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Oh, no.

Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no.

Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’

Oh, no.

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

I mean: you knew it was happening, right? Even before you knew it was happening, even if you didn’t know it was happening, for sure, until today: you knew it was happening. It was in the context. It was in the other photos, the ones where the rape wasn’t shown. Eroticized violence; sex as violence; sex as humiliation; “feminization” as both violence and humiliation: it’s a dynamic, a dynamic you know, something that’s a part of jokes, fraternity initiations, straight-guy porn, something woven into the culture at such a deep level that you can’t help but recognize it, get that sick taste in the back of your mouth when you see it. Especially when you know where it leads. And you know where it leads. It leads here.

So you knew it was happening.

But now you know it was happening.

Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no.

[President Obama] said: “The most direct consequence of releasing [the pictures], I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

Right. Not to point out that military culture is tied to the performance of a very specific, very violent form of masculinity in which to be a “pussy” or a “bitch” or a “faggot” is the worst thing imaginable, that it is a culture that promotes and tolerates pro-rape attitudes, that it is a culture that promotes and tolerates rape. Not to point out that military culture systematically cuts the hearts out of our young men and women, makes them into sociopaths and racists and misogynists and sadists and murderers, in the service of allowing them to more efficiently torture and kill an Other, because recognizing the Other’s humanity would only slow our boys down. Not to point out that rape is inevitably a part of war, that rape is a weapon of war. No. None of those would be the most direct consequence.

Mr Obama seemed to reinforce that view by adding: “I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

Right. Because we can construct a hierarchy of offenses against the basic humanity of others, in which rape is lower down on the list than pretty much everything else. Because that’s not an argument frequently used by those who wish to minimize the impact of rape or anything. Whatever. The President is telling you that torture is worse than rape. That torture is more sensational than rape. As if rape isn’t torture.

Oh, no.

Oh, Jesus Christ, no, no, no, no, no.

[NOTES: First, you know that “triggering” thing people talk about so much? Here is how that looks, with me: I get VERY VERY ANGRY. So I cut out bits of this that were just anger and not insight. Second, I started writing this after I saw Breslin’s DoubleX post, but before I saw the Shakesville post. You should check the Shakesville one. We have a similar take – which take, apparently, includes the need to type some variant on “oh holy shit” over and over because what else can you say, really? – but Melissa McEwan is, as always, really insightful. And doesn’t go off the deep end, as I tend to do, with the whole scorched-earth anger thing.]


  1. Cait wrote:

    Not to point out that military culture systematically…Exactly this. Yes. This was the gist of my comments at Shakesville on the same topic.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  2. Tom wrote:

    Obama says that the perpetrators have been identified and dealt with.

    Not fucking good enough, Mr. President. I want to know everything. I want real accountability. I don’t want sacrificial lambs. If we are supposed to be the moral force in this world, I want you to prove that we are. I want an independent investigation that identifies everyone on the chain of command responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib and I want those people to suffer in prison for the rest of their natural lives.

    What the government has given its citizens since this whole story broke has been half-measures designed to sweep what really happened under the rug. Before the story broke, the military tried to cover it up at all costs. Do you know what that reminds me of?

    My Lai.

    If anything, there was a better investigation after My Lai than there was after Abu Ghraib. And yet almost everyone involved in that massacre walked. That was a travesty of justice that is being repeated right now. This whole thing makes me fucking sick.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  3. KJD wrote:

    Why, why, why is this only on the blogs and wires and not on the Washington Post or NY Times? Not sensational enough (thanks for that, Obama)? I feel like throwing up.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  4. Natasha Simons wrote:

    Do you think Obama would really outright lie? If rape were in the photos, wouldn’t that be considered sensational? I just cannot see him calling these photos unsensational.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  5. Brigid Keely wrote:

    Well, you know, rape is just the cherry on the whole torture sundae.

