Appoint a Special Rapporteur

/ 9 May 2004

I have been struggling to figure out my feelings around the prisoner abuse issue. Horror, anger, anguish, sorrow… all of these. But also some sense I couldn’t quite identify surrounding the reality that many of these pictures have women soldiers in “starring” roles. Douglas Johnson (executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture here in Minneapolis) has a powerful op-ed piece in the Star Tribune today. Among other things he points out:

Torture is routinely practiced in the middle of the night -- because this is the scariest time for the victims. Sexual rape, exploitation and humiliation are common forms of torture because they so quickly accomplish torture's goal -- to destroy the victims' sense of self, to leave them broken, battered and ashamed.

Often there is calculated research that determines how to most quickly and permanently humiliate a person through torture. A priest is forced to kill a colleague, a father is forced to facilitate the rape of his daughter -- an Arab man is forced to perform oral sex and be degraded by women in power.

Employing women soldiers in this way would then be precisely calculated, not a bit of "foolish harm" as Limbaugh and others have argued. It would be a deliberate policy -- and in being so deliberate would have as one side consequence its own awful pressure on the women soldiers. What kind of pressure did they experience to accede to such demands? Is this what we are creating in our soldiers? Is this an inevitable element of the destructive power of a military system?

There have been a lot of petitions and e-mail drives out to force Rumsfeld to resign. Good, let's do that. But Johnson makes a different suggestion. He suggests that we push for the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to investigate, and that we push to ensure that we provide victims with legal remedies and as full a rehabilitation as possible. These both would be concrete, appropriate and constructive steps forward on behalf of the victims. Let's tell Congress this!