U.S. soldiers who speak up about the sexual abuse of children in Afghanistan risk losing their careers

Policeman Afghanistan
(Image credit: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Intervening in the sexual abuse of children is a punishable offense for U.S. soldiers and Marines working in Afghanistan, even when the abusers are American allies, The New York Times reports. The practice of sexual abuse, called bacha bazi, or "boy play," has upset many U.S. soldiers based in Afghanistan, though they are told "to look the other way because it's their culture" in response to concerns and complaints.

The American policy of nonintervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflects a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status.Some soldiers believed that the policy made sense, even if they were personally distressed at the sexual predation they witnessed or heard about."The bigger picture was fighting the Taliban," a former Marine lance corporal reflected. "It wasn't to stop molestation." [The New York Times]

"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," a former Special Forces captain, Dan Quinn, 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."

Captain Quinn assaulted a U.S.-backed commander who kept a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. As a result, Quinn was relieved of his command and pulled from Afghanistan. He has since left the military. Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, who assisted Captain Quinn in beating up the alleged child abuser, is now resisting being kicked out of the army. "The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way," California Representative Duncan Hunter, who is working to save Sgt. Martland's career, told the Times.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.