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Court Martialed for Getting Pregnant

What the…?

A US Army general in northern Iraq has defended his decision to add pregnancy to the list of reasons a soldier under his command could face court martial.

It is current army policy to send pregnant soldiers home, but Maj Gen Anthony Cucolo told the BBC he was losing people with critical skills.

That was why the added deterrent of a possible court martial was needed, he said.

The new policy applies both to female and male soldiers, even if married.

It is the first time the US Army has made pregnancy a punishable offence.

I understand not wanting soldiers to get pregnant while in combat zones. I don’t understand court martialing them.

Popular conservative website says a military coup would “resolve the Obama problem”

He’s careful to say he’s not advocating a military coup, he’s just saying

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the Obama problem. Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.

America isn’t the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn’t mean it wont. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it.

Thanks to Mind for the link.

Shall we tint our Twitter avatars? No? Carry on…

As many of you are no doubt aware, Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras, was ousted in an illegal military coup last June.   Obama originally issued a condemnation of the army, who stormed the presidential palace and removed and forcibly deported Zelaya while he was still in his pajamas.

Obama’s extremely reasonable response was nice, at least compared to Bush’s endorsement of  (and connections to) the short-lived 2002 illegal removal of democratically elected leftist president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  Zelaya and Chavez are political allies.   The US has a long history of undermining and actively supporting the overthrow of leftish governments in Latin America (This isn’t the greatest or most comprehensive overview, but it’s a start.)  So I was really disappointed when Obama backed down from having a position beyond that this is None of Our Business:

“The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America. You can’t have it both ways…”

Because funding mass murders and installing puppet dictators is really equatable with supporting actual democratic process and providing humanitarian aid.

Amnesty International recently released a report warning of a post-coup humanitarian crisis in Honduras.  Mass demonstrations have been underway, met with arbitrary arrests and brutality.  Calls for aid have been largely ignored, at least here in the US.

I would be especially, especially interested to hear from Feministe readers in other parts of the world.  How is the media covering the coup?  How is your government and population responding?  Here, it’s not even a story anymore.

Hey, remember the worldwide Twitterevolution after the elections in Iran? People in the US were all over that.  I saw so many tweets from people who had turned their avatars green praising the brave souls in the streets of Tehran.  Hell, I made my avatar green.  I changed my location to Tehran.  I had my doubts about what all this did for the courageous in the streets, but if in any tiny way it showed support, I wanted to show support.

But the whole thing left a gross taste in my mouth.  Much as I supported the people of Iran fighting for their rights to self-determination, over here in the US all the support felt like it was coming less from the grassroots up than from the government/corporate media power structure on down.  It is in the interest of US foreign policy to undermine Ahmadinejad however possible.  The feel good story of normal people like you and me banding together across the globe via Twitter, the little company that could, to Twitterize the popular revolution?  PR gold.
Earlier this summer the US Congress even passed a resolution condemning the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the crackdown on peaceful protestors. One thing that bugged me then was the complete hypocrisy of the US government, which has in recent history shown no such love or respect for demonstrators on their own soil, including those specifically demanding free and fair elections.  I don’t want to equate the bloody repression of protesters in Iran to that facing  those in the US protesting the 2000 and 2004 stolen elections or anything, but the US government hardly has a history of glorifying their own citizens when they fight for democracy at home, let alone any consistent support for those fighting for their rights across the globe. It is clear that all the love the US government feels for Iranian protesters is primarily motivated by political opportunism.

This is not to in anyway undermine the demonstrators in Iran, who have my love and support.  But it is to point out that I think Honduran demonstrators are equally deserving.  And there are obvious reasons why they’re not getting it.

Abu Ghraib Abuse Allegations Include Rape

By now, you’ve likely heard of the most recent allegations regarding U.S. soldiers’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners: they include rape and other sexual assault, of both female and male detainees, and there may be photographs of the assaults among those which Obama has recently decided not to release.  You can read the details here — it probably goes without saying that they’re immensely disturbing.

