Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Army's Rape Rooms

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.


Tony B said...

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.

Do you know why Karpinski doesn't mention the name of this master sergeant? No female master sergeants have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I'm sure she's telling the truth about the rest of the stuff, though.

Kathy said...

Do you know why Karpinski doesn't mention the name of this master sergeant?

No, I don't. Maybe she did and the article didn't mention it. We don't know that the Commission didn't ask for the name, or that she didn't give it; only that it's not in the article.

How do you know that no female master sergeant died in the Iraq war?

Rickvid in Seattle said...

Of course, hundreds of female master sergents have died. The bodies were all removed by Halliburton. And these ones that died of dehydration had been given extra special water that causes high speed dehydration in a matter of hours. And the women, poor little flowers, did not carry any weapons with them to the can to castrate any s.o.b. who'd try to rape them, even tho, especially a master sergent, would have to be of high skill proven courage and fully in the chain of command that could squash a rapist like a bug.

No female master sergents have died in OIF. Karpinski lies.

The stupidity and illogic of this story is fully apparent to all but those who utterly choose to not see it. How is it that you all wanted Karpinski's scalp after Abu Ghraib, but now she has all the unquestionable moral authority of Cindy Icraponcaseysgrave Sheehan?

Just look yourselves in the mirror; your hatred has so distorted you that Dorian Grey would look better in his painting.

ender22 said...

here's what scares me the most:

1. that a future teacher could uncritically accept the "facts" as stated by karpinski, who is already known to be either a world-class liar or the worst commander in the history of the US armed forces.

like it or not, it IS a fact that no female MSGs have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. and, more damning, it is a scientific fact that an adult human being simply cannot die of "dehydration" in her sleep after not drinking since the "late afternoon." you have to go a lot longer without ingesting fluids to become dehydrated to the point of death. junior high school science, people.

2. that a future ENGLISH teacher could approvingly quote aristotle on the virtue of liberalism and obviously not know that his notion of liberalism was a far cry from her own.

seriously, not to be cruel, but maybe teaching isn't the field for you. think of the children...

Kathy said...

Actually, Karpinski is not "known" to be either a "world-class liar" OR "the worst commander in the history of the U.S. armed forces." That is your opinion, and you haven't backed it up with anything but overheated rhetoric.

You are simply wrong that it's impossible for an adult human being to die of dehydration after not drinking water for 12 hours or more, under the conditions being discussed. And I provided support for that statement from the Mayo Clinic, which presumably knows more about medicine than you do. Where is YOUR support for claiming the contrary?

The above having been said, the central issue here, which is being obscured by arguing over whether or not some female Iraqi soldiers died of dehydration, is that female American soldiers are being raped on a regular basis by male American soldiers. Specifically, they are being raped at night, in outdoor latrines, where these "men" wait in the dark, by the unguarded latrines, to attack women who cannot see them in the dark. And nothing is being done about it. Whether several women have died of dehydration, or a dozen, or none, is less the issue than the fact that female soldiers are not drinking anything between 3 or 4 in the afternoon and dawn the next day, in 120 degree desert heat, because they are afraid if they have to go to the latrines and pee, they will be raped. THAT is the issue, nicely obscured by your insistence on making the point of the discussion whether Janis Karpinski lied or didn't lie about one female master sergeant's death.

Tony B said...

Kathy, you are trying to say that although Karpinski is lying about her tales of American soldiers dying of dehydration there is a "larger truth" that some have been raped.

No one disputes that. Some have been murdered as well. Why rely on a lie to make the point?

Kathy said...

LOL! No, I'm not. You can read my post 25 times and you won't find anywhere where I say that Karpinski was lying. In fact, I said the opposite: "Karpinski is not known to be a world-class liar..." which is what one commenter here said she was.

If you want to focus on whether Karpinski lied about the death of a female soldier from dehydration, go right ahead. There's no way you can prove either that she is or she isn't. But it's not what's most important. What's most important is the fact that female American soldiers are being raped by male American soldiers when they go to take a pee and in many other settings as well. What's important is that many female American soldiers fear being raped by their fellow soldiers, and have good reason for that fear. What's important is that some of these women, in their attempt to avoid being raped, may actually make decisions that endanger their lives. What's important is that one of the reasons rape is such a serious problem in the military (not to mention elsewhere) is that it is not taken seriously at the highest levels of the military, where policy-making occurs. What's important is that there is virtually no effective support system for women in the military who are raped, which means that they cannot easily trust anyone to help them.

