Several months ago, I read an account in Colby Buzzell's book, My War, about a female soldier in his unit who was raped in the outdoor latrine by a fellow soldier. Now, Marjorie Cohn at AlterNet writes about new evidence that women in the U.S. military are dying from dehydration in their attempt to avoid being raped.
In a startling revelation, the former commander of Abu Ghraib prison testified that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former senior U.S. military commander in Iraq, gave orders to cover up the cause of death for some female American soldiers serving in Iraq.
Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.
The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired U.S. Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview.
It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.
Karpinski testified that a surgeon for the coalition's joint task force said in a briefing that "women in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the port-a-lets or the latrines were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 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 -- what they told the surgeon to do is 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."
For example, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's top deputy in Iraq, saw "dehydration" listed as the cause of death on the death certificate of a female master sergeant in September 2003. Under orders from Sanchez, he directed that the cause of death no longer be listed, Karpinski stated. The official explanation for this was to protect the women's privacy rights.
Sanchez's attitude was: "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory," Karpinski quoted him as saying. Karpinski told me that Sanchez, who was her boss, was very sensitive to the political ramifications of everything he did. She thinks it likely that when the information about the cause of these women's deaths was passed to the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the details not be released. "That's how Rumsfeld works," she said.
"It was out of control," Karpinski told a group of students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law last October. There was an 800 number women could use to report sexual assaults. But no one had a phone, she added. And no one answered that number, which was based in the United States. Any woman who successfully connected to it would get a recording. Even after more than 83 incidents were reported during a six-month period in Iraq and Kuwait, the 24-hour rape hot line was still answered by a machine that told callers to leave a message.
"There were countless such situations all over the theater of operations -- Iraq and Kuwait -- because female soldiers didn't have a voice, individually or collectively," Karpinski told Hackworth. "Even as a general, I didn't have a voice with Sanchez, so I know what the soldiers were facing. Sanchez did not want to hear about female soldier requirements and/or issues."
So the attitude of the senior military commander for U.S. forces in Iraq about the rape of female American soldiers by men who are supposed to be their comrades, their buddies, their fellow soldiers, on the same side of this ghastly war, is no different from the attitude of the Taliban toward women: They wanted to cast off the burka [go to Iraq]; they wanted to go outside unaccompanied by a man [fight alongside men], go to school, have a job [go where they don't belong] -- now let them take what comes with the territory.