It’s hard to know what to say to this.  I’ve spent the last day trying to figure it out, to come up with something intelligent.  Instead, all I can muster is seething rage, crushing sadness, and unbearable shame.  I’ve never been a patriot.  Honestly, I don’t even understand patriotism.  And I’ve certainly been ashamed of my country before.  But this is certainly a new low.  As a rape survivor myself, particularly.

I think that Jennifer Pozner hit the nail pretty much right on the head in under 140 characters on Twitter.  Rape is a part of war.  And U.S. soldiers have been raping the “enemy” ever since the U.S. military was established.  It’s one of the many reasons I oppose war.  That doesn’t surprise me, though it doesn’t lessen my rage, sadness or shame.

What is shocking (if not surprising), and only magnifies that rage and shame, is the fact that all of these abuses were seemingly sanctioned by our government.  The soldiers who committed other abuses at Abu Ghraib claimed that they were following orders.  While that in no way absolves them, seeing the government’s stance on torture, we also have little reason to doubt them.  And I see little reason to believe that these rapes and sexual assaults were somehow vastly different.  What’s shocking is that in the 21st century, the U.S. government is condoning and possibly even promoting rape as a war tactic.

Of course, the Obama administration is trying to deny that the photos exist.  The automatic response to that is, the only way we’ll ever know is if you just release them like you promised.  At the same time, Mark Leon Goldberg makes an excellent point that these victims have rights. And it is indeed pretty damn difficult to justify releasing photographs of rape and sexual assault to the public without the victims’ consent.

So I don’t know where to go from there, on any of this.  I guess I’ll just open up the floor to all of you.

ETA: Ashley has some good and difficult thoughts over at the SAFER blog.

New Statistics on Military Rape and Reporting

To readers of this blog, the fact that rape of women in the U.S. military is rampant should not be news.  But just in case you needed more evidence, HuffPo has information on new figures that have just been released.

The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That’s about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed.

Among the cases reported, only a small number went to military courts, officials acknowledged.

The Pentagon office that collects the data estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported _ a figure similar to estimates of reported cases in the civilian sphere.’

[. . .]

That increase includes a jump in cases from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to 165 from 131 the year before.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, a congressional critic of the military’s handling of sexual violence, said the statistics show the problem is still rampant.

“While the report shows modest improvement, we’re far from Mission Accomplished,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “Military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”

And sadly, that last point is one that has been true for some time.

The Pentagon claims that the increase in numbers is due to an increase in reporting rates, not an increase in rapes.  I sure as hell hope that they’re right, but I’m skeptical, especially since I couldn’t find any news sources reporting what exactly the Pentagon has done to encourage more victims to report.

What I found instead is Pentagon officials saying that the big problem with rape in the military isn’t the fact that rapists are serving in our armed forces and that women are being raped and personally (physically and emotionally) injured, but rather that rape victims’ personal injuries mean compromised military effectivness:

Couric asked Michael Dominguez, principal under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, how big a problem sexual assault is in the military.

“Sexual assault injures troops,” he said. “Injures readiness. So regardless of the numbers we have, it is by definition too much.

While I have no doubt whatsoever that rape does indeed compromise military effectiveness, I am also highly unimpressed, not to mention lacking real hope for change, when that’s what it takes for anyone in a position of power to sit up and take notice.  And when it’s the first thing to pop out of an official’s mouth when asked about it, rather than the far more appropriate answer: “Rape is a horrific crime and the U.S. military should not ever tolerate having rapists in its ranks.  So regardless of the numbers we have, one rapist is by definition too much.”

Also reported is the ugly truth that of 2,280 cases where victims provided full accounts and evidence, only 317 cases were referred for courts-martial and 247 were referred for nonjudicial punishment.  Which doesn’t sound a whole lot like “please, if you are raped, report it, and we swear we’ll take you seriously!” to me.  Actions speak louder than words.  It’s a cliche for a reason.

