Who Gave Lynndie
By Lucinda Marshall
04 October, 2005
almost as if Lynndie England was reprising the role of Hester Prynne
in The Scarlet Letter. Dog leash in hand, she epitomized the evil of
Abu Ghraib. The accused knew what she was doing," said Capt. Chris
Graveline, the lead prosecutor. "She was laughing and joking. ...
She is enjoying, she is participating, all for her own sick humor."
Virtually guaranteed a conviction by a jury of five male officers, the
U.S. Military saw in her prosecution a ritual cleansing of the stain
of torture and abuse that oozed out of Abu Ghraib.
That Pvt. England
had a history of mental incapacity and learning disabilities and was
ordered to pose by her lover and superior officer were simply not relevant,
she had a dog leash (although ironically, she was acquitted of a conspiracy
charge pertaining to the leash).
Reports by members
of the 82nd Airborne Division to Human Rights Watch and Congress that
abuse and torture were not limited to Abu Ghraib were also considered
irrelevant. Judge Col. James Pohl rejected a request from England's
attorney to allow testimony by an Army captain about similar abuse at
a camp near Fallujah. Jonathan Crisp, England's lawyer had argued that
Capt. Ian Fishback's testimony would backup the defense assertion that
there was a widespread breakdown of command leadership that would have
allowed soldiers to believe that military leaders condoned the abuse.
Making it crystal
clear that the whole point of the England trial was to close the book
on the torture and abuse allegations, the judge ruled against the testimony
on the grounds that abuse elsewhere was not necessarily connected and
would not lessen England's guilt. Nonetheless, since the Abu Ghraib
scandal broke, there have been more than 400 inquiries into detainee
abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan with 230 military personnel receiving
The Bush administration's
assertion that Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident, and its attempt
to atone for it with England's highly publicized show-trial, was further
damaged by the magnanimous gesture of entrepreneur Chris Wilson. Wilson
generously offered military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan
free access to his porn site in exchange for pictures of the action
in the war zone.
It is perhaps fitting
that the depravity of war should find it's fullest expression on a site
that peddles pornography. The pictures on this site show all manner
of mutilated bodies and clear evidence of torture being committed by
U.S. troops. It is also clear that many of the soldiers sending in these
pictures took great pride in these displays of their handiwork.
recently, the military's response to the site was limited to blocking
soldiers in Iraq from accessing the site on military computers because
of concern about photos of nude female soldiers posing with weapons
that had been posted to the site. After the New York Post broke that
news last October, Wilson was inundated with media queries about the
porn aspect of the site, but it wasn't until recently that any interest
was shown in the pictures of abuse and torture.
Officials at the
U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida told George Zornick of The Nation
that they would not comment on the pictures, claiming that military
firewalls prevented them from viewing the site. A Centcom spokesman
did say that, "Centcom recognizes DoD regulations and the Geneva
Convention prohibit photographing detainees or mutilating and/or degrading
dead bodies," and that, "Centcom has no specific policy on
taking pictures of the deceased as long as those pictures do not violate
the aforementioned prohibitions." And in an interview with Eastbay
Express reporter Chris Thompson, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Conway
said that, "There are policies in place that, on the one hand,
safeguard sensitive and classified information, and on the other hand
protect the First Amendment rights of service members."
The military has
concluded that while some disciplinary action may be taken, at this
point there is insufficient evidence for felony charges since the website's
postings are anonymous and because it would be difficult to verify the
origins and authenticity of the photos (an inexplicable statement since
many of the photos show readily identifiable faces of enlisted personnel).
The military's position is quite troubling inasmuch as the posting of
these photos on a porn site for entertainment purposes would appear
to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate that the
remains of persons who die for reasons related to occupation or detention
as a result of hostilities shall be respected and treated honorably.
What perhaps horrifies
and discomforts us the most however is the blatant connection between
pornography and the violence of war, which is so graphically illustrated
on Wilson's site. One of the pictures Thompson saw on Wilson's site
which illustrates the point shows,
" a woman whose
right leg has been torn off by a land mine, and a medical worker is
holding the mangled stump up to the camera. The woman's vagina is visible
under the hem of her skirt. The caption for this picture reads: "Nice
puss - bad foot." "
This is certainly
not the first time that photos depicting violence during the Iraq conflict
have been spun as pornographic entertainment. When the photos of the
atrocities at Abu Ghraib first surfaced, several photos depicting the
rape and sexual assault of Arabic-looking women by non-Arabic looking
soldiers circulated on the internet. They were immediately discounted
as fakes that were made for pornographic enjoyment simply because they
had been posted to pornography sites. But as Wilson's site illustrates,
criminal behavior can indeed be considered entertainment. It is also
important to remember that the use of prostitutes has long been considered
legitimate R&R for male soldiers and as a recent report obtained
from the Democratic staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee indicates,
sexual abuse is rampant within the military.
Yet anyone who has
been to a movie theater lately knows that the combination of sex and
violence is a popular form of amusement and eroticized violence is often
an element of hard-core pornography. The military arena, where torture
and sexual violence are standard fare, simply provides the opportunity
to up the voyeuristic ante with actual, rather than staged versions
of these acts.
In his closing arguments,
Capt. Graveline asked of England's actions, "What soldier wouldn't
know that that's illegal?" Yet as Fishback's assertions and Wilson's
site indicate, confusion on this point goes far beyond Pvt. England,
and is indeed systemic throughout the U.S. military.
The real crime that
Lynndie England committed was not that she posed inappropriately but
rather that her participation challenged the assumptions of how women
are supposed to behave. The military has always been a culture that
uses rape as a weapon of war and one that takes a 'boys will be boys'
attitude about sexual assault within it's own ranks. That photos of
female soldiers posing with their weapons such as the ones on Wilson's
site or those of Pvt. England pointing at a prisoner's genitalia are
considered morally reprehensible, while photos of rape and torture are
trivialized as entertainment rather than seen as violations of human
rights and international law, is hardly surprising. They simply represent
the continuum of misogyny that is an implicit part of the ethos of militarism.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the
Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.
Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and
abroad including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our
Backs, The Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z Magazine , Common Dreams
and Information Clearinghouse.