Afghanistan: Defending freedom to abuse

NATIONAL POST

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Police rape of Afghan boys ignored

DON MARTIN

National Post

In Ottawa

Canadian soldiers in the main guard tower at forward operating base Wilson last summer winced when I asked about the sudden lineup of teenage boys along the mud walls of the neighbouring Afghan market.

“Wait a few minutes. You’ll see,” said one, his lip curling. “It’s disgusting.”

Sure enough, a handful of uniformed Afghan police officers emerged from their rundown detachment, walked through the barricades and started chatting up the dozen or so teens, some looking decidedly pre-teen.

A few minutes after they returned, the selected kids were waved through the main gates and went straight inside the police station. An hour later, when I left the observation post, the boys were still inside.

This evening ritual is often derided by soldiers as manlove Thursdays.

Afghan officials insist the notion of men and boys getting together the night before the Muslim holy day for sex is a myth. And, sure, it’s theoretically possible the cops were merely good-deed-doers giving these teens reading lessons.

But Canadian soldiers insisted we had just witnessed the regular Thursday evening negotiation for sex between Afghan men and boys, apparently for gifts or money.

It raises the disquieting question of how much responsibility Canadian soldiers shoulder, being military guests and all, to stop Afghan activity that would result in rape or child prostitution charges back home.

It should be stressed that the activity at FOB Wilson does not mean Afghan police and army officers are engaged in an epidemic of juvenile sodomy.

But the issue was given fresh legs last week by a military chaplain named Jean Johns, who reported that soldiers under treatment for posttraumatic stress syndrome had been told to “ignore” any assaults or rapes on Afghan civilians they had seen.

The Toronto Star also reports a Canadian soldier overheard an Afghan soldier abusing a young boy in late 2006 and later saw the victim with signs of rape trauma, specifically protrusions of his bowels and lower intestine.

There’s not much doubt that while the Canadian military may jackboot the Taliban at will, soldiers have to tiptoe around Islamic justice that clashes with our version of the law and the consequences for breaking it.

If Canadian soldiers had intervened between Afghan police and boys clearly selling themselves for sex, for example, an important partnership would quickly sour.

Now that several years’ worth of Taliban prisoners have been freed during the Kandahar prison breakout, we arguably need what passes for an Afghan police force more than ever.

Still, Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the Commons he’d met with military leaders yesterday and insisted soldiers “report any allegation of unlawful activity they see.”

That’s easy for him to say, as Canadian soldiers rumble LAVs through marijuana crops or swaths of opium-producing poppies so vast, a single field would net Canadian law enforcement its annual seizure.

There’s not much even top military brass or diplomats can do to prevent marriages forced on pre-teen Afghan girls or women who have been raped from being charged with adultery for failing to convince male justice that the intercourse wasn’t consensual. Global pressure barely prevented an Afghan student from being executed for downloading a report on women’s rights from the Internet.

Yet Canadians have a right to question the sort of Afghan freedom our troops are being sacrificed to defend if police can molest young boys without fear of our intervention.

No wonder Canadian soldiers come home confiding that killing Taliban insurgents isn’t as stressful as knowing an innocent kid might be regularly raped by an Afghan cop inside a Canadian military base.

Man-boy homosexuality has flourished anew in the aftermath of Taliban zero-tolerance laws, albeit a selectively punished offence in that era. Warlords again parade cities with teenage boys known as an “ashna” by their side.

The strict social separation and severe consequences for premarital sex with women have given rise to the cultural wrinkle of men used for sexual recreation and women reserved for reproduction.

But that hardly makes it right when Afghan boys are police rape victims.

And it’s a wrong that Canadian soldiers should be encouraged to report so that Afghan officers being trained in law enforcement can be pressured to stop it themselves.

http://www.nationalpost.com/most_popular/story.html?id=592211

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