So while I’m open to being proven wrong — indeed, I would absolutely love, love, love to be proven wrong in this instance — I’m still rather convinced that the military is not doing nearly enough to stop rapes being committed by soldiers.  And I am therefore also rather skeptical that the increased reporting is good news about victims being more willing to come forward, rather than bad news about how there are more victims period.

h/t Abby Jean

Homelessness Increases Among Female Veterans

It looks like the rates of homelessness among female veterans are rising:

Even including the 20 or so beds that would make up the new women’s home, Ms. Kiss described a grim calculus for female veterans. Ten years ago women represented 3 percent of homeless veterans, she said, compared with 5 percent now. About 180,000 female troops now serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, it’s still important to note that the vast majority of homeless veterans are male, and the number of homeless female veterans is rather disproportionately low compared to their numbers in the military overall.  But the bad news is, firstly, that their numbers just may rise when they finally come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  And secondly, there are fewer services out there to cater to them:

A FAR-REACHING network of private and public agencies serves homeless veterans in Connecticut, with group homes and caseworkers helping former military members live normally again. But that network now faces the fallout from a signal change in the nation’s military policy — namely, the shift to female combatants. The number of homeless female veterans is also growing, with fewer resources to help them.

Earlier this month, though, an organization that runs two group homes for homeless male veterans in Bridgeport sought to build a similar facility in Norwalk for women. The organization, the Applied Behavioral Rehabilitation Institute, was outbid in its effort to buy city land for the project, but the leaders of the initiative said that if it did not happen in Norwalk, they would find someplace else.

And Lord knows that unless Obama makes some incredibly significant changes, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs won’t be looking after them.

The biographical information of one of the homeless women interviewed for the article also made me take pause, and consider that there might be a connection between the sexual violence epidemic in the military and female veteran homelessness.  Seventy-six percent of homeless veterans experience drug, alcohol or mental health problems; and while combat on its own can certainly be enough to bring about these issues, we know that sexual violence is also an indicator for substance abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorderStop Military Rape’s statistics seem to back up my hunches further.

Yes I do have a point, and it’s this: the rates of homelessness, not to mention stubstance abuse, trauma and other lasting impacts of combat, need to be dealt with across the board, for both men and women.  But the solutions might not be the same across the board, because the causes may also be different.  And in working out solutions to this problem — real, long-term solutions that go beyond the necessity of providing beds for people to sleep in — that needs to be taken into account.

Palestinian Woman Confronts Israeli Army

Via Juan Cole comes this video of a Palestinian women from the U.S. putting her life on the line by standing up to the Israeli army firing (what are likely but not necessarily rubber bullets) at demonstrating Palestinian adolescents.

The woman is being identified as peace activist Huwaida Arraf. As BFP notes, it’s unclear when this video was taken — during the current attack on Gaza, or earlier last year — but I agree with her that it speaks volumes, as do her repeated statements of the obvious: “you’re shooting at kids.”

I think that one comment at Juan Cole’s summed up my reaction well:

What strikes me in this is how casual the soldiers are as the aim and prepare to fire. Clearly they are in no imminent danger — as they are being confronted by the brave girl, they are not taking cover behind rocks or barriers. They are standing in the open, up straight, on top of a rock in one case, and carefully taking aim to fire at the demonstrators. Their body language is clear — they are not afraid for their own well-being. And yet, absent this girl’s intervention, they seem to have no reservation about casually firing into a crowd that poses no threat to them.

Another commenter asks how she was just allowed to get away with pushing down a soldier’s gun and standing in front of it (and whether she actually did once the camera went away): the camera, her sex, her accent/nationality, her English?

It’s a good question, and the answer is unclear.  But I’m still moved and astounded by her bravery, and I just had to share.

Israel Strikes Gaza Strip


As of writing, 200 have been confirmed dead and 600 injured, including children.

Waves of Israeli aircraft swooped over the Gaza Strip on Saturday, firing missiles at Hamas’s security headquarters and killing more than 200 people, bringing the highest death toll in Gaza in years in a crushing response to rocket fire by Hamas against Israeli towns.