    Maybe I’m just really REALLY cynical, but I’m surprised that people are so shocked by this revelation. I assumed that rapes were being done routinely and systematically as means of brutalizing and dehumanizing and reinforcing just who had the actual power.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  6. amellifera wrote:

    The only – ONLY – semi-coherent argument against releasing this information/photographic evidence should center around protection for the victims. One can sadly predict a rash of honor killings against every woman who was detained (whether or not she is a rape victim). If this were Obama’s stated reasoning, I’d still disagree with him (instead maybe we could find the victims and offer protection and – gee – maybe an apology too?). I’d have less of a visceral, hands-shaking, disgust for him, though.

    @Natasha: You ask if Obama would really outright lie. I didn’t think he would either, but he totally did. I’m cynical enough to think that a lot of Americans actually would lump this in as being the same as the other stuff, if it were “just” women detainees who were abused. After all, we’ve all known for a long time about the brothels that follow the US military around. Most of those women are sex slaves. Every few years, someone writes an article. There’s shock! and horror! and…. suddenly we’re talking about so-and-so admitting to being a bad mommy instead. Cynical as it is, there is some truth in Obama saying this because human trafficking doesn’t elicit such a visceral response from the American Public. Even when there are pictures attached to the stories. Perhaps I underestimate America. But I know America would be seriously horrified by the videos of underage boys being sodomized while their mothers were forced to watch.
    If nothing else the Catholic Church sex scandels taught us this: We may all casually know about deeply entrenched and widespread sexual abuse of young girls, but when we find out it’s happening to boys too? Then it’s time to act.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  7. snobographer wrote:

    these photos … are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.

    Just to summarize that:

    Rape < Panties on head

    And I don't care about "sensational." I want to know who authorized what, who was in charge of whom, and I want people held accountable. I want to know who did what and what consequences they're facing.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  8. Tangoing with Evita wrote:

    I remember that rape WAS going on and shown in Abu Ghraib back when the first round of photos got released. There was definitely sexualized violence going on in the first round. “the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib” DID include rape, I thought. I mean, my first thought when that was news way back when was being struck by the sexualized nature of it all.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  9. angryyoungwoman wrote:

    People in my family used to be disgusted at me because I’m so anti-torture, and a family friend was killed in the 9/11 attacks. They’d throw in my face, “what if this could’ve gotten information that would’ve saved Brady?” But torture doesn’t just happen and then stop. People don’t just say, “we’re going to stop at waterboarding, then they’ll give us the information and we’ll be done.” People get carried away, people get off on power. People do horrible things. We’ve known about guards raping female prisoners in the US for years–why is anyone surprised that the interrogators who had power of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib raped them?

    Dick Cheney is sticking with his old “it was necessary, it was successful” line. Now the US will be more hated than ever. They won’t hate us because the images are being released. They will hate us because the events happened in the first place.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  10. SargassoSea wrote:

    But, but, Ms. Magazine told us that Obama is what a feminist looks like – on their cover no less.

    Lady Sady, I kinda wish you hadn’t censored your anger coz it would have given me some license to drop a couple of badly needed F-Bombs.

    Did someone suggest puking?

    Friday, May 29, 2009 at 5:59 am | Permalink
  11. Christopher M. wrote:

    Obama’s public rationale for blocking the release of these photos is nonsense. Are we really expected to believe that Iraqis and Afghans don’t already know that their neighbors, families, and friends haven’t been tortured, imprisoned, raped and killed by our military, that these photos will come as some shocking new revelation to them, that “anti-American public opinion” wasn’t already pretty damn inflamed when we started bombing and killing them years ago?

    These photos are being blocked because Obama’s afraid they’ll inflame American public opinion – that pictures of honest-to-god torture in action will shock the country out of its Jack Bauer torture-porn fantasies and maybe even give rise to an actual investigation of American torture policy. And it seems pretty clear by now that nobody in the administration wants anything close to that.

