Tuesday, 5 May 2009

So much for liberating women in Iraq

A Briefing Paper
OF
INTERNATIONAL EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Prepared by
Kristen McNutt, Researcher, Association of Humanitarian Lawyers
Presented to
The United Nations
Commission on Human Rights
2005 Session
March
Geneva

Iraqi female detainees have been illegally detained, raped and sexually violated by United States military personnel. Women who stay at home in traditional roles are more likely to be imprisoned as bargaining chips by US troops seeking to pressurize male relatives, according to the New Statesmen (UK) . In December 2003, a woman prisoner, “Noor”, smuggled out a note stating that US guards at Abu Ghraib had been raping women detainees and forcing them to strip naked. Several of the women were now pregnant. The classified enquiry launched by the US military, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed the note by “Noor” and that sexual violence against women at Abu Ghraib took place. Among the 1,800 digital photographs taken by US guards inside Abu Ghraib there were, according to Taguba's report, images of naked male and female detainees; a male Military Police guard “having sex” with a female detainee; detainees (of unspecified gender) forcibly arranged in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; and naked female detainees. The Bush administration has refused to release photographs of Iraqi women prisoners at Abu Ghraib, including those of women forced at gunpoint to bare their breasts (although these have been shown to Congress). UK Member of Parliament Ann Clwyd (L) has confirmed a report of an Iraqi woman in her 70s who had been harnessed and ridden like a donkey at Abu Ghraib and another coalition detention centre after being arrested last July. Clwyd said: "She was held for about six weeks without charge. During that time she was insulted and told she was a donkey."

The Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, reports that In the middle of the night, American soldiers broke into the home of Mithal al Hassan and arrested both her and her son. “The soldiers later ransacked the apartment. Denounced as part of a vendetta, Mithal was condemned without trial to eighty days of horror in the company of other women prisoners who, like her, were subjected to abuse and torture. She has since spotted her tormentors on the internet.” A culture of honor prevents many women from telling stories of rapes. The account given by “Selwa”, illustrates this. In September 2003, Selwa was taken by US military personnel to a detention facility in Tikrit, where an American officer lit a mixture of human feces and urine in a metal container and gave Selwa a heavy club to stir it. She recalls, “The fire from the pot felt very strong on my face.” She leans forward and sweeps her hands through the air to show how she stirred the excrement. “I became very tired,” she says. “I told the sergeant I couldn’t do it.” “There was another man close to us. The sergeant came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘If you don’t, I will tell one of the soldiers to fuck you.’” Selwa could not continue with the story. An Iraqi girl, Raghada, reports that her mother, imprisoned at Abu Ghraib, was forced to eat from a toilet and was urinated on.

Iman Khamas, head of the International Occupation Watch Center, a nongovernmental organization which gathers information on human rights abuses under coalition rule, has said; “one former detainee had recounted the alleged rape of her cell mate in Abu Ghraib.” According to Khamas, the prisoner said; “she had been rendered unconscious for 48 hours.” She claimed; “She had been raped 17 times in one day by
Iraqi police in the presence of American solders”.

Another woman, "Nadia," reported that she was raped by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. She continues to be "imprisoned" by painful memories that left her psychologically and physically scarred. Late last year, attorney Amal Kadham Swadi, one of seven female lawyers now representing women detainees in Abu Ghraib, began to piece together a picture of systemic abuse and torture by US guards against Iraqi women held in detention without charge. This was not only true of Abu Ghraib, she discovered, but was, as she put it, "happening all across Iraq". Amal Kadham Swadi states that “sexualized violence and abuse committed by US troops goes far beyond a few isolated cases.” It is unknown as to exactly how many female detainees there are. ‘The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that 30 women were
housed in Abu Ghraib last October, 2003, which was reduced to 0 by May 29, 2004”.

Swadi visited a detainee held at the US military base a Al-Khakh, a former police compound in Baghdad. The detainee disclosed that, “Several American solders had raped her and that she had tried to fight them off and they had hurt her arm”.

