by James Bovard
Americans are rightly outraged over revelations that Congress spent $17 million since 1997 to pay off and muzzle victims of congressional sexual misconduct and other abuses. But the U.S. government has spent vastly more effectively bankrolling far more worse sexual atrocities in Afghanistan — in brazen violation of U.S. law.
Since 2002, the U.S. has spent more than $70 billion financing Afghan security forces, including the Afghan military and police. A law sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) prohibits the Pentagon from bankrolling any foreign military units if there is “credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
The Pentagon ignored the abuse until a 2015 New York Times expose of American soldiers who were punished for protesting atrocities against young boys. The Times reported that U.S. troops were confounded 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.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to the Times’ bombshell:
“The United States is deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of Afghan boys who may be exploited by members of the Afghan national security and defense forces. … Protecting human rights, including by countering the exploitation of children, is a high priority for the U.S. government.”
After the Times’ report, 93 members of Congress requested that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) investigate the problem. SIGAR finished and submitted its report early this year. In a brief section in its July 31 quarterly report, SIGAR noted, “Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation … of children by Afghan security forces. The Washington Post reported on November 26 that the Pentagon is blocking the release of the SIGAR report, instead releasing “its own report offering a far less authoritative review” of the abuses.
The Pentagon Inspector General report, released on November 16, revealed that some U.S. troops were “told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it.” Eleven allegations of child sexual abuse were reported to the Afghan government but the IG refused to disclose if anything happened to the perpetrators. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said the Pentagon’s secrecy “looks like an attempt to evade public accountability for criminal acts.”
Regardless, the acting undersecretary of Defense for policy Robert Karam effectively claimed that the IG report vindicated the Pentagon because it “did not identify official guidance that discouraged DoD-affiliated personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse.”
The suppressed SIGAR report “paints a much fuller picture” of the ongoing abuses, according to SIGAR chief John Sopko. SIGAR has done superb work exposing the failures and follies of U.S. operations in Afghanistan since 2008. SIGAR relies on clear English without the toxic fog of bureaucratese that blights most Washington reports. But the Trump Pentagon is seeking to sweep this SIGAR bombshell under a rug, muzzling SIGAR in a way that the Obama administration failed to achieve.
Americans would never tolerate federal funds paying for a notorious child rape regime in Cincinnati or Omaha. But your tax dollars are underwriting similar sordid abuses in Kandahar and Kabul. Doctors, teachers, and social workers can be jailed for failing to report child abuse here at home. But, six thousand miles away, U.S. troops risk their career for protesting pederasty.
In his August speech announcing more troops for Afghanistan, President Donald Trump declared that “we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live.” But, similarly, Trump has no right to force Americans to pay taxes for activities that shock their conscience.
Americans often presume that our foreign policy is on moral automatic pilot and that good things happen wherever the U.S. intervenes. But piety too easily obscures atrocities. If the U.S. military cannot refrain from bankrolling child rape, then the U.S. should not be in Afghanistan.
Bacha bazi is not the only barbaric Afghan practice countenanced by the U.S. government. In 2009, the U.S.-appointed president, Hamid Karzai, approved a law entitling husbands to starve their wives to death if they denied them sex. That edict is so appalling that it would be rejected even by Alabama voters but it did not deter President Barack Obama from boasting about the U.S. bringing “democracy” to Afghanistan.
Congress should reveal the payoffs to the purported victims of its own sexual harassment. But even more important, Congress must compel the release of the SIGAR report on the extent of U.S.-funded child sexual abuse and force an end to U.S. complicity in this barbarity. Otherwise, the U.S. government may be party to what is surely one of the biggest child sex scandal cover-ups in modern times.