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Update [2005-1-23 22:8:9 by Armando]: From the diaries by Armando. Unedited. Heh

Next month's American Prospect (online now) contains a chilling article "Unusual Suspects" about women prisoners at Abu Ghraib and their experiences there: experiences for which Alberto Gonzales must answer.

Forty-two women have been held at Abu Ghraib, according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement provided at the request of a U.S. senator and forwarded to me, though none are interned there now. (Many of the women were released in May, shortly after the scandal broke, and the last woman was let go in July.) Overall, 90 women have been held in various detention facilities in Iraq since August 2003, says Barry Johnson, a public-affairs officer for detainee operations for the Multi-National Force, the official name of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, speaking on a cell phone from Baghdad. Two "high-value" female detainees are now being held, he says. More women may be in captivity, he adds, explaining that "units can capture and keep them up to 14 days." In addition, approximately 60 children, or "juveniles," are being held.

More below the fold.

Some women and children are picked up because they're a "security threat," Johnson says. And some women are detained because they're the sisters, wives, or girlfriends of suspected insurgents -- that is, because the military thinks these women might provide information on the insurgency. But this practice, like the instances of torture exposed last year, violates the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate that no one can "be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed." In one such incident, a 28-year-old mother of three, including the 6-month-old baby she was nursing, was captured on May 9, 2004. The American Civil Liberties Union obtained a memo in which a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer described her detainment as a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Among the 42 women, the author (Tara McKelvey) speaks to several: Selwa, a 55-year-old wife of a former director in the Ministry of Commerce; Victoria, a 54-year-old former bank director; Mithal, a 55-year-old supervisor at an electrical company, neighbor of a retired government worker--the focus of investigation; and Khadefa, a 51-year-old former school principal, and sister of a high-ranking official in the Hussein government.

Mithal describes her experience:

"When they didn't get the answer they wanted, they would put the hood on my head and yank it and make me run across a yard," she says. "I was barefoot, and the yard was filled with sharp stones. The American soldier said if I didn't cooperate, they'd put me in prison for 30 years. He said if I were his mother, he would kill me. This lasted for eight hours. Then they put me in a wooden room and sat me on a chair. They said bad words -- hurtful words. They covered me in blankets, one after another until I couldn't breathe. Eight blankets. I pounded my feet against the floor because I was suffocating.

"After that, they took me to [a detention center near Baghdad International Airport]. There, I heard a young woman crying out from her cell, telling an American soldier to leave her alone. She said, 'I am a Muslim woman.' Her voice was high-pitched and shaky. Her husband, who was in a cell down the hall, called out, 'She is my wife. She has nothing to do with this.' He hit the bars of his cell with his fists until he fainted. The Americans poured water over his face and made him wake up. When her screams became louder, the soldiers played music over the speakers. Finally, they took her to another room. I couldn't hear anything more."

Afterward, Mithal says, she was taken to Abu Ghraib. "They stripped me and searched me," she remembers. "Then they gave me blankets and put me in solitary confinement in a room 2 meters by 1 and a half meters. There was no light in the room. I was there for three months."

Some of the people interviewed for this article are plaintiffs in a pair of class-action lawsuits brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights against Titan Corporation and CACI International, private companies who hired translators and interrogators at Abu Ghraib. The suit is relying on the Alien Tort Claims and RICO, and "asserts that the abuses allegedly committed by employees constitute a pattern of racketeering activity. In February or March, a California federal court judge will decide whether or not he will hear the case. The contractors were, of course, 'under the operational control and direction of the U.S. military,' according to a July 29 statement by CACI (pronounced 'khaki'). A classified report by U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Albert Church on interrogation techniques has reportedly been completed and is supposed to be released in the next few weeks." Unfortunately, the report will probably come too late to provide the ammunition we need against Gonzales.

None of the women interviewed would discuss whether they were raped. The stigma against women who've been raped is severe, often resulting in death--so-called honor killings. Given this environment, few women are willing to come forward to admit they are victims of sexual assault. That it has happened seems inevitable. There are some official reports of sexual abuse of a female prisoners in military documents.

On October 7, 2003, American soldiers held a female detainee's hands behind her back, forced her to her knees, "kissed [her] on the mouth," and removed her blouse, according to a Commander's Report of Disciplinary or Administrative Action. Major General Antonio Taguba reported on the "videotaping and photographing [of] naked male and female detainees" in his May 2004 report on detainee abuse. In their August 25, 2004, report examining the role of military intelligence, Major General George R. Fay and Lieutenant General Anthony R. Jones describe "Incident No. 38," in which "a criminal detainee housed in the Hard Site was shown lifting her shirt with both her breasts exposed. There is no evidence to confirm if [this was] consensual or coerced; however in either case sexual exploitation of a person in U.S. custody constitutes abuse."

And an image shown to members of Congress on May 12, 2004, seems to depict a female detainee exposing her breasts, apparently against her will, according to a high-level Senate staffer. "She just looked like she'd died inside," the staffer says.

Male prisoners have described the abuse of women as well. Saleh, a car broker who was held in Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003 described what he saw to one of the attorneys at the Center:

He said he saw a woman being raped: "She was on all fours in a hallway outside my cell, and a soldier was raping her. She was looking at me, and I couldn't do anything to help her. Her eyes looked dead."

According to Senate sources for the article, the Pentagon is "stonewalling" senators when they ask about sexual abuse of women at Abu Ghraib. One staffer told the author. "Most, if not all, of the female detainees have never been questioned about whether or not they were sexually assaulted or raped at Abu Ghraib. . . . Therefore, as the [Defense Department] spins it, no allegations 'surfaced' so no corrective measures are needed."

Alberto Gonzales has a great deal to answer for. I suggest that we forward this article to the Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to the resumption of the Gonzales' confirmation hearings on Wednesday.

Update [2005-1-23 21:56:22 by mcjoan]: JenAtlanta reports two bad addresses from the link I provided for the Judiciary Committee. Reach Sen. Kohl at this link and Sen. Durbin here.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jan 23, 2005 at 07:08 PM PST.

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