Until 2017, the US mission in Afghanistan tracked human rights violations by security forces in the Central Asian country using an ad hoc system of Excel spreadsheets, which were liable to being lost or deleted, Task & Purpose has revealed.
The defense-centered publication Task & Purpose discovered the information in training slides for the new Resolute Support Incidents of Gross Violations of Human Rights Tracking System (RIGHTS) through a Freedom of Information Act request. The slide in question dates to January 22, 2019.
An image of the slide reads as follows:
“Issue: There is a lack of tracking compatibility among GVHR stakeholders,” it says, noting that “EF3 Mol and MoD TAA, LEGAD, CAACAD, and GENAD (gender) each use their own trackers that do not interface well” and “these trackers are typically excel spreadsheets that are subject to version issues, being lost or misplaced during advisor handover, or being deleted.”
“Solution: EF3 has developed a common, web-based database for all Human Rights cases and allegations. This will allow stakeholders access to each other’s information and ensure that information is preserved and freely available for use.”
Hopefully that doesn’t just mean Google Sheets.
The 1997 Leahy Law prohibits the US military from offering military assistance to allies credibly accused of gross human rights violations and requires the Pentagon to record and report any such violations, Task & Purpose noted.
A November 2017 report by the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General titled “Implementation of the DoD Leahy Law Regarding Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse by Members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces” detailed the change in reporting procedures now known to be provoked by the use of Excel spreadsheets but didn’t mention how they had previously been tracked.
The number isn’t small, either. A June 2017 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) noted that “as of August 12, 2016, the office was tracking 75 reported gross violation of human rights incidents… These incidents ranged from 2010 through 2016 and included gross violations of human rights allegedly committed by Afghan security forces within the MOD and MOI.”
SIGAR notes that despite the reports, the Pentagon cited the DoD Appropriations Act’s notwithstanding clause “to continue providing ASFF-funded assistance to 12 Afghan security force units implicated in 14 gross violation of human rights incidents in 2013,” noting that none of those incidents involved child sexual assault.
In particular, this refers to bacha bazi, or “boy play,” a type of pederasty practiced in some Central Asian cultures in which boys are used by powerful men as sex slaves. They are often kept as part of a larger retinue of servants euphemistically called “tea boys,” and sometimes are pimped out by their owners to paying customers.
However, SIGAR didn’t believe the 75 incidents “represent all child sexual assault and other gross violation of human rights incidents in Afghanistan,” noting that “individuals and organizations with knowledge of child sexual assault incidents often lack specific details or are reluctant to share information with the US government” and that US personnel who “reported hearing or seeing possible instance of child sexual assault” often lacked “explicit guidance on reporting the information to their commands.”
But what if US soldiers were discouraged from reporting such incidents? The father of one fallen US Marine told the New York Times in 2015 that his son told him about regularly hearing Afghan officials sexually assaulting boys, but that “his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
The Taliban banned the practice during its brief reign of power, but under the US reconstruction effort the practice has returned, leading US Special Forces Captain Dan Quinn to quip to the Times, “The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights, but we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”
The Times also describes an incident in which a group of US officers, including Quinn, beat up their commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave.
US Army Col. Brian Tribus, the spokesperson for the US command in Afghanistan at the time, told the Times, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law,” adding that “there would be no express requirement that US military personnel in Afghanistan report it,” but also noting that rape being used as a weapon of war would be an exception to that rule.
Still, the IG report “did not identify official guidance that discouraged DoD-affiliated personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse.”
However, “In some cases, personnel we interviewed explained that they, or someone whom they knew, were told informally that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation — that it was not a priority issue for the command, or that it was best to let the local police handle it,” the report said.
This isn’t the only place where the US-led reconstruction of Afghanistan, which has been ongoing since it invaded the country in October 2001, has continually fallen short of its stated goals. Last November, Sputnik reportedthat SIGAR blasted Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center as being itself corrupt.
SIGAR said Afghan Attorney General Mohammad Farid Hamidi’s “performance is deficient, his accomplishments are lacking, and he fails to cooperate with the US Embassy on anti-corruption matters” because he was concerned that “more transparency will shine a light on his unproductive, corrupt and patronage-laden office.”
Another SIGAR report from last April described how poor accounting and reporting, as well as corruption, had left at least $154.4 million in fuel meant for US soldiers in the country unaccounted for. The report details several instances in which US troops stole the fuel and sold it or conspired to let it be stolen by rebel forces, including the Taliban.Colombia: Water cannons and tear gas deployed at campus protest