A Green Beret and his allies say the fact that he “stood up to a child rapist” while serving in Afghanistan with an elite Joint Base Lewis-McChord unit shouldn’t be grounds for kicking him out of the Army.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland says he beat up an Afghan police commander he was supposed to be mentoring because he was fed up with the commander’s “brutal” sexual abuse of a village boy.
Now Martland’s case is being championed by a California congressman and several veteran Green Berets who contend he shouldn’t be punished further.
Martland, 33, was awarded two Bronze Star medals, including one for valor, during his time at JBLM. He likely will be discharged in November because the discipline handed to him for assaulting the Afghan made him a target for Army downsizing. Veteran soldiers with negative performance reviews in their service records are being culled from the ranks as part of the post-Iraq War drawdown.
The case sheds light on the tensions that can build when U.S. soldiers are told to tolerate foreign customs that are repugnant to them.
A one-star general reprimanded Martland after the September 2011 incident for a “flagrant departure from the integrity, professionalism and even-tempered leadership I expect from all soldiers of this command, but especially a Special Forces professional.”
But Martland’s supporters say he has grown into a respected Special Operations trainer in Florida and has won accolades from other highly regarded Green Berets. They’re appealing to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to intervene.
“The fact that this one incident — an incident that was seriously misinterpreted by Army leadership, without even taking into consideration the moral necessity to intervene — is now the determining factor in SFC Martland’s career is a black mark for the U.S. Army,” California Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former Marine, wrote to Carter last week.
Martland was part of a team from JBLM’s 1st Special Forces Group at the time of the incident. The Green Berets were given a challenging assignment to build a new local police force by cultivating the support of Afghan tribal leaders.
In some cases, that meant working closely with leaders who had past ties to insurgents in the interest of bringing them over to support Western forces.
Afghan local police “are straddling the fence” between joining insurgents or backing the official government, said Col. Steve Johnson in an interview with The News Tribune. Johnson commanded Martland prior to the 2011 deployment; he was a battalion commander in the 1st Special Forces Group and was in Afghanistan at the time of the incident.
U.S. soldiers were put in the position of tolerating customs that Westerners reject. One of those is the illegal but common Afghan practice of influential men using underage boys as sexual partners.
In 2011, Martland was nearing the end of his yearlong deployment in northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province when he and an officer became outraged with the behavior of some local leaders they were responsible for developing as police commanders.
Martland and his detachment commander, Capt. Daniel Quinn, lost their tempers when one leader near their base kidnapped a boy for more than a week, chained him to a bed, raped the child and then assaulted the boy’s mother, Quinn said.
The mother appealed to the Green Berets to help her son. Quinn said the soldiers brought the Afghan commander to their base and confronted him.
Quinn told The News Tribune that the Afghan admitted he had raped the boy. He angered the American soldiers by showing disregard for their concerns.
“He started laughing when we talked about what a big deal this was,” Quinn said.
Martland and Quinn proceeded to assault the Afghan. Accounts vary on how badly they hurt him.
Johnson told The News Tribune he was convinced based on discussions with the Green Berets and Afghan leaders that the beating took the Afghan commander “within an inch of his life.”
But Quinn said that he and Martland shoved the Afghan to the ground several times. They told the Afghan commander to leave their compound, and Quinn said he was able to run away from the soldiers on his own.
Quinn said he and Martland never gave official statements to Army investigators, and they were not punished in the military justice system, which makes it difficult to reconcile the differences between his and Johnson’s statements.
Martland wrote in a January letter to the Army Human Resources Command that the incident was the third time during his deployment that he knew an Afghan police commander had done something morally repugnant.
The other two incidents were a police commander’s rape of a teenage girl and another commander’s decision to allow the honor killing of a 12-year-old girl after she kissed a boy.
Quinn and Martland “felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our (Afghan local police) to commit atrocities,” Martland wrote.
That confrontation led the Army to remove Martland and Quinn immediately from their team. Their actions clearly violated rules of engagement that govern how soldiers operated in Afghanistan, said Johnson, who said he visited the Green Berets the day after incident and talked about it with them.
Army leaders also were disturbed by Quinn and Martland’s apparent premeditated decision to attack the Afghan a day or more after the rape happened.
The incident ran counter to training Green Berets receive before they embed in small Afghan communities. They’re taught to attempt to motivate Afghans by using encouragement, not force.
“You cannot try to impose American values and American norms onto the Afghan culture because they’re completely different,” Johnson said. “We can report and we can encourage them. We do not have any power or the ability to use our hands to compel them to be what we see as morally better.”
Quinn said he understood that training, but could not look the other way when the mother of the rape victim came to him.
“I’d rather stand up and do what we felt was the right thing than be praised for restraint,” Quinn said.
Quinn and Martland both received reprimands that generally would prevent them being promoted in the Army. Quinn left the Army and has moved on to a civilian career in New York.
Martland, a Massachusetts native, had enough rank as an enlisted soldier to continue serving in the Army until retirement.
In 2012, the Army made him an instructor at an underwater Special Operations training program in Key West, Florida. He continues to work there and has received stellar performance reviews.
His situation changed last year when he learned he was selected for an involuntary discharge through an Army force reduction program. It’s one of the ways the Army is moving to cut its active-duty headcount from a peak of some 570,000 soldiers to about 450,000 troops.
Martland’s supporters have created an online petition, ipetitions.com/petition/sfc-charles-martland, asking the Pentagon to reconsider its decision.
His high-ranking backers include a former command sergeant major of the 1st Special Forces Group and two majors who have supervised him recently in Florida.
“Losing him from the force would be an injustice and a detriment to the Army,” wrote Command Sgt. Major Frank Gilliand, who has supervised Martland in the 1st Special Forces Group in the past. Gilliand is one of the highest-ranking enlisted soldiers in Army Special Operations.
Hunter’s staff has interviewed several soldiers who know Martland and obtained a statement from an Afghan interpreter that all indicate the beating Martland and Quinn delivered was less severe than Army leaders believe.