The Telegraph of London broke the news – because the US press is in a drugged stupor — that the photos Obama is refusing to release of detainee abuse depict, among other sexual tortures, an American soldier raping a female detainee and a male translator raping a male prisoner. The paper claims the photos also show anal rape of prisoners with foreign objects such as wires and lightsticks. Major General Antonio Taguba calls the images `horrific’ and `indecent’ (but absurdly agrees that Obama should not release them – proving once again that the definition of hypocrisy is the assertion that the truth is in poor taste).
Predictably, a few hours later the Pentagon issues a formal denial.
It is very likely that the Pentagon lying. This is probably exactly what the photos show, because it happened. Precisely these exact sex crimes – these exact images and these very objects — are familiar and well-documented to those of us who follow closely rights’ organizations reports of what has already been confirmed.
As I wrote last year in my piece on sex crime against detainees, ‘Sex Crimes in the White House,” highly perverse, systematic sexual torture and sexual humiliation was, original documents reveal, directed from the top; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice were present in meetings where sexual humiliation was discussed as policy; the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 was written specifically to allow certain kinds of sexual abuse, such as forced nakedness, which is completely illegal and understood by domestic and international law to be a form of sexual assault; Rumsfeld is in print and on the record consulting with subordinates about the policy and practice of sexual humiliation, in a collection of documents obtained by the ACLU by a Freedom of Information Act filing, compiled in Jameel Jaffer’s important book, The Torture Administration.
The image of the female, probably Iraqi, prisoner being sexually assaulted? That image, or a similar one, has been widely viewed in the Muslim world. Reports of the rape scenes described have also appeared in rights organizations’ summaries since 2004.
And scores of detainees who have told their stories to rights organizations have told independently confirming accounts of a highly consistent practice of sexual torture at US-held prisons, including having their genitals slashed with razors; electrodes placed on genitals; and being told US military would find and rape their mothers.
Is systemic sex crime practiced by the US in a consequence of the lawlessness of `the war on terror’ surprising to those of us who work on issues of sexual abuse and war? It is totally predictable: when you give soldiers anywhere in the world the power, let alone the mandate, to hold women or men helpless, without recourse to law, kidnap them as a matter of policy – as US military kidnapped the wives of `insurgents’ in order to compel them to turn themselves in – strip them naked, and threaten them, you have a completely predictable recipe for mass sexual assault. The magisterial study of rape in war, Susan Brownmiller’s Men, Women and Rape, proves that.
But what is far scarier about these images Obama refuses to release and that the Pentagon is likely to be lying about now is that it is not the evidence of lower-level soldiers being corrupted by power – it is proof of the fact that the most senior leadership – Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney, with Rice’s collusion – were running a global sex crime trafficking ring with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Baghram as the holding sites. The sexual nature of the torture also gives the lie to Cheney’s and others’ defense of torture as somehow functional: the sexual perversity mandated from the top reveals that it was just plain old sick sadism gratified by a very sick form of pleasure. I also pointed out in `Sex Crimes in the White House’ that the escalation of the sexual abuse showed the same classic pattern shown by sex criminals everywhere – you start with stripping the victim, keeping him or her completely in your power, and then you engage in greater and more violent excesses with more and more self-justification.
The lightsticks, for instance? We in the human rights world know about the lightsticks. Probably dozens of prisoners were sodomized with lightsticks. In the highly credible and very fully documented Physicians for Human Rights report, Broken Bodies, Broken Lives, doctors investigated the wounds and scars of former prisoners, did analysis of the injuries, assessed the independent verification of their stories, and reported that indeed many detainees had in fact been savagely raped with lightsticks and by other objects inserted into their rectums, many sustaining internal injuries. This same report confirms that female military or other unidentified US-affiliated personnel were used to sexually abuse detainees by smearing menstrual blood on their faces, seizing their genitals violently, or rubbing them against their will in a sexual manner. In other credible accounts collected by human rights organizations, many former prisoners in US-held prisons report that they had been tortured or humiliated by female agents who appeared to be dressed like prostitutes. Indeed, early on intelligence spokespeople boasted in the New York Times of the use of female agents to sexually abuse and humiliate prisoners: it was called in their own material ‘invasion of space by a female.’
Today at lunch, I happen to have sat next to the lovely and brave Dale Haddon, the `face of L’Oreal’ who is also a tireless advocate for women and children through Unicef. She is heading for Congo, to help hold accountable rape and sex crime institutionalized as acts of war. Those criminals will face trials and convictions. In Sierra Leone, the soldiers and generals who used rape as an instrument of war have been tried and many convicted. In Bosnia, likewise. But at another lunch party, Haddon, who travels in many circles, may well be seated next to our own former leaders, violent and systemic sex criminals who are still at large.
When will we convict our very own global rapists, the ones who gave the US the hellish distinction of turning us into the superpower of sex crime? Convictions must come but first we must see the evidence.
And women especially, who understand how sexual abuse and rape can break the spirit in a uniquely anguishing way, should be raising their voices loudly.
Whom are we protecting by not releasing the photos? The victims? Hardly. It’s, as feminists have been saying for decades, not their shame. The perpetrators? Their crimes are archived; if not this administration, another may well obey the law release the images, which are evidentiary. (Again: that rape and sodomy were directed form the top; prosecute those at the top.)
These photos go to exactly why Obama is burning what is left of the shreds of the Constitution by calling for preemptive detention for about 100 detainees. It ain’t because they are `too dangerous,’ his pathetic justification. It is because their bodies are crime scenes. It is because the torture, including possibly the sexual assault, they experienced is likely to be so horrific that if they were ever to have their day in court it is others whom Obama needs who would be incriminated.
In the nineteenth century, when a woman had been raped, or had experienced sexual abuse in the family, the paterfamilias would say she was crazy, get her declared `too dangerous’ to be free, and lock her up forever so her story would be interred with her. That is what Obama is trying to do with preemptive detention for these detainees.
Well, America? Do you want to live with this? Remember: history shows categorically that once the state can lock `them’ up without a fair trial, torture, rape them or sodomize them – well; sooner or later it will be able to do the same to your children or mine; or to you and me.
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