Manhood and Moral Waivers
| August 8, 2006
Her birthday is August 19, her death day March 12.
We cannot let this crime, too, pass into oblivion.
When news surfaced that GIs allegedly stalked, terrorized, gang-raped, and killed an Iraqi woman, the U.S. tried minimizing this latest atrocity by our troops—claiming the victim was age 25 or even 50, implying a rape-murder is less horrific if the victim is an older woman. Now, Article 32 hearings—the military equivalent of a grand jury—have ended at Camp Liberty, a U.S. base in Iraq (U.S. troops are exempt from Iraqi prosecution). In September, a general will rule whether the accused should be court-martialed. The defense already pleads post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): in four months preceding the crime, 17 of the accused GIs’ battalion were killed; their company, Bravo, suffered eight combat deaths.
But as the U.S. spun the victim’s identity, investigators knew her name: Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi.
Abeer means “fragrance of flowers.” She was 14 years old.
The soldiers noticed her at a checkpoint. They stalked her after one or more of them expressed his intention to rape her. On March 12, after playing cards while slugging whisky mixed with a high-energy drink and practicing their golf swings, they changed into black civvies and burst into Abeer’s home in Mahmoudiya, a town 50 miles south of Baghdad. They killed her mother Fikhriya, father Qassim, and five-year-old sister Hadeel with bullets to the forehead, and “took turns” raping Abeer. Finally, they murdered her, drenched the bodies with kerosene, and lit them on fire to destroy the evidence. Then the GIs grilled chicken wings.
These details are from a sworn statement by Spc. James P. Barker, one of the accused along with Sgt. Paul Cortez, Pfc. Jesse Spielman, and Pfc. Bryan Howard; a fifth, Sgt. Anthony Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but not with having participated.
Then there’s former Pfc. Steven Green. Discharged in May for a “personality disorder,” Green was arrested in North Carolina, pled not guilty in federal court, and is being held without bond. He’s the convenient scapegoat whose squad leader testified how often Green said he hated all Iraqis and wanted to kill them. Other soldiers said Green threw a puppy off a roof, then set it on fire. The company commander noted Green had “serious anger issues.”
Who is this “bad apple”? A good ole boy from Midland, Texas.
“If you want to understand me, you need to understand Midland,” says President Bush. Steven Green understands Midland—his home until his parents divorced and his mother remarried when Steven was eight, already in trouble in school. A high-school dropout, Green returned to Midland to get his GED in 2003. Then, in 2005, he enlisted. He immersed himself in a chapel baptismal pool at Fort Benning, Georgia—getting “born again” while being trained how to kill legally and die heroically. He was 19, with three convictions: fighting, alcohol, and drug possession.
Once, the Army would have rejected him. But he enlisted when, desperate for fresh recruits, the Army started increasing, by nearly half, the rate at which it grants what it terms “moral waivers” to potential recruits. According to the Pentagon, waivers in 2001 totaled 7,640, increasing to 11,018 in 2005. “Moral waivers” permit recruits with criminal records, emotional problems, and weak educational backgrounds to be taught how to use submachine guns and rocket launchers. Afterward, if they survive, they’ll be called heroes—and released back into society. (One ex-soldier praising the military for having “properly trained and hardened me” was Timothy McVeigh).
The U.S. military is now a mercenary force. In addition to hired militias and “independent contractors,” we do have a draft: a poverty draft. That’s why the Army is so disproportionately comprised of people of color, seeking education, health care, housing. But the military inflicts other perks: teenage males, hormones surging, are taught to confuse their bodies with weapons, and relish that.
One notorious training song (with lewd gestures) goes: “This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for killing, one is for fun.” The U.S. Air Force admits showing films of violent pornography to pilots before they fly bombing raids. Military manuals are replete with such blatant phrases as “erector launchers,” “thrust ratios,” “rigid deep earth-penetration,” “potent nuclear hardness.”
“Soft targets”? Civilians. Her name means “fragrance of flowers.”
Feminist scholars have been exposing these phallocentric military connections for decades. When I wrote The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism (updated edition 2001, Washington Square Press), I presented far more evidence than space here permits on how the terrorist mystique and the hero legend both spring from 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 U.S. foreign policy (afflicted with premature ejaculation) to “camouflage chic,” and glamorized gangtsa styles?
This definition of manhood is toxic to men and lethal to women.
But atrocity fatigue has set in. Wasn’t rape a staple of war long before The Iliad? Weren’t 100 thousand women and girls raped and killed in brothel-death-camps in the former Yugoslavia? Didn’t warring Somali clans in the 1990s, sometimes joined by UN Peacekeeping troops, rape “each other’s women”? Weren’t the five surviving Somali women then stoned to death by Islamists for “adultery”? And weren’t the earliest reports from another small, troubled country—of rape attacks on villages by gangs called Interahamwe (“Our Heroic Boys”)—ignored? It was merely about women, and hardly anyone had heard of the place: Rwanda.
Yet the Pentagon is shocked. “Not our nice American GIs? Must be a few bad apples.” Have we already forgotten Abu Ghraib? The photos of sexually tortured men leaked, but photos of abased and abused women prisoners are still classified, for fear of greater world outrage. Have we forgotten two U.S. marines and a sailor kidnapping a 12-year-old Okinawan girl in 1995, battering, raping, and abandoning her naked in a deserted area? She somehow survived and reported them, though her PTSD doubtless haunts still. So many military rapes have occurred in Okinawa, Korea, and the Philippines that Asian feminists organized entire movements in protest.
Incidents keep occurring around U.S. ports and bases, including the hundreds of reported rapes of U.S. women soldiers by their fellow GIs (plus the joint epidemic of rape and evangelicalism at the U.S. Air Force Academy).
In 1998, a landmark UN decision recognized rape as a war crime—though this raises the question: If rape in war is a crime against humanity, then what is it in peacetime?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—as Green and his buddies might be. Then all returns to “normal.” They’re sacrificed to save the ranks of those who train them to do what they did, and to save the careers of politicians who sermonize obscenely about “moral values” while issuing moral waivers.
But this crime we cannot let pass into oblivion.
She was 14 years old and her name was Abeer.
It means “fragrance of flowers.”
Robin Morgan’s commentary marks the launch of a Women’s Media Center series and organizing campaign focusing on the crimes against Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and their implications for the U.S. military and foreign policy. We will highlight women’s voices so that media attention will not go the way of coverage of Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and the hundreds of reported rapes of U.S. women soldiers by fellow GIs—receding from the news behind the glare of the government’s latest red alert. Look to this site for continued WMC exclusive coverage of this case and related issues of women living in crisis throughout the Middle East. We will also post information from women’s organizations concerned with issues of women, war, and violence and relevant reprints and links to coverage from a range of media outlets. To read a young Iraqi woman’s commentary from Baghdad, click here for an excerpt from the Riverbend blog, Baghdad Burning.