Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Disturbing Story About Female American Soldiers

In Iraq. Alternet tells us that:

In a startling revelation, the former commander of Abu Ghraib prison testified that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former senior US military commander in Iraq, gave orders to cover up the cause of death for some female American soldiers serving in Iraq.

Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.

The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired US Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview.

It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.

I'm not sure that the cause of dehydration deaths can be so clearly delineated to this fear of rape. But even if it wasn't, the problem is serious and deserves attention. Serving this country does not mean having to service the other soldiers.

Any news story like this wakes up wingnuts who then yell that women have no place in armed forces because, you know, some men will rape them or will be too chivalrous to really do their jobs because they are defending the damsels in distress. That these too arguments clash with each other doesn't seem to make any difference to the wingnuts, and of course it doesn't, because the whole point is to get women out of the military and it doesn't really matter to them what reasoning might be used. It will always be something about men being innately killers and women being innately damsels-in-distress.

I have trouble with this argument, because I believe that we all have the capacity to become killers or victims, and because the argument doesn't help us in learning how to get all the civilian women out of war zones. Since they have no training in war at all they should be at an even greater risk of being raped or an even greater attraction to the chivalrous soldiers to defend. But they are stuck in the middle of the fighting and the wingnuts don't find that disconcerting. Only the idea of female soldiers. Something to do with the ideal of masculinity and girls trying to demean it, I suspect.

But to return to the serious topic of this post. The military should do better in guaranteeing the safety of the women who serve their country, and those men who prey upon them should think about the meaning of "getting your back" and they should make damn sure that they understand what that does NOT include.