These and other incidents are being covered up for US domestic consumption. President G W Bush has insisted that these were the actions of a few and were not the result of military policy. However, a fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, points to complicity to sexual torture by the entire Army prison system. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December
of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and
wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib.

The cover-up by the Bush Administration appears to include the silencing of victims. Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University, who is interviewing female prisoners as a volunteer for Amnesty International, reports that the woman, called “Noor,” who smuggled the letter out of Abu Ghraib, is now presumed dead. “We believe she was raped and that she was pregnant by a US guard. After her release from Abu Ghraib, I went to her house. The neighbors said that her family had moved away. I believed that she was killed”.

It is well known that the US has a culture of rape: one in six women in the United States has experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault. Reinforcing the climate of sexual violence, photos purporting to be of raped Iraqi women by US troops are surfacing on the web, with some are later removed. Actual pictures can be viewed, as of this writing, at the La Voz de Aztlan website which reports that many of the pictures are now on pornographic sites.

Women Civilian War Casualties
In October 2004, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) website counted casualties of the US attack against Fallujah. IBC concluded that 572 and 616 of the approximately 800 reported deaths were of civilians, with over 300 of these being women and children. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that dozens of Iraqis, including 20 medics, were killed when he US bombed a medical clinic in Fallujah. The clinic was just erected to substitute for the main hospital which was seized by the U.S. on Monday. One doctor told Reuters "There is not a single surgeon in Fallujah. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands." Because of the serious assault on medical neutrality, on 18 November 2004 the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers filed an emergency petition at the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of “unnamed, unnumbered patients and medical staff, both living and dead, of the Falluja General Hospital and a trauma clinic.” International Educational Development, Inc, joined this action immediately thereafter.

According to the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, napalm appears to have been used on women and children during the US attack on Fallujah.

U.S. Military Prevents the Delivery of Medical Care to Women Civilians

The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids attacks on emergency vehicles and the impediment of medical operations during war. The main hospital in Amiriyat al-Fallujah was raided twice by US soldiers and the Iraqi National Guard; first on November 29, 2004 at 5:40 am and again the next day. Staff reported; “In the first raid about 150 soldiers and at least 40 members of the Iraqi National Guard stormed the small hospital”. Staff reported; “They divided into groups and were all over the hospital. They broke the gates outside, they broke the doors of the garage, and the raided our supply room where our food and supplies are”. Staff members were then handcuffed and interrogated for several hours about resistance fighters. One staff member recounts; “The Americans threatened that they would do what they did in Fallujah if I didn’t cooperate with them”.

Medical care for civilians was blocked by snipers that are set up along the roads to Fallujah that fire on ambulances. Doctors from the main hospital in Amiriyat al-Fallujah are reporting; “The Americans have snipers all along the road between here and Fallujah. They are shooting our ambulances if they try to go to Fallujah”. In addition, medical supplies are being blocked from being sent to hospitals by US troops. In nearby Saqlawiyah, Doctor Abdulla Aziz reported that supplies were being blocked from reaching or leaving Amiriyat al-Fallujah; “They won’t let any of our ambulances go to help Fallujah. We are out of supplies and they won’t let anyone bring us more”.

Obstruction of medical care to the civilian population of Iraq seems to be a pattern that has persisted. Dr. Abdul Jabbar, orthopedic surgeon at Fallujah General Hospital claims that; “The marines have said they didn’t close the hospital, but essentially they did. They closed the bridge, which connects us to the city, and closed our roads. They prevented medical care reaching countless patients in desperate need. Who knows how many of them died that we could have saved?”.

In addition to blocking supplies and aid to victims, hospital staff has been handcuffed and interrogated and patient care has been violently disrupted. “We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments,” reported Dr Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi present during the raid on Fallujah General Hospital. She reported abuse to civilian patients as well; “troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them against the wall…I was with a woman in labor, the umbilical cord had not yet been cut,” she said. “At that time, a U.S. soldier shouted at one of the [Iraqi] National Guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver”.

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