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An Outrageous and Ordinary Story

[I’m one of many guest writers posting for Lauren while she’s away. My name is Charles Johnson; I normally write at Rad Geek People’s Daily.]

We’ve heard a lot about the vicious torture of men in Abu Ghraib and other detention centers around Iraq—almost exclusively by men, but yes, by some women too. The Right is so desperate for any explanation other than the sheer, evil brutality of war—the war that they clamored for, the war that was supposed to "liberate" the Iraqi people—that one leading theory seems to be that evil pro-choice lesbian mind rays made them do it (link via The Austro-Athenian Empire). Lost in much of the sensationalized coverage and handwringing, however, is the fact that we have merely been given photographic documentation of outrages that are part and parcel of the horrors of war. This is nothing new; and while it is outrageous it should not at all be surprising.W arfare is little more than the logic of patriarchal command and control writ large, and the brutality of that logic as acted out in Abu Ghraib is awfully similar, in motivation and in tactics, to the acts carried out every day by men who rape women and other men, and men who beat their wives or girlfriends, all across the country.

Nowhere is this more evident in the ordinary, and horrifying, story—buried all too often under the numerous stories about the attacks on Iraqi men—that the rape of Iraqi women has apparently been part of the unwritten Standard Operating Procedure at Abu Ghraib:

In December 2003, a woman prisoner inside the jail west of Baghdad managed to smuggle out a note. Its contents were so shocking that, at first, Amal Kadham Swadi and the other Iraqi women lawyers who had been trying to gain access to the US jail found them hard to believe.

The note claimed that US guards had been raping women detainees, who were, and are, in a small minority at Abu Ghraib. Several of the women were now pregnant, it added. The women had been forced to strip naked in front of men, it said. The note urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail to spare the women further shame.

. . .

Astonishingly, the secret inquiry launched by the US military in January, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed that the letter smuggled out of Abu Ghraib by a woman known only as “Noor” was entirely and devastatingly accurate. While most of the focus since the scandal broke three weeks ago has been on the abuse of men, and on their sexual humilation in front of US women soldiers, there is now incontrovertible proof that women detainees – who form a small but unknown proportion of the 40,000 people in US custody since last year’s invasion – have also been abused. Nobody appears to know how many. But among the 1,800 digital photographs taken by US guards inside Abu Ghraib there are, according to Taguba’s report, images of a US military policeman “having sex” with an Iraqi woman.

Taguba discovered that guards have also videotaped and photographed naked female detainees. The Bush administration has refused to release other photographs of Iraqi women forced at gunpoint to bare their breasts (although it has shown them to Congress) – ostensibly to prevent attacks on US soldiers in Iraq, but in reality, one suspects, to prevent further domestic embarrassment.

. . .

In Iraq, the existence of photographs of women detainees being abused has provoked revulsion and outrage, but little surprise. Some of the women involved may since have disappeared, according to human rights activists. Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University who is researching the subject for Amnesty International, says she thinks "Noor" is now dead. "We believe she was raped and that she was pregnant by a US guard. After her release from Abu Ghraib, I went to her house. The neighbours said her family had moved away. I believe she has been killed."

Oh, and, by the way? It turns out that the Army already knew what was going on in Abu Ghraib. In November. They decided to start doing something about it in January when they learned that the photos existed, and the word might start getting out to the Western press. You, of course, didn’t hear a damn thing about it from our fearless leaders until April became May, after a good six months of Army concealment and CYA operations, once the truth finally came out in the pages of the New Yorker.

Firing Rumsfeld might have seemed like an appropriate demand a while ago. But with what we know now? That’s way too little to ask. Rumsfeld knew. Bush should have known. How could we face "Noor" and tell her that the most we thought we should do was to quit paying one of the men who is responsible for her torture and who is all too likely to have been an unwitting collaborator in her murder? Bush should be impeached and Rumsfeld should be indicted.

What excuse could we have for urging anything less?

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