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World

U.S.-Funded Afghan Military Units Accused Of Child Sexual Abuse, Report Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Between 2010 and 2016, the United States military tallied more than 5,700 reports of gross human rights abuses by the military of Afghanistan. That's according to a report out this week from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The abuses include the routine enslavement and sexual abuse of underage boys by Afghan military commanders. Senator Patrick Leahy wrote a law requiring the Pentagon to stop funding foreign military groups who commit human rights abuses. But in Afghanistan, that has not happened.

INSKEEP: The Pentagon explains this by citing language tucked into a funding bill called the notwithstanding clause as justification. Notwithstanding other issues, the funding continues.

David Greene spoke with Senator Leahy about the inspector general's report. And we should warn you, the details in this interview will be disturbing to some.

PATRICK LEAHY: I can't imagine walking down Main Street - certainly in any town in Vermont - and say, how would you like to have your tax dollars spent to support a military unit that will take young boys, dress them up as girls and then use them as sex slaves? That's exactly what's happening.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Well, so your law has been on the books for years now. And it's supposed to address these very situations, cutting off funding for units where there are human rights abuses. Why hasn't that happened here?

LEAHY: I don't know. You know, we've used it in a number of countries where it has improved the conduct of their military greatly. Here, they're using a vague part of the law saying, oh, notwithstanding.

But I don't think that they realize the United States ultimately gets blamed for this. It becomes a talking point for our enemies. They say, the United States is paying for the people who are committing these abuses instead of us being able to say we found these abuses and we cut off aid until the government stopped the abuses.

GREENE: Well, the exception that the Pentagon has used, the notwithstanding clause, can you explain what that is? And I wonder if it's something that you supported at any point.

LEAHY: You know, anytime you have legislation, it goes through all kinds of negotiation. And the notwithstanding authority was intended to be only rarely used - usually in the middle of a battle or something like that. It was not to be used as a broad understanding of a way - well, we'll ignore this. We've got this law. But you go ahead and do everything you want to do. You do the most outrageous thing you want to do, extrajudicial killings and everything else. And don't worry - we'll keep sending you U.S. taxpayers' dollars.

GREENE: But the notwithstanding clause - is that something you supported when it came before Congress?

LEAHY: It went through on the understanding that it would be rarely ever used.

GREENE: OK.

LEAHY: They also found - SIGAR, the special...

GREENE: Special inspector general, yeah.

LEAHY: ...General has found that DOD never gave adequate guidance to its troops for reporting abuses and that it was just using notwithstanding to get around reporting them. Now, we are not made safer because some of the Afghan troops are raping little boys. And so we ought to think of our own U.S. troops and say, we don't tolerate this.

GREENE: What should Congress do at this point? Can you change the law to make sure that the Pentagon does more to monitor these abuses? What are you asking for?

LEAHY: We don't have to change the law. Remember, the Leahy Law only cuts off U.S. aid to foreign security forces if their government fails to take steps. If you want our tax dollars, then you're going to have to follow at least our values.

GREENE: Senator Leahy, thank you so much for your time. It's always good talking to you.

LEAHY: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: He spoke with our own David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.