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Green Beret compares US military inaction in Afghan rapes to Penn State scandal

A video screen grab shows Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, left, standing next to Gen. David Petraeus (now retired) and Capt. Dan Quinn, Martland's former commanding officer. Martland and Quinn both have said they physically confronted an Afghan police commander who they allege was involved in child rape.

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By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: October 8, 2015

A Green Beret who may be pushed out of the Army for beating up an alleged child rapist sees a parallel between the U.S. military's failure to stop child rape in Afghanistan and a scandal at home: The abuse of children in the Penn State University football program.

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, a former college football player, made the comparison in a letter sent to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., Tuesday night and released to The Washington Post. It comes as he faces the possibility of involuntary separation for his actions in September 2011, when he and his commanding officer, former Capt. Dan Quinn, acknowledge they beat up an Afghan police commander who they say laughed about raping a boy in Kunduz province.

"I chose the morally right decision because moral law transcends all boundaries and organizations," said Martland, who was a walk-on on the Florida State University football team before joining the Army. "I learned about the moral right from the Christian values and beliefs of Coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State University. We all learned about the moral right during the Penn State football program's child sex abuse scandal."

Martland added that he began facing discipline from the Army beginning in late 2011, around the same time former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky faced charges for raping numerous children and university officials were cited for failing to act on the allegations years earlier. Sandusky ultimately was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse.

"Ironically, I was fighting being kicked out of the Army while watching daily public outrage about the child abuse occurring at Penn State and the leniency in dealing with that issue," Martland said. "Legal law comes from man is fallible. Although well intentioned, it can fail us at times."

The letter marks some of Martland's first comments made public since his case emerged in August when Hunter began advocating on behalf of Martland. The Green Beret has since received growing support, including from the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization and Rep. Max Thornberry, R.-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Martland was selected to be removed from the Army this year as a result of his actions in Afghanistan four years ago. Army officials said Wednesday they will give him 60 days to file an appeal with the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records after Army Secretary John McHugh met with Thornberry and discussed the issue.

The decision, first reported by Army Times, gives the soldier a chance to make his case to a panel headed by a one-star general, as the Army faces increasing scrutiny from members of Congress and other critics about its handling of the case.

Martland was selected for involuntary separation from the Army through its Qualitative Management Program, which has been used to thin the Army's enlisted non-commissioned officer corps as the Army shrinks following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army officials said in a statement that McHugh agreed to postpone Martland's discharge "out of respect for Chairman Thornberry's continued support for our military, and his personal appeal" in a meeting on Tuesday. But the statement added that the Army has no choice but to reduce the size of its ranks, and considers the Qualitative Management Program that identified Martland as a candidate for separation "vitally important" to make sure the Army retains "only the best qualified soldiers."

"While the material in Sgt. Martland's file required that he be considered by the QMP board, it is our desire to ensure every soldier receives fairness and due process and we continue to act accordingly," the Army's statement said.

Thornberry also pressed the issue Tuesday in a letter to McHugh, saying he had observed undisclosed procedural errors in Martland's case and believes he deserves time to retain counsel and prepare a defense.

Thornberry added that numerous other instances have emerged in which U.S. service members and veterans say they observed Afghan troops sexually abusing children, only to be told by their superiors to let it go.

"Separately, I will note that the 2011 incident, and subsequent reports of other service members' attempts to stop sexual abuse in Afghanistan raise a larger point of concern: that military personnel have a viable and responsive reporting system that will have real impact when confronted with human rights abuses in Afghanistan and elsewhere," Thornberry's letter said. "I am not satisfied that the policies in place are robust enough, or that our men and women in uniform find them reliable."

Martland said in his letter to Hunter on Tuesday that he felt "thrust into a situation where I had to make a decision."

"There was no real right answer and no real wrong answer," he added. "The morally right action conflicted with the legally right action."

Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, has disputed that there is any formal policy for U.S. troops to stand down if they see sexual abuse occur while deployed. Rather, they are expected to report it to their own commanders, who in turn will report it to the Afghan government, he testified during a Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

"Why is there an understanding by some troops that you don't intervene when it's [the Afghans'] culture?" asked Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y. "Are they poorly trained, or just unknowledgeable or do you think commanders [are] getting it wrong in the field?"

Campbell responded that senior Afghan officials know sexual abuse is criminal conduct.

"They understand that they have to do something about it. And they want to hold people accountable," the general said. "Are there going to be people that disregard that in Afghanistan just like you would have maybe in any other country? Yes."

Hunter, a frequent critic of Army leaders, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the Army has not used common sense in handling Martland's case, and sees the sexual abuse issue as much broader.

"In the end, it's about the lack of courage and leadership in the U.S. military at the highest levels," said Hunter, a former Marine officer. "Counterinsurgency means winning the hearts and minds. How do you get the local population to trust you when you're allowing children to be raped on your bases?"

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R.-Fla., who has sponsored a resolution with Hunter to have Martland reinstated, said in a letter sent to McHugh on Wednesday that postponing the soldier's separation is a good start, but the service needs to fully reinstate him.

"Sgt. Martland is a hero - not a villain - and he should be treated as such," Buchanan's letter said. "Driving Sgt. Martland out of the Army for standing up for American values is a national disgrace. It's bad enough if we were ignoring this type of barbaric and savage behavior, it's even worse if we are punishing American heroes who try to stop it."

In an earlier statement released by Hunter's office, Martland described how he and Quinn confronted the police commander.

"After the child rapist laughed it off and referenced that it was only a boy, Captain Quinn picked him up and threw him. I proceeded to body slam him multiple times," said Martland, a former fullback on the Florida State University football team. "I kicked him once in the ribcage [sic] after one of the body slams. I put my foot on his neck after one of the body slams, but did not kick him or punch him in the face. I continued to body slam him and throw him for 50 meters until he was outside of camp. He was never knocked out and he ran away from our camp."

Martland and Quinn were pulled from their positions after the incident. Quinn left the military, but Martland was allowed to continue serving until the Army started downsizing its force.
 

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland.
COURTESY OF U.S. REP. DUNCAN HUNTER