The so-called tradition known as “Bacha bazi” — banned under the Taliban, but now making a big comeback in Afghanistan — involves forcing small boys dressed in women’s clothing to dance in front of howling men. After the dancing, the boys are auctioned off to the highest bidder for rape. The U.S. State Department recently referred to the practice as a "widespread, culturally sanctioned form of male rape."
According to human-rights organizations and various media reports, DynCorp hosted just such an event for new Afghan police officers at a party. The D.C.-based company did confirm that an underage dancing boy was hired to perform for the recruits, but it claimed reports of child rape and illegal drug use were false. However, a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks does suggest that drugs were indeed involved. It refers to the "Kunduz [dancing boys] incident, and other events where mentors had obtained drugs" which "could not have happened without Afghan participation."
A company investigation into the matter revealed “the leadership of the team exhibited poor judgment,” a DynCorp executive said. The employees responsible for whatever did happen were fired. And new ethics-training policies were also adopted, DynCorp said.
But the firm refused to take responsibility for the party. “No company can guarantee that their employees will behave perfectly at all times, under all conditions," a DynCorp statement said. "What we can guarantee is that we will clearly define expectations, train our employees according to those expectations, and hold people accountable for their behaviors."
The company also claimed in its response to a Houston-area journalist’s article entitled "Texas Company Helped Pimp Little Boys to Stoned Afghan Cops" that the “traditional Afghan dance” featuring the young boy was halted because it was “culturally “insensitive” — not because it was a prelude to child prostitution and rape.
But an organization known as Human Trafficking, part of Change.org, is not buying the denials of child rape. One of its writers reported that U.S. tax dollars were indeed used to finance the dancing boys and their subsequent rape, and that the regimes were scrambling to cover it up.
“The entertainment for the evening [at the party] was bacha bazi boys, whose pimps were paid so the boys would sing and dance for the recruits and then be raped by them afterward,” the organization said. “That's your tax dollars at work — fighting terrorism and extremism in [Afghanistan] by trafficking little boys for sex with cops-in-training.”
And judging from statements contained in the diplomatic cable from Kabul, the notoriously corrupt Afghan regime was indeed very concerned about news of the “party” getting out. U.S. officials cited in the cable are also exposed in an unfavorable light, to say the least.
“Beyond remedial actions taken, we still hope the matter will not be blown out of proportion, an outcome which would not be good for either the U.S. or Afghanistan,” stated the cable, signed by the U.S. ambassador in Kabul. Preventing similar incidents in the future was also discussed, but one of the main possibilities, according to the cable, would not work. “Placing military officers to oversee contractor operations at [regional training centers] is not legally possible under the current DynCorp contract,” the cable said.
The Afghan Minster of Interior is quoted in the document telling U.S. officials that news of the crime could “endanger lives.” Apparently an unnamed journalist (possibly from the Washington Post) had discovered some information related to the dancing boy at the party. The Minister noted that some police officers and others had been arrested in connection with the scandal and “purchasing a service from a child,” illegal under both civil and Sharia law.
But an assistant U.S. ambassador warned Afghan officials not to overreact. “[Assistant U.S. Ambassador to Kabul] Mussomeli counseled that an overreaction by the Afghan government [sic] (GIRoA) would only increase chances for the greater publicity the [Ministry of Interior] is trying to forestall,” the cable reported.
And the Interior Minister, Hanif Atmar, was obviously very worried about the potential publicity. “Atmar said that President Karzai had told him that his (Atmar's) ‘prestige’ was in play in management of the Kunduz DynCorp [dancing boys] matter and another recent event in which Blackwater contractors mistakenly killed several Afghan citizens,” according to the document. That minister, who requested that the U.S. “quash” the story, has since "resigned."
Around the world, news of the events sparked furious condemnation of both governments. “It's time American taxpayers demanded a zero tolerance policy on our money being used to support child sex trafficking overseas,” noted Human Trafficking. “No one should be able to traffic children [for] sex and get away with it, and that includes repeat offender DynCorp. We have a right to demand our tax dollars go to fight trafficking, not support it. And we have a right to demand the U.S. government and their contractors be held accountable for exploiting the boys of Afghanistan.”
The organization also cited a previous child sex-slavery scandal involving DynCorp as proof that this is not an isolated problem. Company employees participating in the occupation of the area formerly known as Yugoslavia were reportedly selling Eastern European girls as young as 12 into sex slavery. Another sex scandal surrounding DynCorp in Colombia involved company employees allegedly raping local girls and selling the videos.
The journalist discussed in the cable who knew something about the issue, according to analysts, is likely Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post. In July of 2009, she wrote: "One effort to train Afghan civilian police has drawn attention from the State Department's inspector general following incidents of questionable management oversight, including one instance in which expatriate DynCorp employees in Afghanistan hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance at a company farewell party and videotaped the event."
Commentators suggested that she was either minimizing the crime under pressure from the regime, or was not aware of the Bacha bazi “tradition” and what comes after the “dancing” segment. (To learn more about it, click here to see PBS Frontline video "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan.")
DynCorp International styles itself on its website as “a global government services provider in support of U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives, delivering support solutions for defense, diplomacy, and international development.” To read about one of the private company’s previous sex-slavery scandals, see this article on Salon.com entitled: Sex-slave whistle-blowers vindicated.
So far, U.S. officials have not publicly criticized the firm over the dancing-boys scandal. But the whistle-blower organization known as WikiLeaks which originally publicized the cable has faced an avalanche of attacks from American politicians and talking heads — some of whom have even called for extrajudicial assassinations and prosecutions for everything from “terrorism” and conspiracy to espionage and “treason.”
The organization has exposed numerous other crimes and misdeeds to public scrutiny recently including war crimes such as the use of illegal cluster bombs against civilians in Yemen and the murder of a reporter and some young children in Iraq by American forces. It also recently exposed U.S. and European officials using bribery, espionage, bullying and threats to force other nations to accept a global-warming agreement.
Photo of Afghan National Police trainees: AP Images