As an Army civilian, I learned first hand that institution’s ability to distort and betray. After pushing back against two mid-level officers, one a pathologically bad manager and the other a manipulative egomaniac, I found myself marginalized, humiliated, and eventually professionally hunted. My record, integrity and work-product spoke for themselves then and now; if they saw me as a bad fit (particularly for things like insisting on more attention to same-sex sexual assault, a suggestion they ignored), they could have told me so. Instead, I was pushed out mostly on lies and laughable complaints. Eventually I learned to keep my head down and to let go of my vision for the job. I was able to leave on my own with official thanks a few months later. I also made lifelong friends and encountered largely honorable and decent people in the service of the Army. Still, it was demoralizing and sobering to see how far an institution can go in the wrong direction, even when most individual players want to do the right thing.
So I cannot imagine, knowing how much more he has invested as an actual warrior rather than a civilian lawyer, the sense of betrayal Sergeant First Class Charles Martland must be feeling. Martland is a decorated Special Forces member who the Army is trying to discharge. In his corner, among most of the people who supervised or served with Martland, is California Congressmen Duncan Hunter.
Martland’s career ending offense? In 2011, Martland and an officer, Dan Quinn, confronted and eventually assaulted an American-trained, installed, and funded local Afghan commander named Abdul Rahman. Quinn and Martland had received an in-person plea from the mother of boy who Rahman chained to a bed as a sex slave. The mother, beaten by Rahman for trying to rescue her son, brought him, limping, to the Americans who put Rahman in place after pushing out the Taliban. When Quinn and Martland confronted Rahman, he casually admitted to the allegations and laughed when it was suggested that he carry himself to higher standards. Then he got hit, although his injuries were reported as very minor.
It’s true that, in war, unholy alliances and difficult decisions must be made. Service members cannot generally react against orders even in ways their consciences dictate. Hence, Martland was punished at the time and has acknowledged the inappropriateness of his actions. Nevertheless, the Army wants him out. Never mind that, like the vast majority of our servicemen and women, Martland and Quinn were justifiably infuriated at both the acts of Rahman and his insouciant response. The Army, the one you pay a substantial amount of a $500 billion annual defense budget toward, is not above ending the career of a decorated, warrior who reacted the way every single instinct his cultural and American military values would have directed him to.
The issue goes far deeper, though, then just a moral balancing test. Forcing soldiers to powerlessly observe (and thus vicariously experience) the sexual abuse of children- within earshot in some cases- is a unique form of psychological torture in and of itself.
The sexual abuse of boys by men in Afghanistan, particularly powerful men, is time-honored and brutally well documented. Our military tolerates this so as not to stress relations with militants it places in positions of power, armed to the teeth, in lieu of Taliban extremists. Not only is this practice ordered to go unanswered in our service people’s midst, but by eyewitness accounts it has actually been tolerated inside of military facilities.
Think about that.
American service people, some of whom have heard the screams of children being sexually tortured in the next room, have had to make gut wrenching choices, understanding the realities on the ground, about responding to the cries of these children. A few of them, driven by the kind of morality, decency and sense of justice we pride ourselves in cultivating in them, have bravely made choices to stop it.
Your Army is ready to marginalize them and kick them out for it.
This is happening even as your Army not only tolerates child sexual abuse in Afghanistan, but also orders its soldiers, against everything they believe in, to literally and personally fortify and arm abusers in a way that allows them access to more victims. And, your Army is doing this in the face of an already alarming rate of suicide among service members.
Your Army, its commanders and its Commanders-in-Chief, present and past, need to account for it to you.