AT&T’s CNN recently ran a story called “Afghan girls for sale” about a nine-year-old Afghan girl sold in “marriage” to a 55-year-old Afghan male. The segment is obviously highly disturbing and gut-wrenching.
Corporate-owned CNN’s stories appear to be highlighting human rights abuses of women and girls in Afghanistan in an implicit criticism of the U.S. withdrawal. A BBC journalist, Sobada Haidare, made CNN’s implicit message explicit: “I pray the people who brought this day to Afghanistan never sleep in peace,” she wrote. President Trump’s former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert retweeted Haidare’s tweet, which was then retweeted by pro-war Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming.
There’s nothing wrong with highlighting a tragedy, and America should act with foreign governments to stop the abuse of children. Thus, the following is explicitly not a criticism of persons like Nauert, who are simply raising awareness about a problematic issue. Child marriage is all too common in the Islamic world, and to the extent America has leverage over foreign governments we should make ending this practice a priority.
Yet what is extremely dishonest is the implication — stated explicitly by Haidare and surely implied by others, including Cheney and CNN — that child marriage like this, and child abuse generally, wasn’t widespread during America’s two-decade occupation of Afghanistan.
The Big Lie about Human Rights in Afghanistan
Not only did child marriage of girls occur during the U.S. occupation — where laws passed to garner foreign approval were not enforced on the ground — but U.S. “allies” practiced widespread abuse of young boys.
Afghanistan’s awful tradition of bacha bazi or “boy play” — the sexual abuse of young boys by powerful men — has not received sufficient attention. A significant reason the Taliban came to power in the 1990s, with public support, was their fight against bacha bazi and the warlords who practiced it. Under the Taliban, bacha bazi was punishable by death. Yet bacha bazi returned with the U.S.-backed government.
In the words of a U.K. human rights group: “Whilst the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by the US improved the prospects of certain oppressed groups in Afghanistan, for example women, it actually increased the prevalence of bacha bazi. The Taliban’s harsh punishments for those accused of participating in the practice were no longer enforced due to the vacuum of power left by the war.”
But we would go farther. The abuses were concentrated among the warlords and police forces, who were empowered by America and fought alongside American soldiers. A heartbreaking PBS documentary from 2010 shows widespread bacha bazi in the police forces and among local warlords. The problem is not isolated, although it was more openly practiced by powerful men in the countryside.
Boys were kidnapped from their families in broad daylight. Parents were often powerless to fight back because the kidnappers were the police or had the backing of the police. An excerpt from one account of a man whose son was kidnapped reads: “Sardarwali was desperate to reach out to his son, to hold him — but did not dare approach the bevy of policemen that surrounded him.”
America’s Leaders Failed These Children
America’s leaders hardly lifted a finger, and excused the abuses as “their culture.” Idiots, fools, and worse in our government and military leadership justified ignoring the problem by judging the child-abusing warlords and police as the “lesser of two evils” in the fight against the Taliban. So American soldiers were ordered not to intervene.
The scandal made news in 2015, after an American soldier, Gregory Buckley Jr., was killed when a group of abused boys grabbed guns and shot up a base. Weeks before Buckley lost his life, he told his father: “At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it.” Another U.S. soldier, Dan Quinn, was fired after he had a fight with a U.S.-backed militia leader because the warlord had a boy chained to his bed.
In response, Congress passed a bipartisan law sponsored by Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont that was intended to stop funding Afghan military and police who abused young boys. The Pentagon didn’t enforce the law, because doing so would likely have meant cutting funding for most if not all warlords and Afghan military units, especially in areas where competition with the Taliban was heavy.
Congress called for an independent report, but the Pentagon stonewalled that and did their own, glossed-over report, much of which is classified. The problem was never fixed. Only in the final years of the corrupt Afghan government did they make bacha bazi illegal (though enforcement was still likely nonexistent).
Let all this sink in and disgust you to high heaven. Washington fought a war in the name of human rights, yet many of our allies were serial child rapists.
This is about Our Morally Corrupt Elite
But America did spend $800 million on gender equality and gender studies programs in Afghanistan, attempting to “remake Afghanistan in Harvard’s image.” All this was politically motivated. Secret documents show the CIA recommended pushing the “feminism” angle to reduce opposition to the war in the West. Actual Afghan women quickly soured on America’s occupation, as the U.S. empowered brutal warlords in the countryside no better than the Taliban, and drones and bombs accidentally and routinely killed civilians.
The reality is that America never had the broad support of the Afghan people, especially outside of major cities. The distinguished economist Daron Acemoglu notes that “[f]rom the very beginning, the Afghan population perceived the US presence as a foreign operation intended to weaken their society. That was not a bargain they wanted.”
Popular support for the Taliban, or at least indifference to an American-imposed regime, was prevalent in much of Afghanistan. Several reasons help to explain this; among them is the Taliban’s religiously based condemnation of “bacha bazi.”
America’s morally debased elite was willing to spend $800 million to try to fix Afghanistan’s backwards view of women, but didn’t lift a finger against the mass abuse of young boys. America’s complicity in bacha bazi is one of the greatest scandals of the past 20 years and nobody talks about it. Even much of conservative media was silent at the time.
The moral rot among our Afghan allies was financial as well as sexual. The Afghan military and police — aside from being filled with child abusers — was also completely corrupt. So was the American-backed government in Kabul. The Obama administration (and probably the Bush administration) purposefully allowed this corruption because the actors were our allies against the Taliban. America flooded the country with money, and billions of dollars to American contractors was siphoned off by corrupt Afghans.
Is it any wonder, then, that America and its local Afghan allies didn’t have the support of the Afghan people? It turns out that the Afghan people don’t want their boys kidnapped and used for sex slaves, don’t like brutal warlords, and detest massive official corruption. No wonder America’s Afghan army evaporated so quickly. The people didn’t support it.
While the Taliban returning to power should make bacha bazi less prominent, other abuses will remain and worsen. This is a sad reality of America’s failed involvement in Afghanistan.
Republicans Failed You
While all this is going on, Republican politicians are completely out of step with their base. Eighty-one percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 wanted troops out of Afghanistan. But today fewer than one dozen GOP senators out of 50 opposed withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan — a massive disconnect.
Both Republican leaders in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, opposed America withdrawing and apparently wanted U.S. troops to stay permanently. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is already calling for our troops to return. This disconnect exists while most Americans and Republican voters are unaware of the even uglier sides of Afghanistan, like bacha bazi and massive political corruption.
To add insult to injury, many Republican politicians now support welcoming masses of Afghan refugees — again against the express wishes of their base. Is the Republican base racist, or just smart to recognize that many of the refugees — especially single men — have completely backwards views of women and children, as is highlighted by the CNN report?
Many of these refugees are families and deserve entry. But many, especially single men who supposedly fought alongside us, are the same persons who failed to competently fight in Afghanistan and practiced bacha bazi.
Sure enough, concerns are emerging of refugees and child trafficking, and terrorists slipping through due to improper and slapdash vetting. In just one example, a man convicted of rape in America and deported was allowed back into the United States on one of the evacuation flights. How many more are predators who have committed past crimes in Afghanistan that would not provide a red flag for authorities?
Meanwhile, militarist Republican senators are working with Democrats to draft your daughters. How angry would voters be if they knew the truth?