FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Top Army leaders have ordered its elite Special Forces unit to change its motto from the Latin “De Opresso Liber” (To liberate the oppressed) to something that would be more culturally sensitive, after a large number of Afghans holding child sex slaves have complained.
“We want to make sure we are not offending our coalition partners and not judging them based on our own biases,” said Col. Dwight S. Barry, a Pentagon spokesperson. “At the end of the day, we just have to respect that raping young boys and mutilating female genitals is just a part of their culture.”
Started in 1952, Army Special Forces chose its Latin motto of “De Opresso Liber” at a time when the U.S. was heavily focused on freeing people around the world from the chains of Soviet Communism. Now decades later, Army leaders want operators to be more aware of cultural differences they may not understand in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Berkeley, California.
The move comes in the wake of numerous complaints from Afghan men, who have chided U.S. military officials over previous run-ins with Special Forces soldiers unaware of the ancient Afghan custom of “bacha bazi.” The practice, which literally translates to “boy play,” consists of chaining children to beds, taking off their clothes, and then sexually assaulting them until they scream “bingo.”
Anger over U.S. military insensitivity toward “bacha bazi” is not the only issue in which Afghans have raised concern. The use of Special Forces “night raids” on high value targets has aroused suspicion among many locals in the past, and U.S. troops expressing discomfort around opium-addicted Afghan policemen as they throw acid in the faces of young girls has strained coalition partnerships.
In one high-profile incident, two Special Forces soldiers beat up an American-backed militia commander after they had learned he had raped a young boy and beat up his mother, a practice which goes back centuries and is perfectly normal in Afghan society. Fortunately, one of the American soldiers decided to leave the Army after the incident, while the other is being kicked out.
“I thought we were all about liberating the oppressed?” said Bob Samuelson, a former weapons sergeant with Army Special Forces. “How is it right for the Army to kick someone out who was literally trying to do that, and free a young boy from assault?”
The Pentagon just recently learned the motto included a typo for decades, and the actual English translation is “to free the oppressors,” according to a senior defense official.
Officials are currently weighing a number of potential mottos as replacements, which include “Tolerate Iniustitia (Tolerate Injustice)” and “Ad Dissimulare (To Turn a Blind Eye).”
In addition to the change in motto, the Army band has also been directed to record a new version of the “Ballad of the Green Berets,” which was recorded during the Vietnam War. An initial draft of the lyrics include: “Silver wings upon their chest / These are men, America’s best / One hundred slaves get raped today / But all ignored by the Green Beret.”
Duffel Blog investigative reporters Dick Scuttlebutt, Jack S. McQuack, and Jay-B contributed.