There are women involved in the Iraqi prison scandal, not only as guards or commanders, but also as prisoners. The story is just coming out. Women are reluctant to speak, for obvious reasons.
Rape has a stigma in Iraqi society far beyond what it has here. To be raped by an American would, according to experts, carry an unbearable shame for an Iraqi woman.
The rumors and the reports suggest that women in detention have been forced to strip and humiliated by American men in the name of interrogation. Techniques designed for hardened terrorists were applied to women who had slept with men we were looking for. There weren’t many women detainees at Abu Ghraib, but there were some, mostly there not because of who they were, much less what they’d done, but because of whom they were married to, or lived with.
There was an Iraqi woman in her 70s who was harnessed and ridden like a donkey, according to English press reports. It has been reported that she is now dead.
Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University who is researching the subject for Amnesty International, is investigating what happened to one woman who she believes was raped and left pregnant by a U.S. guard, and may have been killed after her release from Abu Ghraib.
Then there was the letter, last December, smuggled out of Abu Ghraib, written by another woman known as “Noor,” claiming that women detainees had been raped and that a number were pregnant by their U.S. guards. Even some Iraqi lawyers did not believe it at first.
Reports of the abuse of Iraqi women have provoked outrage among Iraqi men.
No one wants to do anything that puts American soldiers in greater danger. That is, no doubt, why pictures being shown to senators are not being shown to us.
But putting American soldiers in the position where they might think, even for a minute, that their superiors would authorize rape as a means of interrogation only underscores how far Rumsfeld & Co. have led our service and our country astray. This is not about interpretations of the Geneva Conventions. Nor is it a matter of a few quick courts-martial.
The soldiers who are being court-martialed will no doubt claim that they were following orders, a defense that requires that they be given access to the full array of memoranda prepared and approved by senior officials justifying the legality of virtual torture and immunity from the constraints of international law.
The decision to apply tactics designed for terrorists in Afghanistan to detainees charged with no crime in Iraq was not one made by the kids being court-martialed today, or the ones likely to be charged in the future. The decision that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply wasn’t one that they made. They didn’t set the tone, the priorities, the standards. What Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld wrote and approved, the soldiers who are to be punished are entitled to see. Turning soldiers into animals whose acts cannot be shown lest retaliations be encouraged is what happens when you decide that the rule of law is a matter of convenience.
It’s what happens when the secretary of defense decides the rule of law doesn’t apply, and when the White House counsel decides his job is to see how to get rid of the law instead of to convince people they have to follow it. It’s what happens when the civilians on top fail to provide leadership, when they let down the fighting men and women on the bottom.
This is one scandal where women will pay on every side.
Estrich is professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org