At least 140 Palestinians were killed and scores more wounded, according to the head of emergency services at the Gaza Ministry of Health

After the initial airstrikes, which also wounded about 600 Palestinians, dozens of rockets struck southern Israel. Thousands of Israelis hurried into bomb shelters amid the hail of rockets, including some longer-range models that reached farther north than ever before. One Israeli man was killed in the town of Netivot and four were wounded, one seriously.

A military operation against Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since a rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas broke down completely in early November and rocket attacks began in large numbers against Israel. Still, there was a shocking quality to Saturday’s attacks, in broad daylight on about 100 sites, as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at the outdoor market and children were emerging from school.

The center of Gaza City instantly became a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing, and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The vast majority of those killed were Hamas police officers and security men, including two senior commanders, but the dead included several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.

According to HuffPo, parents are still looking for their children — who were leaving school as the air strikes began — and the hospitals cannot cope with the casualties.  The Electronic Intifada has info on a lack of food in Gaza thanks to the sanctions, and an additional editorial on Israel’s violence and how it ought to spurn action. (Thanks to BFP for these links via Twitter.)

The United Nations, along with Russia, Egypt and “numerous governments in Western Europe,” has called on Israel to stop.  And our government?  Oh, Bush has merely urged them to try harder to not kill civilians.

This is fucked up.  That’s all I’m going to say.  And my thoughts are with the Palestinians living in Gaza.

CIA Uses Viagra as Bribing Tactic in Afghanistan

Yesterday, the Washington Post had an article about how the CIA is now bribing warlords and chieftains in Afghanistan with Viagra, as opposed to say, money or guns.  My first concern was about the health consequences of unlicensed U.S. government officials just handing out prescription medication to men for whom the potential effects could be grave.  Having seen the Viagra commercials a million times, always explaining all of the risks associated with the drug (like any), that’s plain irresponsible.

But then this quote scared the fuck out of me and turned my attention elsewhere:

“You didn’t hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones,” said one retired operative familiar with the drug’s use in Afghanistan. Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives — the maximum number allowed by the Koran — and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could “put them back in an authoritative position,” the official said.

A few paragraphs prior in the article, it’s discussed how “sex” has been a popular bribing tactic by the CIA and other intelligence agencies throughout history.  The problem is that “sex” in this context, what with their mention of using attractive women as “bait,” very clearly means women’s bodies.  And the same thing seems to be absolutely true here.

What does that mean?  An authoritative position?  Because to me, when I hear that the ability of a man to get an erection around his wife puts him back in an authoritative position, my mind screams rape rape rape rape rape.  What else could one possibly mean by equating a man’s capacity for intercourse so closely with authority over a woman?  (And any other possible explanation must by its very nature still be deeply misogynistic.)

Now, I’m not going to make a call as to whether any of the chieftains or warlords in question are actually using the drugs to commit rape, marital or otherwise.  Putting aside for a moment the question of whether meaningful consent is possible under the circumstances of a polygamous marriage that the wives quite likely had little to no choice in, I haven’t spoken to the women to know.  And I’m not going to just assume that anyone is a rapist, especially not solely on their belonging to a certain group.  Further, as too many of us have learned personally, there is more than one way to commit rape, and an erection isn’t necessary, anyway.

What I’m concerned about is that regardless of any actual enabling of rape — which would of course make the situation far worse — the CIA seems completely aware of and okay with the prospect of their enabling rape.  In fact, they’re the ones who seem to have first jumped to the conclusion, even if they likely wouldn’t use the word “rape” themselves, what with it making their actions seem much too icky.

All of this talk about passing out necessary tools for marital rape and allowing men to regain an authoritative position over their wives also strikes me as particularly ironic seeing as how a major method used to justify this war — other than repeating “9/11” over and over again — was by promising the “liberation” of Afghan women.

Seems like women’s bodies and autonomy are just an all-around popular tool of war for the U.S. government, no matter what stage of the deadly game they’re in.

h/t BFP‘s twitter feed