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Sexual Torture, Yet Again
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) recently released a little-covered report, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel.” The media’s failure to report on this important study is unfortunate. [PHR, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” June 2009]
Like the proverbial faucet that drips drip by slow drip and finally gives way to a gushing flood, reports about Bush-era torture perpetrated upon alleged enemy combatants continue to drip out. The PHR report is the most disturbing of the handful of reports and scores of news accounts that deal with the torture of alleged enemy combatants.
Using case-study profiles, the PHR report details the treatment of eleven such combatants in Iraq and at Guantánamo. The report is all the more revealing because it pays careful attention to the medical, both physical and psychological, effects of the torture inflicted and medical treatment provided these detainees. It recounts the gruesome experience suffered by eleven apparently innocent men swept up in U.S. military round-ups and, after suffering painful torture and months of imprisonment, were released uncharged, but scared for life.
Most striking based on information presented in the PHR report, the men profiled are innocent, victims of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture. None is accused of a crime; none has a lawyer; none face a trial; all were released. One is a farmer, another a businessmen; still others are retired military personnel and a manager. One is picked up in front of a mosque; others are seized during late-night raids of their homes by U.S. soldiers. Some go passively; others are seized and beaten protesting the beating of their wives and children. All are tortured and most receive some form of sexual torture, including forced sodomy.
The eleven men profiled in the PHR report are not notorious threats to national security like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah. They were waterboarded (or, as the International Red Cross calls it, “suffocation by water”) 183 times and 83 times, respectively. Rather, the men in the RHR report are what is euphemistically called “the fog of war.” Their innocence makes the villainy perpetrated against them by U.S. personnel all the more shameful.
A truism of modern life is that history, like war, is written by the victor. Bush’s war on terror will be recalled, like Johnson’s Vietnam war, as a military failure based on a president-initiated and media-facilitated lie. Like the false Bay of Tonkin attacks that provided the rationale for the Vietnam War, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to legitimize the invasion and occupation of a sovereign country. Today, Vietnam is in the Chinese orbit; tomorrow, Iraq will fall under the sway of Iran. American military interventions will turn out to be historical failures.
Most disturbing, Bush’s war on terror was marked by the sadism of power. The PHR report documents how war frees culturally sanctioned (masculine) prohibitions against the inflicting of sexual aggression on innocent people, prisoners. The rape and sexual torture inflicted as part of the war on terror was a military campaign expressing political power. Those in power, whether Bush and Rumsfeld or, a generation earlier, Johnson and McNamara, sanctioned torture and sexual degradation as legitimate tactics of a military campaign. While the Marquis de Sade could only dream of mass sexual sadism, America’s political elite, include its presidents, defense secretaries, military officer core and ground-level operatives, lived out a sadistic nightmare as the spoils of military power.
In a preface to the PHR report, Major General Antonio Taguba, author of a separate study for the U.S. military on Abu Ghraib, insists that the eleven men profiled in the study “deserve justice as required under the tenants of international law and the United States Constitution. And so do the American people.”
Only a full-scale Congressional investigation, similar to the 1975-1976 Church committee hearing on the CIA, will provide a hopefully full account of the horrors committed by the U.S. military, intelligence agencies and private contractors in the “war on terror.”
* * *
The PHR report profiles eleven victims of U.S. torture. Their individual experiences are worth recounting for they tell much about the U.S. torture system. The report documents the torture techniques, those involving “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” used on the eleven prisoners. These practices include: waterboarding, beating, stabbing, kicking, electric shock, stress positions, sleep deprivation, forced shaving, arm suspensions, cold-water immersion, food, water and sleep deprivation, noise bombardment, pepper spraying, extended periods of isolation, snarling dogs, exposure to the cold, death threats and a host of sexual abuses, like naked pyramids, exposed genitals, simulated homoerotic encounters and forced sodomization.
The report adheres to a policy of anonymous reporting, so the identities of the eleven prisoners remain private. The report also does not question the narrative stories presented by the detainees. Summary profiles, with special attention to the sexual abuse suffered, of the eleven detainees follow.
The first group consists of Iraqis:
· Kamal – a former Iraqi military officer in his late-40s and a father of seven, he is arrested in his Baghdad home in the middle of the night and kept at Abu Ghraib and other prisons for 21 months; he suffers repeated acts of sexual humiliation, including being stripped naked, paraded before female interrogators and having his penis pulled.
· Hefez – a retired Iraqi manager in his 50s with two years of college, a father of four and grandfather of two, he is arrested in his Baghdad home in the middle of the night and kept at Abu Ghraib and Baghdad Airport for seven months; while he reports only having his penis and tentacles painfully pulled, he suffers a post-imprisonment lack of sexual desire.
· Laith – a former Iraqi soldier in his mid-40s had previous spent 18 months in prison under Saddam Hussein, he is arrested in his Baghdad home in the middle of the night, his pregnant wife and children beaten by U.S. personnel and she miscarries, he was kept at Abu Ghraib and other prisons for eight months; he reports being sodomized, including by an electrical device, and was forced to wear soiled underwear and drink urine; he suffers sexual dysfunction and anal scars.
