Update: In a statement, DynCorp vice president of communications Ashley Vanarsdall Burke confirmed that contractors had hired a 17-year-old boy to perform at an employee’s going away party, but denied that drugs or alcohol were involved.
Original report continues below…
US State Dept. called ownership of Afghan ‘dancing boys’ a ‘culturally sanctioned form of male rape’
The Afghanistan interior minister was so concerned about an incident where DynCorp, a US contractor charged with training Afghan police, bought drugs and paid for young “dancing boys” that he asked the US embassy to work to “quash” the story, a secret US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks indicates.
In Afghan society, “dancing boys” are little boys dressed as girls, commonly abused and kept by some men as possessions.
As Joel Brinkley reported for SFGate.com, many Afghan Pashtun tribal men take boys age 9 to 15 as lovers. The US State Department recently called “dancing boys” a “widespread, culturally sanctioned form of male rape.”
Sociologists and anthropologists say the problem results from perverse interpretation of Islamic law. Women are simply unapproachable. Afghan men cannot talk to an unrelated woman until after proposing marriage. Before then, they can’t even look at a woman, except perhaps her feet. Otherwise she is covered, head to ankle.
“How can you fall in love if you can’t see her face,” 29-year-old Mohammed Daud told reporters. “We can see the boys, so we can tell which are beautiful.”
“Some research suggests that half the Pashtun tribal members in Kandahar and other southern towns are bacha baz, the term for an older man with a boy lover,” wrote Brinkley. “Literally it means ‘boy player.’ The men like to boast about it.”
“Everyone tries to have the best, most handsome and good-looking boy,” a former mujahideen commander told Reuters in 2007. “Sometimes we gather and make our boys dance and whoever wins, his boy will be the best boy.”
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is Pashtun. Brinkley’s sources say that one or two members of Karzai’s family had taken boy lovers, but that was unconfirmed.
According to the newly leaked cable, the then-Ministor of Interior Hanif Atmar worried that if the story became public then lives would be in danger. Atmar also warned that a video of the incident might be released by the media,
“On the Kunduz Regional Training Center (RTC) DynCorp event of April 11 (reftel), Atmar reiterated his insistence that the U.S. try to quash any news article on the incident or circulation of a video connected with it,” the cable said.
“Atmar said he insisted the journalist be told that publication would endanger lives. His request was that the U.S. quash the article and release of the video,” the cable continued. “Amb Mussomeli responded that going to the journalist would give her the sense that there is a more terrible story to report.”
Atmar then disclosed the arrest of two Afghan National Police (ANP) and nine other Afghans (including RTC language assistants) as part of an MoI investigation into Afghan “facilitators” of the event. The crime he was pursuing was “purchasing a service from a child,” which in Afghanistan is illegal under both Sharia law and the civil code, and against the ANP Code of Conduct for police officers who might be involved. He said he would use the civil code and that, in this case, the institution of the ANP will be protected, but he worried about the image of foreign mentors.
A July 2009 article by The Washington Post mentioned the incident but appeared to minimize the nature of such a practice.
“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,” the Post‘s Ellen Nakashima wrote.
The cable also said that the interior minister had requested that the US military take over the control over the training centers that DynCorp was managing, but he was informed that such an arrangement was legally impossible.
“Atmar said that President Karzai had told him that his (Atmar’s) ‘prestige’ was in play in management of the Kunduz DynCorp matter and another recent event in which Blackwater contractors mistakenly killed several Afghan citizens. The President had asked him ‘Where is the justice?’” the cable reported.
Atmar “understood that within DynCorp there were many ‘wonderful’ people working hard, and he was keen to see proper action taken to protect them; but, these contractor companies do not have many friends.”
In June of this year, Atmar resigned as Minister of Interior.
In August, Karzai surprised the US Embassy in Kabul by announcing that he was banning foreign security contractors.
“[T]he [US] officials say that Karzai gave no advance notice to the embassy or other U.S. officials that he would attempt to address the problem with the radical step of trying to outlaw such contractors with the stroke of a pen,” Newsweek reported.
While the decision left some contractors panicked, many humanitarian aid workers have praised Karzai.
“To the extent that it [the ban] helps to de-militarize the environment and to the extent that it reinforces the government’s monopoly on the use of force, I think ultimately it would be a positive thing,” Nic Lee, director of ANSO, a non-profit humanitarian project, said.
The ban was scheduled to begin Dec. 17 but in late October, Karzai delayed it by two months.
“Whether the ban ever takes place now remains to be seen, but it seems clear that it will have minimal impact on the contractor industry if it does,” Jason Ditz wrote for Antiwar.com.
With research and editing by Stephen C. Webster