The latest WikiLeaks cables to surface give some insight into Afghanistan’s attempt to try to “quash” a budding scandal last June over U.S. federal contractors hired to train Afghan policemen. As part of their training, contractors from the U.S.-based DynCorp entertained the officers by indulging their vices: drugs and young “dancing boys.” The cables show the panicked struggle by Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s interior minister at the time, to stop the story from getting out. As the Guardian explains, “There is a long tradition of young boys dressing up as girls and dancing for men in Afghanistan, an activity that sometimes crosses the line into child abuse with Afghans keeping boys as possessions.” This will come as no surprise to those who read the brutal account of the latter in The Kite Runner. But because the practice is rarely criticized or discussed within Afghanistan, the involvement of foreigners could have turned into a major debacle. In the cables, Atmar warned that foreign contractors, already the subject of public ire, “do not have many friends.” Atmar was convinced that the incident couldn’t have happened without some involvement of DynCorp’s Afghani employees and asked the U.S. embassy for greater oversight over its contractors.
The cables show that the U.S. assistant ambassador Joseph Mussomeli told Atmar that he was deeply upset by what happened and that the embassy was considering Atmar’s suggestion that the U.S. military might want to oversee the private companies to which it outsources basic functions (hello again, disaster capitalism!). Privately, however, the U.S. knew it wasn’t “legally possible under the DynCorp contract.”
Displeasure with the response went straight to the top. On the heels of Blackwater contractors mistakenly killing several Afghan citizens, the cables say Karzai asked Atmar, “Where is the justice?” You know it’s bad when a man accused of rampant corruption and bribery is wondering about accountability.
When Atmar tried to insist that a journalist looking into the story be told that it had the potential to “endanger lives,” the U.S. advised him that an “overreaction” would only make matters worse. “A widely-anticipated newspaper article on the Kunduz scandal has not appeared but, if there is too much noise that may prompt the journalist to publish,” the U.S. cable said. Ha, journalists are just like teenagers. Tell ‘em you can’t write about something and that’s all they want to do! Guess what? It worked, at the time. A July story by the Washington Post referred to DynCorp’s bolstering its ethics practices after its workers “hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance at a company farewell party”.
We feel someone just read us the ingredients list on the back of a hot dog. There you have it: This is how your wartime/diplomatic/journalistic sausage gets made.