Thursday, August 27, 2009

Women as Weapons of War


Monday saw the release of a long-anticipated Inspector General's report on CIA torture of detainees since the "war on terror" began after 9/11. There have been countless allegations of abuse and murder, along with the graphic torture that the IG report documents. Much has been said about the ethics of this torture and many have questioned its effectiveness and asked who, if anyone, should be held responsible for these acts.

Like everyone, I struggle with the notion of war as a way to peace, trying to balance the emotional truth and religious belief that violence is never acceptable, with the human thirst for vengeance. But it's hard to ever justify the types of violence and sadistic torture that is outlined in the IG report. For a good overview of the types of torture interrogators used, I recommend, via Liz and Shakesville, Glenn Greenwald's synopsis.

But the method of torture I found especially sick was this one: the threat of raping detainees' female family members in front of them.

So, our government is threatening to use rape as a tool of war, not unlike the type of evil we were supposedly fighting when Sadaam Hussein was in power, which included rape and sexual enslavement. That the CIA is using women as a prop for sexual assault, perhaps with approval from the Bush White House, is an apalling power play that demoralizes women as a tool for terrorism. Yes, it's a different kind of terrorism than suicide bombing, but it's spreading fear through sexual exploitation nonetheless. Did CIA interrogators actually fly out mothers, daughters and wives to rape in front of detainees? Probably not. Is it a cruel threat that dehumanizes women as weapons of war? Absolutely.

The admission of using sexual threats as a torture tactic is a new low for a government that has a recent history of war scandals that included sexual humiliation as well as violence.

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing in January, she cited the unacceptable use of rape as a war tool in Congo. In April, she reiterated the problem and said, "We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender based violence, and there must be arrests and punishment because that runs counter to peace." Her statements hit home for people whose peace of mind has been shattered since incidents of sexual assault. There can never be true peace when rape is involved with military defense. Take it from someone who knows, Melissa McEwan:

The idea that impunity for sexual violence is an impediment to peace is one that touches me so deeply and intimately, I don't know if I can sufficiently convey how profoundly meaningful it is to hear my Secretary of State say it. Endemic and epidemic sexual violence without justice is, in its broadest sense, an obstacle to national peace—and then there is this: Surviving sexual assault without justice is not a peaceful life. It decimates all the elements of a peaceful life—one's sense of security, one's peace of mind, one's contentment within one's own skin. I have never again felt the kind of peace I knew before sexual violence without justice.

Rape is a crime of power, hurting victims in one of the most destructive ways imaginable. Since the leaders of the free world so often see themselves as the moral compass for the globe, it would do them well to acknowledge the impact sexual assault has victims all over the world, and to set the standard that sexual crimes will not be used to spread more fear and terror in a world that has plenty of both already.

The full IG report may be read here.

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