An Army Green Beret will stay in uniform after an extraordinarily public fight to save his career following an incident in which he violated military policy by beating up an Afghan police commander who was reportedly sexually abusing a boy.
The Army said late Thursday that Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland would not be discharged. It’s a reversal from an earlier decision that raised ire in some corners — including from lawmakers such as Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who introduced legislation on the soldier’s behalf, the group Veterans of Foreign Wars, and online petitioners who gathered thousands of supporting signatures.
Martland’s backers accused the U.S. government of tolerating and even inadvertently condoning the rape and sexual slavery of boys in exchange for alliances with military and police commanders who help oppose the Taliban and insurgents.
Called bacha bazi, or “boy play,” such abuse is a longtime custom in parts of Afghanistan — and in Iraq and other Middle Eastern places where American troops have served for more than a decade, analysts have said.
“The Army Board for Correction of Military Records determination modified a portion of one of SFC Martland’s evaluation reports and removed him from the [Qualitative Management Program] list, which will allow him to remain in the Army,” an Army spokesman said in an email to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Hunter, who is widely credited as leading the congressional campaign to save Martland’s career, praised the about-face by military leaders.
“They did the right thing. We finally kind of broke through the bureaucratic ... barrier that they’ve created,” he said in a phone interview.
“This lets me know that there are people in the Army and the Defense Department and [acting Army Secretary] Patrick Murphy … they understand warfare. It’s not a game,” Hunter said.
At issue was a 2011 altercation that Martland and a Green Beret officer had with the Afghan police commander, who was said to be sexually abusing a boy and chaining the child to his bed. Martland has written to Hunter saying that after the commander laughed off the soldiers’ concerns about his alleged conduct, they threw him to the ground, then kicked and body slammed him until he ran away.
Scholars and Middle Eastern cultural experts have said such abuse is a product of sexual repression in some highly conservative cultures — and of poverty, as it is poor children who are usually preyed upon.
The U.S. Army designated Martland for “involuntary separation” because of his role in the assault, which happened in Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, where American soldiers were working alongside the Afghan army and police units.
The other Green Beret, Capt. Daniel Quinn, was relieved of his command and later left the Army.
The Pentagon has said its policy is to report crimes to local authorities.
Martland couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment about the Army’s reversal.
Hunter said he had spoken to the soldier. “He’s stoked,” the congressman said. “This is his life.”
Quinn, Martland’s former commanding officer, said Thursday that he was “just really happy” the sergeant could continue his career.
“The odds were certainly stacked against us, but Charles has never backed down from a fight,” said Quinn, who lives in New York and works for what he described as a small family business.
“The Army is undoubtedly better for him still being in it,” Quinn added.
As for the larger issue of Defense Department policy toward child abuse in countries where U.S. troops have footholds, Quinn says he hopes to see change.
“We should be able to intervene on behalf of these children,” the former captain said. “It’s not something their entire culture is supportive of. It’s just a small minority who are doing this.”
Among the notable figures lending their voice to Martland’s cause was Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who wrote to the Army on the soldier’s behalf. The VFW, at the national and local levels, also pushed for him to stay in the service.
A VFW official said Thursday that his organization was happy with the outcome.
Martland “is an outstanding soldier who did the right thing for the right reasons, and we are very pleased that Army leadership agreed,” said Joe Davis, the group’s national spokesman.
Quinn singled out Hunter for shining light on Martland’s plight.
“If he hadn’t intervened, Charles would have been discharged from the service and struggling to support his family and wife, who is pregnant with twins,” Quinn said.
Steele writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.