Monthly Archives: September 2015

Taking cultural awareness to the extreme

So, when I was in Iraq, in 2005, there was a detainee who was handed over to us as a possible insurgent. When I read his file, it was clear he wasn’t an insurgent but that his neighbors had turned him in for raping the local boys. He confessed to his crimes; I wrote it down, then we turned his case over to the Iraqi police, as this was a civil matter. No intelligence indicated that he was an insurgent. Later, I asked my interpreter what might happen him, and she said, “Probably nothing, especially if he has money to bribe the authorities. But if he were an insurgent who had attacked the police, they would have taken turns running a train on this man, raping him.”

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will joke about “man love Thursday“, which describes Jihadi male-orgies undertaken the night before the Sabbath-day, Friday, as a last hurrah. There exist grainy long range surveillance videos showing this kind of  behavior that were passed around by units overseas.

When the incident in Iraq happened, I sarcastically recalled a line from one of my favorite movies, Airplane: “Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?” “What a fantastic people that we’re here to liberate!” I thought. But even as I consoled myself with humor, I knew there was a logical explanation and it was not a laughing matter. I had read in an anthropology book in college that poor, tribal cultures sometimes practice homosexual pederasty. The logic presented was that it takes little away from the boy to be the victim of an adult’s sexual advances but it would erode a girl’s marriage value if she were defiled, and so older men substitute the young boy in moments of passion. This is even considered moral behavior, because it doesn’t denigrate the woman, and gives the man an “outlet” for natural feelings.

I know, it’s strange, right? But this tradition might in part, at least, contribute to the practice of adult males using rape to punish other males in power situations in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the widespread acceptance of pederasty.

Western society is not immune to such behavior: atrocities within our police forces, the sexual torture Al Qaeda detainees while in U.S. custody, and individual cases of abuse come to mind. But here, importantly, these activities are considered immoral and aberrant; American culture does not honor excuses for rape. It’s not a tradition.

Recently, there’s been some political noise about a Special Forces NCO who has been kicked out of the Army because he got physical with an Afghani child abuser.

From a human rights point of view, objectively, sexually assault, especially against little boys, is a crime. There is a power difference: the child cannot defend himself from the stronger adult. Though cultural anthropology may explain it, it doesn’t excuse this behavior. Slavery and racial oppression are just as explicable (so is murder) and just as wrong.

The logic of tolerating Afghan abuse is that it’s a step B problem because if we tried to disqualify Afghani men who engage in pederasty from the Afghan army that we’re building, step A, there would be no one to put in the army. It’s entrenched in the culture. Nevertheless, the NCO in question should not have felt it was necessary to take matters into his own hands. We’re asking too much of an American soldier to ignore child abuse. We have to respect our culture, too.

We can do better. When America helped defeat Germany and Japan in World War II, we respected what good these two powerful nations had brought to global society, but we did not respect, and indeed severely punished, the immoral behavior they conducted. We can’t punish the Afghanis for acting in a way that seems normal to them, but we can certainly try to educate them to have a more enlightened view; we can discourage the Chai boys and provide support for our soldiers who are deeply offended by this behavior and motivated to act out.

There has to be a way. We should be able to honor the disparate cultures of the Afghans and Iraqis, of any peoples with whom we engage militarily, and not be forced to back down from our values.

— Marcus

Brookings Institute Reports

In the report below, William McCants provides a detailed life history of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. One of the more important questions he raises is that if anti-ISIS forces manage to capture or kill the elusive Baghdadi, will ISIS be significantly disrupted? Or will this snake simply grow a new head?


Here, Brookings reports about an counter-extremism effort led by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).




Ukrainian goings on…

Jon Basil Utley, publisher of the classically liberal magazine The American Conservative, has an interesting essay here about current goings on in the Ukraine, arguing for a more substantive, strategic response from America. He also describes a diplomatic solution proposed by Thomas Friedman. Under two American administrations Russia has been moving further from freedom; in my opinion, it is in our interest, and the interest of Russians who want real democracy, for America to  encourage a change of course.

— Marcus

Utley’s passion for Russian affairs is personal. His story is below:


A new book for our bibliography page

Inside The Third Reich

Albert Speer was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest confidants; he has been called “The Nazi who said sorry.” His memoirs, titled Inside The Third Reich, were written on scraps of paper and smuggled out of Spandau prison, where he served 15 years. The book provides valuable insight into the mind of an ambitious man who was willing, at the least, to look the other way while unimaginable atrocities happened around him.

More books for those interested in criminal psychology and interrogation are on our Bibliography page.

Lawrence Wilkerson on bureaucracy, terror

Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson is a severe critic of the George W. Bush administration. What is the most important information from this interview to me (at around 8:20), however, is his discreet understanding of how large bureaucracies function. Leaders who are surrounded by yes men often do not govern in reality. Those who aspire to be government functionaries or senior administrations would be wise to understand this. Wilkerson also outlines the slippery moral reasoning for torture.

Note: This interview is from Russia Today, a media arm of the Russian government. RT aspires to be like the BBC or, to a lesser extent, our PBS, NPR News services. Were Russia a nation that vigorously supported press freedoms, it might one day become such.

Robert H. Jackson’s legacy

Robert Jackson was a United States Supreme Court Associate Justice active in the mid-20th century. Jackson, a legal genius, designed the Nuremberg tribunal process that brought Nazi officials to swift justice in the aftermath of World War II. The Nuremberg system was antecedent to The Hague International Court of Justice, used since to prosecute international war criminals — famously, former Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević.

In my opinion, it would be wiser to utilize the International Court of Justice to prosecute terrorists.  The unilateral courses of action America has undertaken since 9/11 have so far, largely, not brought about the desired outcomes of reducing the threat or achieving justice for victims of terror. This is not a new observation.

How military power is used in conflict is an important topic. The International Court considers aggression to be the most heinous crime and it therefore carries the strongest penalties. This is to discourage wars, of course. When a strong nation like the U.S. engages in unilateralism, as we nearly did in Iraq in 2003, we weaken this system, and so lesser states feel empowered to test the waters. Perhaps Russia, for example, may have been reticent to take the Crimean peninsula in 2014, had we not previously made a game of the system. The legacy of Russia’s aggression is the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civiliansthe murder of 300 international passengers on a civilian jet flight, and the weakening of a fledgling democracy.

Robert Jackson’s International Court is the heritage our American ideals. We should be proud of this system, and should strengthen it. One way could be by using the court to punish terrorists, even those who attack strong nations like America. We would benefit as it would function to strengthen ties with the free and civil societies who are our natural allies.  Of course, we would need to immediately close the GTMO prison, as much a symbol of unilateralism as torture, in order to begin to make this happen.

Jackson, were he alive today, may have provided sagacious words and strong leadership on this matter.

— Marcus