Thursday, March 08, 2007

To Serve But Not Protect: Abuse of Women in the US Military

Celebrate International Women's Day!

With some truth:

Amy Goodman, on the always valuable Democracy Now! featured today some eye opening interviews about the treatment women serving our military in Iraq receive from their fellow male soldiers. Her guests describe high levels of sexual harassment and sexual assault of female soldiers by male soldiers. The harassment is so bad that:
[Q]uite a few [women in the military] ... were ordered to not go out at night alone and not to go to the latrines or the showers without a buddy, without another woman. This was not being told to the men, and the problem was that there often weren’t other women to choose... or it entailed waking somebody up in the middle of the night to get them to go with you. And, you know, the soldiers are working twelve hours a day, on the whole, out there. They’re getting almost no sleep. They wake up all night long for one reason or another. So having to wake somebody up because you need to go to the bathroom is not as light as it may sound. But also, they felt that -- it was a universal recognition that it was dangerous for women out there. And they weren’t talking about danger from the Iraqis, they were talking about, as I’ve said, danger from their fellow soldiers.

Colonel Janis Karpinski, best known for her role as commander of the Abu Ghraib prison, has also spoken out on the treatment of female soldiers in Iraq. Last year, she testified:
Because the women, in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the portoilets or the latrines, were not drinking liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And in 120-degree heat or warmer, because there was no air conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep. And rather than make everybody aware of that, because that’s shocking -- and as a leader, if that’s not shocking to you, then you’re not much of a leader -- so what they told the surgeon to do was, “Don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report, but don’t brief it in the open anymore.”

The fear of assault was so high that women have died of dehydration. And the army simply directed for it to be covered up.

One woman veteran described how she carried a knife at night.
AMY GOODMAN: You carried a knife with you?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yeah, and I would carry a knife with me later on.
AMY GOODMAN: For what purpose?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Just to feel safe, because, I mean, you can’t -- I don’t know. I don’t know, I just felt safer that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Safe from the Iraqis?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: No, safe from the other soldiers. I never intended on using the knife for an Iraqi. I had my M-16 for that. But my knife, I always just kept it for another soldier, because any time I would have any type of strong sexual harassment words spoken, I just mainly felt a little bit more secure, and it was visible, too, to the other soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Helen Benedict, [professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, who has written three books on sexual assault and abuse], what is the Pentagon doing about this?
HELEN BENEDICT: They have set up a sexual assault website, which gives directions to soldiers on how to report a sexual assault either anonymously or not anonymously, and it defines it. And they also are now holding classes on what sexual harassment is. Very often if there is a report of an assault, the first response is to hold one of these classes.
The trouble is, all the soldiers I’ve talked to say, that this is just a kind of cosmetic. The reality is you can’t report it anonymously. These are closed societies full of gossip. Everybody knows what’s going on, as you’ve already heard. And also, the leadership don’t really want to hear about this, because it disrupts the chain of command, it undermines morale. So the result is that most soldiers don’t say anything, and when they do, they’re shut up.

Another woman vet, Spc. Suzanne Swift decribes how she was pressured by her platoon sergeant into having sex. She reported it, but nothing happened. And when she cut it off, he “made [her] life hell.”
When she came back from Iraq, she was then going to be redeployed, and she was getting ready to go, but then, as she was making her way to the car, she said to her mother she just couldn’t do it, and she went AWOL. The Eugene police came to her house, to her mother's house, and they arrested her. They handcuffed her, and then she was put back on the base in Fort Lewis. She called her mother, and she said she was put under the supervision of one of the officers who had abused her.
She was court-martialed. She was offered a deal initially. If she would sign a statement saying that she had never been raped in the Army, they would just give her a summary court-martial, which means a reprimanding letter in the file. She refused to sign that, saying she wouldn’t let them make her lie. And so, she was court-martialed. She served a month in prison, December, and she was told she had to stay in the Army for another two years.

Celebrate International Woman's Day and support the troops by telling a little truth about the treatment of women in the army.

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