Shocking Child Sexual Abuse in Afghanistan Makes SFC Martland’s Removal from Military More Disturbing


Wesley Smith

February 4, 2016

4 min read

Human Rights



I read this article detailing the lurid sexual abuse of children in Afghanistan with much pain and shock.  It sheds disturbing light on Sergeant First Class (SFC) Charles Martland’s threatened removal from the military for intervening in a similar situation.

I witnessed (while living in the Middle East) the incongruity of the strict rules regarding women and sexual purity, in general, against the backdrop of tacitly (sometimes overtly) encouraging young men to have same sex sexual relations so as to keep themselves pure for eventual marriage as an adult male.

I personally witnessed young Muslim Soldiers getting into verbal and physical altercations with our American Servicemen when they would touch the Americans inappropriately or verbally solicit sex from them. My commander directed me to approach the Arab unit co-located with us and try to resolve this with their chaplain (Imam). His explanation was that this was no big deal. He further told me there was nothing in the Koran forbidding this. On the other hand, he said this behavior was much preferred to having a young man have sex with a woman outside of wedlock--- and "spoiling" the woman for her future husband. In other words, she would be damaged goods. Bottom line from the Imam: They looked the other way regarding this behavior.

However, this apparent Afghan/Pashtun practice regarding young boys goes way beyond this. In light of what I witnessed and related above, I can see the probable truth and validity of the reporter's story. The rationale sounds quite similar to what the Imam told me, while the particulars are different. Just today a former member of the US Air Force told me of several incidents while he was deployed to Afghanistan where a young boy was being sexually abused by Afghan men working for the US military.  He said he was, in fact, ordered by his superiors to take no action, that this was a local/cultural issue.

Soldiers have told others (off the record) that what the reporter recounted is in fact true and prevalent. They were told to not get involved in this cultural and perverse activity. In other words, to look the other way. General John Campbell, Commander Resolute Support Mission and Commander of all U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, is on record as saying service people have not been told this and there is no policy of "looking the other way." I wonder if at lower levels in the chain of command they are in fact being told to look the other way and let it go. I do not know. And if this is the case, perhaps the general is unaware – or not. 

General Campbell is also on record as saying the appropriate reaction by U.S. personnel is to report it to Afghan authorities. In that culture I doubt the willingness or ability of Afghan authorities to take any action. I suspect American Soldiers realize this as well. 

In light of this I completely understand SFC Martland's rage and reaction. The practice of the routine sexual violence against boys and young men, if combined with American Service Members being told to take no action, leads to much repressed anger and indignation by our men and women in uniform. I believe this repression can lead to guilt, psychological trauma and "acting out" as in the case of this Green Beret. It makes SFC Martland's case all the more complicated, compelling and troubling. 

I found the whole article most disturbing! I found the Airman’s story, with whom I spoke, equally troubling.  SFC Martland was put in a no win situation and is now being penalized for living the Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage.

The American people must speak out against the silence and in support of a hero like SFC Martland who is willing to stand up against evil.