Emerges of Sexual Assault Against Women Held by U.S. Forces
By Chris Shumway
publicized images of US soldiers torturing and humiliating male Iraqi
prisoners may be overshadowing evidence gathered by several human rights
groups and Pentagon investigators indicating US military personnel have
raped and sexually abused Iraqi women held at Abu Ghraib prison and
other detention facilities.
Amal Kadham Swadi,
an Iraqi attorney representing women detainees, told The Guardian she
believes that sexualized violence and abuse committed by US soldiers
against female prisoners goes far beyond a few isolated cases. Its
"happening all across Iraq," she said.
Women make up a
small minority of the total number of Iraqis held by Coalition forces.
The US military says 78 women are currently detained by occupation militaries
It is not clear,
however, exactly how many women the US and its allies have detained
since the invasion last year. According to the International Committee
of the Red Cross, 30 Iraqi women were housed in Abu Ghraib last October.
That number was reduced to five last month, and finally to zero as of
May 29, according to the military.
Like the majority
of male prisoners, many of the women detained by Coalition forces have
not been charged with any crime. Iraqi human rights groups say they
are likely being used as "bargaining chips" against family
members wanted by Coalition forces, Newsday reports.
Swadi and six other
female Iraqi lawyers began investigating claims of sexual assault late
last year after a note reportedly written by a prisoner named Noor was
smuggled out of Abu Ghraib. The note claimed that US soldiers were raping
female detainees, and in some cases, such as that of Noor herself, getting
them pregnant. Swadi then began interviewing detainees who said they
too had been assaulted or had witnessed assaults, The Guardian reports.
During a visit to
Abu Ghraib in March, Swadi said, one of the prisoners told her US soldiers
had forced her to undress in front of them, an act that would be seen
as particularly demeaning in conservative Muslim culture. At another
detention facility in Baghdad, Swadi encountered a woman who said soldiers
raped her. "She was the only woman who would talk about her case,"
Swadi told The Guardian. "She was crying. She told us she had been
raped," Swadi said. "Several American soldiers had raped her.
She had tried to fight them off and they had hurt her arm. She showed
us the stitches."
Iman Khamas, head
of the International Occupation Watch Center, an organization investigating
human rights abuses under the US-led occupation, said a former detainee
told her about the rape of a cellmate at Abu Ghraib, according to Middle
East Online. On another occasion, a woman whispered cautiously to Khamas
-- even though no one else was in the room -- intimating that soldiers
had raped her at Abu Ghraib. A day later, Khamas said, the woman returned
and asked her to tear up the statement.
According to Khamas,
Swadi and others who are investigating assault cases, few women in Muslim
cultures will come forward since they know rape survivors are often
treated with shame and are sometimes killed as a means of preserving
Khamas and two other
human rights workers have all said separately that three young rural
women from the Sunni Muslim region of Al-Anbar, west of Baghdad, had
been killed by their families after coming out of Abu Ghraib pregnant,
Middle East Online reported.
The Pentagon has
acknowledged, in an internal report by Army Major General Antonio Taguba,
that US soldiers videotaped and photographed naked female detainees
at Abu Ghraib. Photographs taken by US soldiers and shown to members
of Congress, but not yet made public, reportedly depict at least one
Iraqi woman being forced at gunpoint to show her breasts.
The Taguba report
also cites a case of rape at Abu Ghraib, although Taguba described the
incident as a male prison guard "having sex" with a female
Referring to rapes
at that very prison, the militarys chief spokesperson in Iraq,
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, told Agence France Presse that the department
running prisons was "unaware of any such reports at Abu Ghraib."
The military has
not yet charged any soldiers for a specific case of assault or abuse
involving a female detainee.
report indicates that three soldiers from military intelligence were
alleged to have sexually assaulted a female detainee at Abu Ghraib last
October. Army investigators did not confirm the assault. The three soldiers
were reportedly fined several hundred dollars each and demoted for having
been in the prisons female wing without permission, according
to the Washington Post.
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