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Category: International, Violence against Women

Abeer’s Courage

| August 9, 2007

During the long days of the rape and murder court-martial of Sgt. Jesse Spielman at Fort Campbell where I was reporting a story for the Women’s Media Center website—I was struck by the language I was hearing and the apparent meaning of the words.

For example, “pussy” was used to describe a coward. I didn’t hear the slang term “balls,” referring to the male anatomy and often meant to denote courage, but the themes of courage and cowardice hung in the air throughout every exchange with the witnesses. To explain the actions of his client--and perhaps to indicate the testosterone charged atmosphere--the defense attorney emphasized the difficulty of escaping the tensions of the posting as he questioned a witness about what happened if you took combat stress leave. “They'd call you a fucking pussy,,." he stated. "Yes, that's right," Sgt. Anthony Yribe responded.

Rather than risk their reputation as courageous soldiers by requesting leave, these men remained in what was often described as a very stressful station  - Traffic Control Point 2 - and became involved in a plan that took the lives of four civilians—one male and three female members of the Al-Janabi family. Each of the four soldiers who directly participated in this crime armed themselves well before taking their unarmed victims by surprise, two of whom were children. The parents and youngest daughter were herded into one room and shot while 14-year-old Abeer was raped by two soldiers and then a third. Shortly afterwards, Abeer was shot and her body was burned.

I can't think of anything more cowardly than these actions described during the trial. The men admitted to regularly 'roughing up' Iraqi civilians with no evidence at all that there was an insurgent among them. They talked about having sex with Iraqi women being fully aware that it would not be consensual and, in effect, rape. However, they would not use the term rape. This word was used throughout their sworn statements but when questioned by the defense attorneys, not one soldier admitted to having used the word rape during their discussions with one another. The word rape appeared in their sworn statements (often typed out by CID investigators) as it was necessary for the soldiers to acknowledge on paper that this is what 'fucking' Iraqi women amounted to. I found it surprising that men who were capable of such an atrocity would shy away from the word rape as though they couldn't quite admit to themselves that this is what they were contemplating. Then it occurred to me that the reason they didn't call it rape was not because the act was unpalatable to them, but because it was irrelevant to them that what they called having sex was experienced as rape by the victim. All they saw in this act was what they wanted.

According to reports, the soldier who ultimately came forward about these murders was clearly torn about the decision to report it. He didn’t want to turn in his ‘brothers’ and feared that there would be reprisals for doing so. In fact, just about everyone who was involved – directly or indirectly - implied that to go against the rest would be risking their own lives. Once you hear about the difficult circumstances of these men, seemingly vulnerable in a dangerous area watching their fellow soldiers being shot before their eyes, it’s easy to lose perspective. However, one of the main reasons given for soldiers to go to Iraq is to risk their lives to create a better, more democratic environment for the Iraqi people.  In fact, referring to the better conditions achieved in Iraq as a result of the war, Bush was quoted as saying "Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers. Iraq is free of a brutal thug. America did the right thing.”

If you're looking for any semblance of courage in this story, you may want to remember that Abeer was still fighting against her assailants during the third and final attack on her body. Many would have given up.