By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As a bipartisan group of state lawmakers takes up a bill aimed at breaking up sex trafficking of children, there are growing concerns about sexual exploitation of minors at Wisconsin’s own Fort McCoy, where some 13,000 Afghan refugees are being housed.
U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) joined three fellow Republican colleagues this week in issuing a stinging criticism of President Biden and his administration for “facilitating trafficking of child brides and sexual abuse,” part of the fallout from Biden’s disastrous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In a letter to Biden and administration officials, Johnson and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) are seeking further explanation about cases in which refugees have been separated because of abuse and trafficking concerns. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was personally aware of a “handful” of them.
The senators write that they are deeply concerned that Biden’s actions have led to the importing of “an acute human rights crisis to our country, in part because you and your administration appear to have been wholly unprepared for the scope and nature of the operation.”
“These reports about trafficking and the horrific treatment of Afghan girls are in addition to reports that an Afghan male convicted of rape who had previously been deported was brought back during the evacuation. Such failures are why a group of Senators are demanding answers about what steps are being taken to vet individuals evacuated from Afghanistan,” the letter states.
As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, Bahrullah Noori, 20, an Afghan refugee, is facing four charges he engaged in sexual acts with minors at the camp. Noori is accused of touching the genitals of one victim in Fort McCoy’s barracks and a bathroom, and of attempting to engage in an unspecified sexual act with another minor, according to court documents.
In another indictment, Fort McCoy transitional resident Mohammad Haroon Imaad, 32, has been charged with assaulting his spouse by strangling and suffocating her. A complaint states that Imaad’s wife claimed to soldiers through an interpreter that her husband had also struck their children on “multiple occasions” and alleged that he “beat me many times in Afghanistan to the point I lost vision in both eyes.”
Internal State Department documents obtained by the Associated Press show, “U.S. officials at intake centers in the United Arab Emirates and in Wisconsin have identified numerous incidents in which Afghan girls have been presented to authorities as the ‘wives’ of much older men.”
Yahoo News, in obtaining Homeland Security documents, reported that “desperate families trying to find ways to get their children out of the country” have been exploited by Afghan men to coerce marriages and sexually abuse girls.
Some of these Afghan men reportedly exploited the withdrawal process itself – and more specifically their access to the United States – to facilitate their abuse, the senators note in the letter.
A Monroe County law enforcement official told Empower Wisconsin on Tuesday that criminal arrests and investigations of Afghan refugees have occurred more often than is being reported. Local law enforcement officials and communications officers at Fort McCoy referred all questions to Cheryl Phillips, director of public affairs for Task Force McCoy — Operation Allies Welcome.
Phillips said she was not sure whether she was authorized to release the number of criminal incidents and arrests involving Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy, but said she would check into the request. She did not follow-up with an answer.
The questions and concerns continue to rise even as the state Legislature takes another shot at a bill aimed at shutting down sex trafficking. A bi-partisan “Safe Harbor” bill would prohibit charging minors with prostitution, a move that would take away a weapon sex traffickers use to enslave their victims, the measure’s supporters assert.
In their letter to Biden, Johnson and the senators assert the administration has had no policy for dealing with child marriage, sexual abuse and domestic abuse at the refugee camps, despite the fact the crimes are widespread in Afghanistan. They noted the State Department requested “urgent guidance” on the subjects but as of late last month had not received any.
“In any case the United States has a moral obligation to ensure that our foreign policy is not complicit in human trafficking, sexual slavery, and abuse,” the letter states. “But just as with the crisis at the southern border, where your policies continue to abet documented instances of human trafficking and sexual abuse, your chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan appears to have facilitated horrific abuses.”
Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined more than 20 of his Republican colleagues in introducing the Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight, and Accountability Act. The legislation aims to address “the outstanding issues related to the administration’s rushed and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Among other provisions, the legislation imposes oversight mechanisms on the processing of Afghan Special Immigrant Visas and refugees, and sanctions the Taliban and others in Afghanistan for terrorism, drug-trafficking and human rights abuses.