FDL Book Salon Welcomes Kathryn Bolkovac, The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice

Welcome Kathryn Bolkovac, and Host RJ Hillhouse, author/journalist

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice

RJ Hillhouse, Host:

On April 11, 2010, private US military contractor DynCorp threw a party at its US-taxpayer funded Kunduz Regional Training Center where its employees train Afghan police. DynCorp’s employees allegedly took drugs and paid young “dancing boys” to entertain them.

The Washington Post described this incident last summer: “expatriate DynCorp employees in Afghanistan hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance at a company farewell party and videotaped the event.” Because of the incident, Dyncorp discharged four of its senior managers and revised its ethics policy.

Firing four supervisors and revising an ethics policy seems a bit harsh for hiring a boy to perform a tribal dance—something that could even be interpreted as culturally competent. What the Washington Post glossed over was that this tribal dance was a wide-spread Afghan tradition known as Bacha bazi. Bacha Bazi translates from Dari as “boy play.”

[B]acha bazi is a pre-Islamic Afghan tradition that was banned by the Taliban. Bacha boys are eight- to 15-years-old. They put on make-up, tie bells to their feet and slip into scanty women’s clothing, and then, to the whine of a harmonium and wailing vocals, they dance seductively to smoky roomfuls of leering older men.

After the show is over, their services are auctioned off to the highest bidder, who will sometimes purchase a boy outright. And by services, we mean anal sex: The State Department has called bacha bazi a “widespread, culturally accepted form of male rape.” (While it may be culturally accepted, it violates both Sharia law and Afghan civil code.)

In December 2010, WikiLeaks released a cable providing us with the back story of the Washington Post piece. The WikiLeak cable described a meeting between the Assistant US Ambassador and the Afghan Minister of Interior. The Minister of Interior urged the US to quash any news stories related to the DynCorp incident and he was particularly concerned about possible release of the video. He informed the ambassador of the arrests of two Afghan police and nine other Afghans, including some Regional Training Center translators.

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. 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 Afghans requested that the US military provide oversight to DynCorp. The author of the cable commented:

(Note: Placing military officers to oversee contractor operations at RTCs is not legally possible under the current DynCorp contract.)

In the fog of private war contracting, there is no clear line of accountability aside from the government contract monitor, who often restricts their monitoring to the review of the contractor’s own reports and very rarely a site visit.

Private military contractors have been implicated in torture, murder of civilians, protection rackets with the Taliban, and trafficking in:

* drugs,
* illegal weapons,
* boys,
* girls
* and women.

The $100 billion dollar plus private military industry operates largely outside international law and is only loosely overseen by overburdened contract monitors. And the ability of corporations to control the behavior of their personnel seems to have very little impact upon the awarding of contracts. The State Department renewed DynCorp’s portion of its $10 billion Worldwide Protective Services contract. It also renewed the poster child for contractor unaccountability — Blackwater (a.k.a. Xe Services a.k.a. International Development Solutions.)

And in December 2010, the Army renewed DynCorp’s contract to train Afghan police.

Although the US inspector general’s investigation of the dancing incident found no criminal activity, it is a relief to know that the US government took the rare action of banning two contractors from Afghanistan in January 2011. Their offense: stiffing their Afghan subcontractors. (The military explained that failing to pay local vendors negatively impacts the counter-insurgency strategy.)

DynCorp’s supervisors pimping of Afghan boys is chillingly familiar.

Flashback to 1999 when Kathryn Bolkovac , our guest today and author of Whistleblower, was at an informal social gather at DynCorp’s training for a State Department contract in support of the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. She writes:

“Hi y’all!” Jim called. “Don’t start the party without me… He tromped straight to the beer, then splashed his way into the pool, all the while telling us that he had already been on one peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and had liked it so much he was signing on for another year. Then, in the same sentence in which he described how scenic Bosnia was, he said, “And I know where you can get really nice twelve- to fifteen –year-olds.”

When she answered DynCorp’s help wanted ad tacked to a local police bulletin board in Nebraska, Officer Kathryn. Bolkovac never imagined that she would unravel an international cover-up of DynCorp employees buying and selling young girls for the sex-trade.

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