Of the Wikileaks cache of diplomatic cables, one of the most potentially salacious is about the entertainment at a party thrown by DynCorp, a U.S. contractor training Afghan police, in April 2009. A 17-year-old boy was hired to dance.
In Afghanistan, hiring "dancing boys" is a long-held practice in which Afghan men hire young men and boys to dress like girls and dance at weddings and other parties. They don't hire girls, because in Afghan society men and women don't mix socially.
The dancing is one thing. But there are other practices associated with the dancing boys. As detailed in a Frontline documentary earlier this year, the boys are sometimes brought to hotels after the parties and prostituted. In some cases, their families sell them to warlords and other prominent Afghanis.
The implication in some of the stories being published now, thanks to the cable just released by Wikileaks, is that the boy hired by DynCorp was likely abused. The cable recounts a meeting in which the then interior minister of Afghanistan begs U.S. diplomats for help keeping the story out of the press, worried, he said, that lives would be in danger.
But according to both the State Department, which investigated the incident, and DynCorp, no such sexual abuse occurred.
"We did not find anything that there was any kind of misconduct of that kind at all," Susan Pittman, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told TPM. "It was just inappropriate."
DynCorp says one manager present stopped the dancing halfway through after "recognizing that the situation was culturally insensitive." At the State Department's request, DynCorp fired several managers involved and flew "senior leadership" to Afghanistan to do face-to-face ethics training.
"They responded responsibly," the State spokeswoman said.
It was the appearance of impropriety everyone involved — DynCorp, State, the Afghanistan government — were worried about. News of a "dancing boy" at an American-hosted party could have deeply offended Afghanistan citizens.
The Afghan minister, Hanif Atmar, didn't entirely succeed in blocking news coverage of the party: the Washington Post ran a story in July 2009 that mentioned the party and the ensuing State Department and internal DynCorp investigations. But that was before "Frontline" publicized the plight of some of Afghanistan's dancing boys.