Post by Jean Guernon
the Guardian lies as it
Prove anything in the article below is a lie (this would explain why insurgents
are beheading people to free the women).
Thursday May 20, 2004
The scandal at Abu Ghraib prison was first exposed not by a digital photograph
but by a letter. In December 2003, a woman prisoner inside the jail west of
Baghdad managed to smuggle out a note. Its contents were so shocking that, at
first, Amal Kadham Swadi and the other Iraqi women lawyers who had been trying
to gain access to the US jail found them hard to believe.
The note claimed that US guards had been raping women detainees, who were, and
are, in a small minority at Abu Ghraib. Several of the women were now pregnant,
it added. The women had been forced to strip naked in front of men, it said. The
note urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail to spare the women further
Late last year, Swadi, one of seven female lawyers now representing women
detainees in Abu Ghraib, began to piece together a picture of systemic abuse and
torture perpetrated 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".
In November last year, Swadi visited a woman detainee at a US military base at
al-Kharkh, a former police compound in Baghdad. "She was the only woman who
would talk about her case. She was crying. She told us she had been raped,"
Swadi says. "Several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight
them off and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, 'We
have daughters and husbands. For God's sake don't tell anyone about this.'"
Astonishingly, the secret inquiry launched by the US military in January, headed
by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed that the letter smuggled out of
Abu Ghraib by a woman known only as "Noor" was entirely and devastatingly
accurate. While most of the focus since the scandal broke three weeks ago has
been on the abuse of men, and on their sexual humilation in front of US women
soldiers, there is now incontrovertible proof that women detainees - who form a
small but unknown proportion of the 40,000 people in US custody since last
year's invasion - have also been abused. Nobody appears to know how many. But
among the 1,800 digital photographs taken by US guards inside Abu Ghraib there
are, according to Taguba's report, images of a US military policeman "having
sex" with an Iraqi woman.
Taguba discovered that guards have also videotaped and photographed naked female
detainees. The Bush administration has refused to release other photographs of
Iraqi women forced at gunpoint to bare their breasts (although it has shown them
to Congress) - ostensibly to prevent attacks on US soldiers in Iraq, but in
reality, one suspects, to prevent further domestic embarrassment.
Earlier this month it emerged that an Iraqi woman in her 70s had been harnessed
and ridden like a donkey at Abu Ghraib and another coalition detention centre
after being arrested last July. Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who investigated the case
and found it to be true, said, "She was held for about six weeks without charge.
During that time she was insulted and told she was a donkey."
In Iraq, the existence of photographs of women detainees being abused has
provoked revulsion and outrage, but little surprise. Some of the women involved
may since have disappeared, according to human rights activists. Professor Huda
Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University who is researching
the subject for Amnesty International, says she thinks "Noor" is now 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 neighbours said her family had moved
away. I believe she has been killed."
Honour killings are not unusual in Islamic society, where rape is often equated
with shame and where the stigma of being raped by an American soldier would,
according to one Islamic cleric, be "unbearable". The prospects for rape victims
in Iraq are grave; it is hardly surprising that no women have so far come
forward to talk about their experiences in US-run jails where abuse was rife
until early January.
One of the most depressing aspects of the saga is that, unaccountably, the US
military continues to hold five women in solitary confinement at Abu Ghraib, in
cells 2.5m (8ft) long by 1.5m (5ft) wide. Last week, the military escorted a
small group of journalists around the camp, where hundreds of relatives gather
every day in a dusty car park in the hope of news.
The prison is protected by guard towers, an outer fence topped with razor wire,
and blast walls. Inside, more than 3,000 Iraqi men are kept in vast open
courtyards, in communal brown tents exposed to dust and sun. (Last month, nearly
30 detainees were killed in two separate mortar attacks on the prison; about a
dozen survivors are still in the hospital wing, shackled to their beds with
leather belts.) As our bus pulled up, the men ran towards the razor wire. They
unfurled banners and T-shirts that read: "Why are we here?" "When are you going
to do something about this scandal?" "We cannot talk freely."
