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    WorldOfIslam.info - How the Female Detainees at Abu Ghraib Were Abused - Iraq

    How the Female Detainees at Abu Ghraib Were Abused

    BAGHDAD, 23 May 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 shame.

    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 Maj. Gen. 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 center after being arrested last July. British 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. Prof. 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 neighbors said her family had moved away. I believe she has been killed.”

    Honor 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 long by 1.5m 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 toward 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, Nov. 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. Capt. 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 Qur’an.


    Source: The Guardian,
    Luke Harding - 23, May, 2004

     
     
     
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