Published on Monday, August 21, 2006 by the Guardian/UK
Their Bodies as Weapons
Rapes in conflict zones result from the idea that violence is erotic, and it pervades the US military
by Robin Morgan
When news surfaced that four GIs allegedly stalked, gang-raped and killed an Iraqi woman, the US tried to minimise this latest atrocity. Now article 32 hearings - the military equivalent of a grand jury - have ended at Camp Liberty, a US base in Iraq. In September, a general will rule whether the accused should be court-martialled. The defence already pleads post-traumatic stress disorder: in four months preceding the crime, 17 of the accused GIs' battalion were killed.
The victim's name was Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Abeer means "fragrance of flowers". She was 14 years old. According to a statement by one of the accused, the soldiers first noticed her at a checkpoint. On March 12, after playing cards while slugging whisky, they changed into civvies and burst into Abeer's home. They killed her mother, father and five-year-old sister and "took turns" raping Abeer. Finally, according to the statement, they murdered her, drenched the bodies with kerosene, and set them on fire. Then the GIs grilled chicken wings.
The US military is now a mercenary force. In addition to hired militias and "independent contractors", we have a draft: a poverty draft. That's why the army is disproportionately comprised of ethnic minorities seeking education, healthcare, housing. But there are other perks. Teenage males, hormones surging, are taught to confuse their bodies with weapons, and relish it.
One training song (with lewd gestures) goes: "This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for killing, one is for fun." The US air force admits showing films of violent pornography to pilots before they fly bombing raids. Feminist scholars have been exposing these phallocentric military connections for decades. When I wrote The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism, I presented evidence on how the terrorist mystique and the hero legend have the same root: the patriarchal pursuit of manhood. How can rape not be central to the propaganda that violence is erotic - a pervasive message affecting everything from US foreign policy to "camouflage chic" and glamorised gangsta styles?
Atrocity fatigue has set in. Wasn't rape a staple of war long before the Iliad? Weren't thousands of women and girls raped and killed in death camps in the former Yugoslavia? And weren't early reports of gang rape attacks from another small troubled country ignored? It was merely about women, and hardly anyone had heard of the place: Rwanda.
Yet the Pentagon is shocked. Have we already forgotten Abu Ghraib? Photographs of sexually tortured men leaked, but those of abused women are still classified for fear of greater outrage. So many military rapes have occurred in Okinawa, Korea, and the Philippines that feminists organised movements in protest. Incidents keep occurring near US bases, including hundreds of reported rapes of female soldiers by their fellow GIs.
In 1998, a landmark United Nations decision recognised rape as a war crime. The international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia issued indictments and convictions on sexual violence grounds.
Sometimes, a few "nice American guys" are found guilty. Then all returns to normal. They are sacrificed to save those who train them to do what they did, and to save the careers of politicians who sermonise obscenely about "moral values" while issuing moral waivers.
Robin Morgan's new book, Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right, is published next month; she is a co-founder of The Women's Media Center, where a longer version of this article first appeared www.womensmediacenter.com www.robinmorgan.us
© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006