One of the most awful things Americans have been exposed to since 9/11 has been the Afghan practice of bacha bazi, which loosely translated means “boy play.” Tribal Afghan males commonly collect small boys to keep as sex slaves, and this atrocity has continued under the nose of the American occupiers of that country since our invasion in late 2001.
In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan,particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
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 the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.
“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 Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “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.”
The policy of instructing soldiers to ignore child sexual abuse by their Afghan allies is coming under new scrutiny, particularly as it emerges that service members like Captain Quinn have faced discipline, even career ruin, for disobeying it.
After the beating, the Army relieved Captain Quinn of his command and pulled him from Afghanistan. He has since left the military.
Four years later, the Army is also trying to forcibly retire Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, a Special Forces member who joined Captain Quinn in beating up the commander.
“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who hopes to save Sergeant Martland’s career, wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general.
What the “bacha bazi” story shows is the weakness and lack of will involved in America’s Afghan adventure. No occupying power in a place like Afghanistan, where the local customs go far beyond the point of barbaric and land well into the territory of raw evil, should have tolerated the systematic, cultural practice of sexual abuse of young boys. Ending the practice of bacha bazi, even if it required mass executions to do so, would have been a seminal reform in Afghan society and a great service to its cultural development – as well as a long step in transforming Afghanistan into the kind of country which wouldn’t require a return engagement by American forces.
Afghanistan isn’t Saskatchewan, and it isn’t Suffolk. It’s one of the worst places on earth for a reason; namely, that Afghani tribal culture is deficient in almost every way to that of the rest of the world. It is a mudhole even by the low standards of the Islamic world, which tolerates violence, slavery and sexual abuse of innocents as a matter of common practice.
And because it is a deficient, dysfunctional culture where raw evil like bacha bazi abounds practically in the open, to spend American dollars attempting to build a sustainable regime there without forcefully demanding a reform of that culture is flat-out mismanagement on a moral level. If you are not going to stamp out such an horrific practice among those you conquer, then you are wasting your time and resources being there at all.
This isn’t a critique merely of the Obama administration, though certainly Obama bears the shame for allowing this to happen. It’s clear that when Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush was in office and in charge of the effort in Afghanistan nothing was done. This is an issue of national will, not individual leadership from Bush or Obama.
And there is a standard to measure the failure to eliminate the Afghan pedophilia problem against. In 1844, British commander-in-chief in India Charles James Napier was confronted with the Hindu practice of Sati, or widow-burning. In ancient local practice, when a man died his widow was thrown onto his funeral pyre and burned to death with him. A horrified Napier was told by the locals this was a custom and had to be respected.
He was less than impressed, and his brilliantly English response was that of a confident, civilizing power willing to impose its superior values on the deficient culture it had conquered…
“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”
The British put an end to Sati during their time as the occupying power in India, and because they did they left the place better than they found it.
When we leave Afghanistan we will not have been able to say the same. The cultural footprint we will leave on that dusty country will be blown away within a matter of years, because an occupying power unwilling to put a stop to such a basic evil as bacha bazi has nothing to offer to those it occupies.