Markos Koulanakis: America’s sad history of looking the other way on child
Child sexual assault is the most repulsive of crimes, and the global verdict on rapists and molesters should be overwhelmingly damning. But if you’re surprised that the president of the United States and the Republican National Committee are throwing their support to a man who has been accused by multiple women, on the record, of pedophilia, remember that America has been looking the other way for a long time.
Why, for example, is the Pentagon suppressing a congressionally mandated independent report on Afghan allies who allegedly engage in systemic child sexual abuse?
Afghanistan has revived an old and long-outlawed practice of men buying young boys, dressing them as dancing girls to be used as sex slaves for American-armed Afghan security forces. The boys are regularly raped by these American allies, engaging in “bacha bazi,” or “boy play,” while U.S. soldiers avert their eyes and try to ignore the raw violence against underage innocents.
A recent analysis suggests that the U.S. military is preventing the report’s release to avoid in-country blowback and consequential congressional action that could cut-off U.S. military assistance to Afghanistan.
While the Kabul regime may be the most egregious offender at passively condoning pedophilia, another open secret is that child sex tourism finds a home firmly within allied Southeast Asian nations. American citizens often travel to countries like Thailand to solicit sexual favor with children. Weak police enforcement and even official complicity in some Southeast Asian countries make combating child sex offenses extremely difficult.
Tactical advantage and strategic concerns often define how America deals with child sex issues both at home and abroad. Whether it’s President Donald Trump’s support for Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, the U.S. troops’ failure to report allies’ involvement in human rights abuses and criminality, or a brisk sex tourism business with allies in strategic parts of the world, legal and ethical actions are often overruled by politics. Globally, moral outrage over sexual misconduct with minors is selectively expressed — whether in America’s malls, Kandahar parlors, or Japanese townships. Political fortune is constantly weighed against criminal behavior in a dark and often cynical calculus.
There should, however, be no equivocation, anywhere, ever. Ivanka Trump is right when she says “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”
A couple of American soldiers personally brought that hell to offending Afghans. Two soldiers were discharged for beating-up an Afghan commander who chained a boy to his bed and repeatedly raped him. Vigilante justice is not a solution, but these soldiers’ anger drove them to take matters into their own hands when their superiors instead insisted they sit on their hands.
The U.S. military may be reluctant to release the new report and slow to respond to accusations and missteps, but unlike most other countries’ militaries, processes are in place for the Pentagon to take corrective action, change, and attempt to right any wrongs. While U.S. soldiers avoid policing illegal behavior of natives in foreign countries, Americans are sometimes held criminally accountable for their acts by foreign courts.
In 1995, for example, the American service members were caught, convicted, and sentenced to many years in a Japanese prison for kidnapping and raping a 12-year old Okinawan girl. Twenty-two years later, the Okinawa rape case is still fresh in Japanese minds and it continues to plague U.S.-Japanese military relations. Those old wounds were reopened just last week when an American military contractor received a life sentence in Japan for the rape and murder of yet another Okinawan.
Japanese high moral ground is hard to hold, however, when reflecting on the country’s own sordid history of sex slaves and industrial-scale rape. From 1932 through WWII, Japan enslaved underage girls and young women from occupied territories in military brothels for forced sex. While there is no definitive victim count, the “comfort women” numbered at least 20,000 and may have reached into the hundreds of thousands.
The military and foreign service get special protections when serving overseas — diplomatic immunity can protect a State Department employee from foreign legal infractions. But the U.S. can waive that immunity in special cases, as it did with the American service members in Japan. Foreign courts can also lock-up Americans’ who transgress overseas. Further, since 2004, American law allows U.S. courts to convict citizens of sex crimes committed abroad.
American child sex offenders who go overseas to engage in criminal activity can be punished when they come home, but they are also more likely to be prevented from achieving their goal when traveling. The U.S State Department will soon make important changes in U.S. passports, as required by last year’s International Megan’s Law. Some passports will have a notation that states “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor.”
The scarlet letter passport may slow sex offenders from moving freely across the world, but it would still not prevent them from running for government office. One Alabama felon put up a candidacy in the recent past.
The electoral verdict on Roy Moore is days away. Internationally, beyond the Moore scandal, American conduct and honor in the Trump-era will continue to be judged daily.