanistan after he beat up a U.S.-backed militia commander who kept a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave.
“I picked him up and threw him on the ground,” he asserted.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland now faces forced retirement for the same incident. California Representative Duncan Hunter wrote the Pentagon’s inspector general:
“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense).”
Nonintervention as de facto policy has facilitated relations between U.S. personnel and Afghan police and militia units it employs to counter the Taliban. Any move against bacha bazi has potential cultural implications as well, since the longstanding practice occurs amongst such powerful men. But this nonintervention comes with the consequence of alienating those villages from which the boys are taken.
Martland and Quinn began receiving numerous complaints about the Afghan Local Police units they were training — including the rape of a 14-year-old girl by a commander, whose ostensible only punishment for the crime was being forced to marry his young victim. One commander stole his troops’ wages to spend on dancing boys while another murdered his daughter for kissing a boy under the guise of preserving her honor.
Buckley and two other Marines were killed in 2012 after a boy who’d been staying on base with infamous Afghan commander, Sarwar Jan, shot them with a rifle.
“As far as the young boys are concerned, the Marines are allowing it to happen and so they’re guilty by association,”said the senior Buckley. “They don’t know our Marines are sick to their stomachs.”
Despite renewed pressure to curb bacha bazi, the cultural differences make the issue a sensitive one to address. As United Nations undersecretary Radhika Coomaraswamy said in a 2009 interview with Frontline:
“The only way to stop bacha bazi is if you prosecute the people who commit the crime, and that’s what we need, because the laws are there in the books against this practice.”
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