A former Marine Corps officer-turned-congressman said Friday it was "pathetic" that the Defense Department does not require its troops to intervene if a child is raped by allied troops on US-controlled bases.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced legislation on March 3 that would require American troops to respond to any child sexual abuse on US bases, both domestic and overseas. The "Martland Act" is nicknamed for Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, whose Army career is in limbo because he beat up an Afghan police commander who admitted he raped a child repeatedly.
"Sadly, I'm having to write Defense Department policy to make sure it's illegal to rape kids on American bases," Hunter said Friday. "It's pathetic that we have to do this ... it should not have to be done by Congress."
The Pentagon does not comment on proposed legislation, a defense spokesperson said. Attempts to reach a spokesperson for the American command in Afghanistan were unsuccessful Friday, but a spokesman told the New York Times last year there was "no express requirement that US military personnel in Afghanistan report" allegations of child sexual abuse, which is "a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law."
Though officially illegal in Afghanistan, sexual abuse of children, especially boys between 10 and 18, is prevalent in some parts of the country, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission found in 2014. A long-standing open secret commonly called "bacha bazi" is typically committed by wealthy and powerful men against boys from poor families, the commission found.
In his bill, officially entitled the ''Mandating America's Responsibility to Limit Abuse, Negligence and Depravity Act," Hunter wrote American troops "serving in Afghanistan were advised to respect cultural and religious practices of Afghans," referring to "bacha bazi."
"Because it is a culture norm we're going to turn a blind eye?" Hunter said. "This has to change."
Reports that Americans were instructed to ignore such abuse came to light last year after the Army selected Martland, 33, for involuntary separation, as part of its force strength reduction. Top American military leaders in Afghanistan have since denied such a policy existed, and the Pentagon Inspector General has launched a comprehensive investigation into the issue.
The Army on Monday delayed a final determination until May 1 on Martland's future to allow the service's Board for Correction of Military Records to consider his case. Hunter and several other members of Congress have rallied behind the soldier who aims to continue his Army career. Martland has maintained the only negative mark on his record is the reprimand issued after he and his detachment commander admitted assaulting an Afghan police commander, who had just admitted to them he'd chained up a 12-year-old boy and repeatedly raped him.
Martland and the commander, former Army Capt. Dan Quinn, were relieved of duty for the September 2011 incident in Kunduz Province and sent back to the United States. Quinn left the Army the following year while Martland eventually reenlisted and has continued serving in Special Forces.
On Friday, Hunter said it was "ridiculous" the Army had not yet fully reinstated Martland.
"He did the right thing. I would expect anyone to do the same thing he did," said Hunter, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "... I might have killed the guy. He deserves to be dead."
The congressman said his bill is about American values and keeping Martland's struggle in the spotlight "until the Army makes the right decision."
"He's an American soldier; he's a snake-eater," Hunter said. "He doesn't want to screw with all of this, he just wants to go back to killing America's enemies and serving his country, but he's stuck because of this."