· Yasser – a former teacher and educated farmer in his mid-40s, he is picked up for no apparent reason in front of Baghdad mosque; he is kept at Abu Ghraib and other prisons for seven months; he reports being sodomized on fifteen separate occasions and suffers rectal bleeding; once freed, he lives with deep depression.
· Morad – a retired Iraqi civil servant and small businessman in his late-50s who supports a wife and six children, he is arrested in his Baghdad home in the middle of the night and kept at Abu Ghraib and other prisons for eight months; he appears to have not been subject to extreme interrogation or sexual torture.
· Rahman – a small businessman in his early-40s, he is arrested in his Baghdad shop and held at Abu Ghraib for nine months; he is forced to stand naked and hooded for extended periods; once freed, he suffers sexual dysfunction.
· Amir – his image being pulled around with a leather dog’s leash is immortalized in photos taken at Abu Ghraib; he is a salesman in his late-20s and the sole support of his mother, his brother’s wife and three children, he is arrested in the early morning hours while sleeping in his Baghdad hotel room; he is held at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca for 18 months and is sodomized with a broomstick and suffers rectal bleeding, is urinated on and kept naked for extended periods; freed, he lives with the humiliation of the Abu Ghriab photos.
The second group consists of men picked up in Afghanistan or Pakistan:
· Haydar– a poor man in his late-30s, married with four children–he leaves his native country (not identified) for Afghanistan looking for work; in the wake of 9/11, he fails in his attempt to flee the country and is detained at the Afghan border by the Taliban and handed over to the U.S. military; he spends the next 30 months in Kandahar and Guantánamo and is repeatedly beaten, stripped naked (often in front of U.S. female personnel) and his testicles painfully pulled.
· Adeel — a foreigner in his early-40s in Pakistan (his country of origin is not identified), he is married with five children and a teacher with an international group; he spends about four-and-one-half years in prisons after being picked up by the Pakistani military, imprisoned in Islamabad, sent to Bagram base in Afghanistan and ends up at Gitmo; he is forced to strip (often in front of who he believes to be female U.S. personnel) and undergoes repeated forced anal examination; after release, he suffers from chronic constipation.
· Yousssef – a devout poor Muslim man in his early-40s who is picked up by the Pakistani military crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan without a passport (his country of origin is not identified); he is held for more then two years in Kandahar and Guantánamo; in Kandahar, he is beaten, stripped naked and humiliated in front of U.S. female personnel; at Gitmo, he faces similar humiliation and is forced to look at pornography with men and women having intercourse, and undergoes interrogation by a U.S. female official who spreads him with what appeared to be menstral blood.
· Rasheed – a mid-30s engineer, married with two children, he fled his country of origin (not identified) after converting to Islam and is picked up living in an Afghan refuge camp; he spends about five years prison in Kandahar and Guantánamo where he is stripped naked, shaved, had female military personnel take pictures of him and suffered repeated body cavity searches; he attempts suicide, including beating his head against a wall.
The PHR case-study profiles are of only eleven of the thousands, tens of thousands, of innocent men picked up and tortured as part of Bush’s war on terror. These men were never charged, tried or convicted of any crime, but were systematically tortured before being quietly released. Whether this policy continues under Obama’s doomed military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is an open question.
* * *
The PHR report is one drip in a slowing mounting torrent of revelation about torture and other crimes committed as part of Bush’s war on terror. Other important revelations “drips” about the treatment of alleged enemy combatants are:
· International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report, “The Treatment of Fourteen ‘High-Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody"
· U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee report, “Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody”
· Major General Antonio Taguba report on Abu Ghraib prisoners, “Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade”
· Major General George Fay report on Abu Ghraib (co-authored by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones), “AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade”
In addition, there have been many reports by the Associated Press, newspapers and magazines around the world. This growing body of evidence of war crimes with a particularly sexual character has been discussed in “Sexual Torture: What is Acknowledged and What Remains Unknown,” CounterPunch, May 15-17, 2009 and "Sexual Terrorism: The Sadistic Side of Bush’s War on Terror," CounterPunch, May 13, 2008.
One can only hope that the next study of torture as an instrument of the war on terror will focus on the perpetrators, not the victims. The actions by these men and women, U.S. military personnel, intelligence operatives and private mercenaries, reveals the sadomasochism of power that defines the American political-military state and, by extension, state and local juridical-police power.
The rationalization of state sadism to fight “terrorism” or “crime” serves to cultivate a mass-psychology of fascism, the rise of a police state. Only by exposing the pathology of power that drove Bush’s global war on terror will we be able to contain the Brzezinski wing of the Obama military-industry complex that defines not only foreign policy but human rights, and thus the legitimization of the torture of innocent people in the name of a war or terror or democracy.
DAVID ROSEN is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009); he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.