The women, however, are kept in another part of the prison, cellblock 1A,
together with 19 "high-value" male detainees. It is inside this olive-painted
block, which leads into a courtyard of shimmering green saysaban trees and pink
flowering shrubs, that the notorious photographs of US troops humiliating Iraqi
prisoners were taken, many of them on the same day, November 8 2003. A wooden
interrogation shed is a short stroll away. As we arrived at the cellblock, the
women shouted to us through the bars. An Iraqi journalist tried to talk to them;
a female US soldier interrupted and pushed him away. The windows of the women's
cells have been boarded up; birds nest in the outside drainpipe. Captain Dave
Quantock, now in charge of prisoner detention at Abu Ghraib, confirmed that the
women prisoners are in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. They have no
entertainment; they do have a Koran.
Since the scandal first emerged there is general agreement that conditions at
Abu Ghraib have improved. A new, superior catering company now provides the
inmates' food, and all the guards involved in the original allegations of abuse
Nevertheless, there remain extremely troubling questions as to why these women
came to be here. Like other Iraqi prisoners, all five are classified as
"security detainees" - a term invented by the Bush administration to justify the
indefinite detention of prisoners without charge or legal access, as part of the
war on terror. US military officials will only say that they are suspected of
Two of the women are the wives of high-ranking and absconding Ba'ath party
members; two are accused of financing the resistance; and one allegedly had a
relationship with the former head of Iraq's secret police, the Mukhabarat. The
women, in their 40s and 50s, come from Kirkuk and Baghdad; none has seen their
families or children since their arrest earlier this year.
According to Swadi, who managed to visit Abu Ghraib in late March, the
allegations against the women are "absurd". "One of them is supposed to be the
mistress of the former director of the Mukhabarat. In fact, she's a widow who
used to own a small shop. She also worked as a taxi driver, ferrying children to
and from kindergarten. If she really had a relationship with the director of the
Mukhabarat, she would scarcely be running a kiosk. These are baseless charges,"
she adds angrily. "She is the only person who can provide for her children."
The women appear to have been arrested in violation of international law - not
because of anything they have done, but merely because of who they are married
to, and their potential intelligence value. US officials have previously
acknowledged detaining Iraqi women in the hope of convincing male relatives to
provide information; when US soldiers raid a house and fail to find a male
suspect, they will frequently take away his wife or daughter instead.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, whose devastating report on human
rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners was delivered to the government in February but
failed to ring alarm bells, says the problem lies with the system. "It is an
absence of judicial guarantees," says Nada Doumani, spokesperson for the ICRC.
"The system is not fair, precise or properly defined."
During her visit to Abu Ghraib in March, one of the prisoners told Swadi that
she had been forced to undress in front of US soldiers. "The Iraqi translator
turned his head in embarrassment," she said. The release of detainees,
meanwhile, appears to be entirely arbitrary: three weeks ago one woman prisoner
who spoke fluent English and who had been telling her guards that she would sue
them was suddenly released. "They got fed up with her," another lawyer, Amal
Last Friday, about 300 male prisoners were freed from Abu Ghraib, the first
detainees to be released since the abuse scandal first broke. A further 475 are
due to be released tomorrow, although it is not clear if any of the women will
be among them. General Geoffery Miller, who is responsible for overhauling US
military jails in Iraq, has promised to release 1,800 prisoners across Iraq
"within 45 days". Some 2,000 are likely to remain behind bars, he says. Iraqi
lawyers and officials aredemanding that the US military hands the prisons over
to Iraqi management on June 30, when the coalition transfers limited powers to a
UN-appointed caretaker Iraqi government. Last week, Miller said "negotiations"
with Iraqi officials were ongoing.
Relatives who gathered outside Abu Ghraib last Friday said it was common
knowledge that women had been abused inside the jail. Hamid Abdul Hussein, 40,
who was there hoping to see his brother Jabar freed, said former detainees who
had returned to their home town of Mamudiya reported that several women had been
raped. "We've know this for months," he said. "We also heard that some women
While the abuse may have stopped, the US military appears to have learned
nothing from the experience. Swadi says that when she last tried to visit the
women at Abu Ghraib, "The US guards refused to let us in. When we complained,
they threatened to arrest us."