The news out of Afghanistan was brutal last week, as is too often the case. At week’s end, a Taliban suicide bomber driving an ambulance in Kabul killed at least 95 (a figure bound to climb) and injured another 158 or so persons.
One wonders just how much pain a population can endure before it utterly falls apart. And also, just how fortunate we who live in a nation such as ours -- despite all it's political pains, mass shootings and occasional terror attacks -- truly are.
Despite more than 16 years of American military involvement in Afghanistan -- our longest foreign conflict ever -- elite news operations continue to devote a great deal of coverage to Afghanistan. That’s as it should be, even more so given that President Donald Trump has upped our current involvement there, which is also sure to lengthen our stay for years to come.
Earlier last week, another story concerning Afghanistan broke in The New York Times that, I believe, was just as horrific, in its own way, as the Kabul bombing. This one, however, received far less elite media attention -- even as it underscored the extraordinary cultural compromises associated with America’s involvement in Afghanistan, a land as different from our own as to seem at times situated on another planet.
The story, a Times exclusive, ran below the following headline: “Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report Says.”
Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it is. Here’s how it begins:
On 5,753 occasions from 2010 to 2016, the United States military asked to review Afghan military units to see if there were any instances of “gross human rights abuses.” If there were, American law required military aid to be cut off to the offending unit.
Not once did that happen.
That was among the findings in an investigation into child sexual abuse by the Afghan security forces and the supposed indifference of the American military to the problem, according to a report released on Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, known as Sigar.
The report, commissioned under the Obama administration, was considered so explosive that it was originally marked “Secret/ No Foreign,” with the recommendation that it remain classified until June 9, 2042. The report was finished in June 2017, but it appears to have included data only through 2016, before the Trump administration took office.
The report released on Monday was heavily redacted, and at least in the public portions it did little to answer questions about how prevalent child sexual abuse was in the Afghan military and police, and how commonly the American military looked the other way at the widespread practice of bacha bazi, or “boy play,” in which some Afghan commanders keep underage boys as sex slaves.
“Although DOD and State have taken steps to identify and investigate child sexual assault incidents, the full extent of these incidences may never be known,” the report said, referring to the departments of Defense and State.
That’s heavy-duty material.
I suggest you read the full story to understand the length to which our nation has morally and literally looked the other way so as to be able to combat one -- and just one, mind you -- form of anti-Western Islamic fanaticism.
It's not that other news media haven't covered the "bacha bazi" phenomenon over the years. It's just too striking a deviation from Western moral and sexual norms for newsrooms to ignore -- not to mention its salacious shock value -- and so it's been looked at by numerous outlets across the media’s political spectrum.
Here’s just one such take, done by PBS’s “Frontline.”
Still, no outlet, as far as I can tell, has covered the issue, particularly from the perspective of successive American governments’ willingness to refrain from forcefully confronting Afghan leaders over bacha bazi, as has the Times.
For that the newspaper is to be cheered. But here’s an aspect of the Times latest story that I find confounding.
If you haven’t read it yet -- and here’s the link, again -- please do so now, and note what’s missing from it.
If so you probably noticed that the story makes no moral judgements about the practice of keeping boys as sex slaves. The only wrongdoing alleged is that the U.S. is not following its own legal protocols and is still funding Afghan military units In which members engage in the practice.
That makes sense, on the one hand. This isn't an introductory story on bacha bazi in which it's appropriate to quote “experts” on the subject who might explain the damage the sex slaves suffer and the general brutality of the practice and it's history in Afghan society.
Instead, to repeat, it’s a piece about Washington not following its own professed policy.
And yet, it strikes my Western sensibilities as such a morally degraded practice that I find it unsettling that the Times couldn't manage to squeeze a graph or two into the piece that puts the legal question into some sort of moral and cultural context.
Why is the U.S. legally enjoined from financially supporting Afghan military units in which this occurs if we don't find it abhorrent for some reason?
What do you think? Please let me know in the comments section below.
But first one more thing.
We’re always reading about how opposed to homosexual behavior normative Islam is said to be. Yet, here we have, in one of the world’s most conservative Muslim nations, an example of an historically accepted homosexual or bisexual behavior.
That strikes me as a classic example of how religious doctrine can be rationalized away when it collides with the complexity of human sexuality or a desire to justify cultural practices. And it ain't just a Muslim thing.
But that’s the stuff of another post.
FIRST IMAGE: Photo made public by a U.S. Marine.