    Friday, May 29, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  12. Adrianna wrote:

    Your overall anti-military theme here is irritating.

    I’m a 20 year old female currently serving active duty here stateside, and I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog.

    Of course we know rape is part of torture, and that rape is torture, and that the men and women overseas often find themselves at odds with their general humanity.

    What you don’t seem to understand is how many active-duty members are against torture.

    And there are many more women and men in service to this country that are not racist, sociopathic rapists. I really resent the hard line you took at this…daily in my life I serve, working late hours to ensure that our men and women have beds to sleep in when they come off of hard duty.

    For me, torture shouldn’t be permissible for a very simple fact…no one should be forced to hurt another human being in this way. You can’t tell me that there is much dissent when the climate is that of “eat or be eaten”…in dark prisons overseas where it’s pretty much a sadistic free for all, no one gets to say no. Military law should back up the reality of our conscience…we are held to higher standards than most of our civilian counterparts, talked to about integrity and doing what’s right, but later forced to harm other humans? doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Any way, to recap— pro military is not pro torture. active duty does not equal soulless human being. thank you for your time.

    Friday, May 29, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
  13. Vertigo wrote:

    Thanks for this post Sandy, and like SargassoSea said, I wish you didn’t have to censor your post. You basically articulated what I was thinking also.

    I also agree with Chistopher M. post 100%. This is mostly about Obama’s not wanting to incite American anger rather than Middle East fury. First of all, in the ME, they don’t like us anyways, and I am pretty sure American’s behaviour is well known in the population. It is in the USA that such pictures might bring the question of the ligitimacy of torture into a more heated discussion. I voted for Obama, but I wish he had more of a backbone in dealing with issues, and not try to please everyone. We will just sail into a sea of nothingness.

    Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 3:52 am | Permalink
  14. Sady wrote:

    @Adrianna: Thanks for articulating your point of view, and for doing so in a respectful manner. As I said, I was really, really triggered and therefore really, really angry when I wrote this post – I don’t say this to make excuses, but just to note that the force of my emotion and the force of my rhetoric may have caused me to overstate the case without bringing in the nuance that I needed.

    HOWEVER. I still disagree with you. The fact is that rape is, inevitably, part of war and part of the military. Any military. Any war. Studying these things makes that fact apparent. And, while not everyone in the military participates in these things – I have family in the military, and I don’t want to believe they do these things – the system allows and encourages them – and, as in this case, protects the perpetrators. LaVena Johnson, anyone? Dehumanizing the enemy (and dehumanizing the combatants themselves: go harder, feel less, do more, don’t ask questions) is also inevitably a part of war and of the military, because you can’t destroy a civilization and kill people while operating with a full human acknowledgment of what you’re doing: and that involves Othering which may be (as it has been in this war) racist, or at the very least by definition xenophobic. It’s one of the key reasons for feminists and progressives to oppose war – particularly truly unnecessary wars like this one.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and for adding your voice to the discussion.

    Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  15. Jeff wrote:

    @Sady, "Not to point out that military culture systematically cuts the hearts out of our young men and women, makes them into sociopaths and racists and misogynists and sadists and murderers, in the service of allowing them to more efficiently torture and kill an Other, because recognizing the Other's humanity would only slow our boys down."

    These words have caused me to stop reading your posts entirely. These words are intentionally inflammatory and offensive while contributing nothing except hatred and ignorance to the topic of discussion.

    It would be prudent to ground yourself in reasonable thought rather than gut reactions and emotion when publishing your work to the world.

    Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  16. Sady wrote:

    @Jeff: It would be prudent, when commenting on my blog about a post on a rape case, to extend your sympathies to the victims of rape rather than the organization that allowed the rapes to happen.

    Although, given that your Blogger profile takes me to one locked blog, and one blog that only has two pictures of naked breasts on it, I really doubt that you should have been reading my blog in the first place. We won’t miss you as a reader.

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink