The New York Times Monday ran a shocking story about the U.S. military condoning child sexual abuse among Afghan security personnel. According to the report, U.S. military officers were told by their superiors to ignore acts of alleged child rape and molestation committed by Afghan police officials, sometimes on U.S. military bases.
Adding insult to injury, a Department of Defense spokesperson, Captain Jeff Davis responded to the report that the problem was “fundamentally an Afghan law enforcement matter.”
That may indeed be legally correct, but it also ignores the Leahy Amendment; legislation which prohibits U.S. aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights.
Over the last 13 years, the U.S. has provided about $100 billion aid to Afghanistan, of which about 60 percent has been to equip and train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). From both a moral and legal standpoint, the U.S. must ensure its assistance is not going to individuals or groups involved in committing human rights abuses, especially against minors.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., author of the 1997 law, brought this to attention today in a statement in which he noted that “the Department of Defense has a responsibility to vigorously apply the law, including encouraging U.S. personnel who witness such abuse to immediately report it.”
According to the New York Times article, U.S. military personnel who did report suspected child abuse to Afghan commanders and their own chain of command were told by the latter that “nothing else could be done.”
That may be true as far as potential criminal liability goes for child molestation in Afghanistan, a country where such activity may be commonplace. But the Leahy Amendment dictates that the U.S. cannot ignore child rape.
Heritage has long called on the U.S. to remain engaged in Afghanistan, to keep a robust residual U.S. force presence as long as necessary, and to continue to support the Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. But this engagement must reflect American values and work to curb human rights abuses in the country, even (and perhaps most especially) when they are committed by those receiving U.S. assistance.
Unless we stand by U.S. principles and values and condition our aid on respect for human rights (in this case of young Afghan boys), the U.S. will lose credibility with the Afghan people and the overall mission to keep the Taliban at bay will become fruitless.
The Department of Defense must correct the record by acknowledging this issue is not strictly one for Afghan domestic law. The U.S., by statute, is compelled to condition its assistance to foreign military forces on them upholding basic human rights.
It should go without saying that the U.S. soldier who stands up for the human rights of average Afghans and reports such abuses should be rewarded, not punished, by military leaders and our own government.
Lisa Curtis analyzes America’s economic, security and political relationships with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other nations of South Asia as a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Read her research.