U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, is introducing federal legislation that would require the U.S. military to do more to stop rape.
The Mandating America’s Responsibility to Limit Abuse, Negligence and Depravity Act aims “to establish a policy against sexual abuse on all United States military installations, whether located in the United States or overseas.”
The bill is also known as the ‘‘Martland Act” after Charles Martland, a sergeant 1st class in the U.S. Army Special Forces who faces discharge for physically attacking an Afghan cop Martland suspected of sexually abusing children.
Martland has fought to stay on active duty. A decision on the Green Beret’s fate was due this month, but the Army has postponed the decision to May 1. It’s the third time the military has delayed a verdict in Martland’s case.
The Martland scandal has shined a light on the Pentagon’s rape hypocrisy. The U.S. military is aggressively trying to root out sexual abuse within its own ranks. But overseas, commanders allegedly told American troops to look the other way when U.S.-trained Afghan forces engaged in their own sexual misconduct.
The Martland Act cites the Pentagon’s own previously established policies, specifically Department of Defense Instruction 2200.01, which calls on U.S. troops to “oppose prostitution, forced labor and any related activities contributing to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons (TIP).”
“TIP is a violation of U.S. law and internationally recognized human rights,” the instruction continues.
Around the same time that Duncan drafted the Martland Act, the military held a symposium in Italy entitled “Responding to Gender-Based Violence During Peace Operations.” The event brought together American, African and European troops to discuss the problem of rape by U.N. peacekeepers. The U.S. government is the largest financial backer of U.N. peace missions, and American officials have frequently expressed concern over allegations of sexual violence implicating peacekeepers.
“We have to candidly acknowledge that abuse by peacekeepers has to end,” Pres. Barack Obama said during the 2015 U.N. Peacekeeping Summit. “The overwhelming number of peacekeepers serve with honor and decency in extraordinarily difficult situations. But we have seen some appalling cases of peacekeepers abusing civilians — including rape and sexual assault — and that is totally unacceptable. It’s an affront to human decency.”
American troops have long been on the forefront of American efforts to curb rape in African war zones. U.S. Africa Command has sponsored several initiatives boosting human rights training for African militaries.
U.S. forces deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as advisers also made efforts to combat the Congolese military’s rape culture. Green Berets have worked closely with Congolese troops in the manhunt for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed group notorious for using rape as a weapon.
Though the final decision on Martland’s case has been postponed yet again, it’s seeming increasingly unlikely the Army will discharge him. Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have expressed support for the Green Beret.
Hunter’s bill states that “members of the United States Army and Marine Corps serving in Afghanistan were advised to respect cultural and religious practices of Afghans and told that sexual abuse perpetrated by local allies was a matter of Afghan law.”
Rape is indeed a crime under Afghan law. But there is subculture in the country known to practice bacha bazi — or “boy play.” Typically associated with powerful or wealthy men, the practice was banned under the Taliban. Today, despite it still being a crime, boy play gets a pass with many Afghan police. Some cops even get in on the action.
In some cases these acts occurred on U.S. military installations with the apparent knowledge of American commanders. The Pentagon has launched an investigation of bacha bazi on U.S. bases, partly as a response to the controversy surrounding Martland’s case.
Some U.S. commanders publicly defended the decision to discipline the Green Beret, arguing that it wasn’t his place to “impose” American morals on Afghans. But last year anthropologist Thomas Barfield told War Is Boring that while bacha bazi certainly exists, it isn’t a “cultural norm.” Barfield argued that the practice actually disgusts most Afghans.
The anthropologist insisted that many Afghans would side with Martland in confronting the offending policeman. Quinn and Martland have both said their actions were meant to show the local people that the Green Berets had a sense of honor.
It’s less clear that top U.S. military officials are equally honorable. But Hunter’s bill could compel them to at least pretend to be so.