If you agree that "no one disputes" that rape is a serious problem in the military, then maybe we should be discussing what can be done to change the mind-set of an institution that not only condones rape but tries to cover it up.

ender said...

first of all, i absolutely apologize for the tone of my previous comment. (in fact, that's why i came back here.) it was uncalled for.

that said, kathy, no-one is arguing about karpinski's facts to obscure a "larger truth." the fact is, if she's making up some of her story, you have to take everything she says with more than a few grains of salt. if some of her claims are verifiably untrue, why would i believe her other claims? i didn't serve in the current war, but i did serve from 1990 to 1993, and i can assure you that female soldiers were never in danger from their male counterparts. in fact, whether in korea or the other places i served, the safest place for women, soldiers or civilians, was around male soldiers.

as far as my saying that she's a world class liar or the worst commander ever, i stand by that. in fact, you could say she's a CONVICTED liar. and if you believe that she didn't know what was going on under her command at abu ghraib, then she is at least AMONG the worst commanders in US history.

as far as what you say about the mayo clinic, you don't cite it in this post: you must've said it somewhere else. if what they say is true, then it runs counter to everything i and many other people were taught in the military, where knowing something like that could well be a matter of life and death. i have never, ever heard of anyone dying of dehydration in any climate in fewer than three days.

Kathy said...


I greatly appreciate your apology, and was very impressed by your coming back to say that.

I'm hoping that you come back at least once more so you can see this reply.

With regard to Karpinski's credibility: I think it's fair to say that she's not the most reliable source. I do think her response to the storm over Abu Ghraib was somewhat self-serving, and I think she has been motivated at least in part by her feeling that she has scores to settle.

Where we differ is that I believe one can acknowledge these things about Karpinski while also acknowledging that her anger toward her superior officers might be justified. Yes, Karpinski has an axe to grind; but also yes, Karpinski has to some extent been scapegoated for the scandalous goings-on at Abu Ghraib, and just maybe there is some connection to her being a woman. Saying that does not mean she is blameless; it simply means that maybe she has a point or two that's worth considering.

As far as not believing her other claims (meaning, I assume, the rapes themselves) because other claims she made are "verifiably untrue," I think there's a lapse in logic there.

First of all, her claims about female soldiers RISKING dehydration are not necessarily untrue, even if her claim that one woman DIED of dehydration turn out to be untrue. And even THAT claim has not been disproved. Given what Karpinski said about Gen. Sanchez deleting the cause of death, and even instructing colleagues not to officially acknowledge that the person who died was a woman, it's at least possible that the list is not completely accurate.

So, given that, if we are truthful, we really don't know for sure whether one or more women died of dehydration; and given, further, that, if we are truthful, we have to agree that rape is a serious problem in the military (not just there, obviously, but that's what we're discussing), wouldn't it be reasonable to take the attitude that, even though Janis Karpinski is not reliable as a sole source, still, the reports of women refusing to drink liquids after mid-afternoon and becoming severely dehydrated because they feared being raped at outdoor latrines should be investigated? After all, it's not as if Karpinski is the only person to have talked about male soldiers raping female soldiers at the latrines. Colby Buzzell wrote about it in his book about his experiences in the war (he was in the Army). He wrote that people were saying a woman had been raped at the latrines the night before. He didn't know if it was true, but that at least demonstrates that these reports come from others, not just Karpinski.

As far as your statement about women in the military never being in danger of being raped by male soldiers in the places you served, I have to say, with respect for your having been there, that I don't see how you can know that with such certainty. You can only say that you do not know of any women who were raped, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

It's really pretty unarguable that rape is a serious problem in the military. The military itself acknowledges that. They have a sexual assault website. There was a toll-free number for women to report rapes, according to the article about the latrine rapes -- although no one ever answered it. Female soldiers have reported being raped -- and almost certainly more rapes have occurred that weren't reported, because rape is an underreported crime. So I really have to respectfully take issue with your statement that the safest place for women, whether soldiers or civilians, was around male soldiers.

Regarding the Mayo Clinic cite, it can be found at My conclusion about it being possible that women could have died of dehydration after not drinking liquids for 12 hours in 120 degree desert heat, the article does not state that directly, but I infer it from the first sentence, which gives the example of an athlete in top physical form who collapses during a workout on a hot day and never recovers. Assuming that a professional athlete would not be stupid enough to not drink anything for 12 hours on a hot day (or on any day, for that matter); if such an athlete can die of dehydration during a workout when presumably he has had liquids to drink within the previous several hours, then surely a female soldier in the Iraqi desert who hasn't had any liquids for 12 hours could die of dehydration.

I've always heard it takes at least three days to die of THIRST. But dehydration is not the same thing as thirst. You can be dangerously dehydrated and not be thirsty. So maybe that's the confusion here.

Synova said...

Greyhawk linked you so I suppose you're going to be getting more traffic about this.

I, too, served in the military.

Nothing about this story of Karpinski's rings true even if she *had* personal credibility. Individual cases of rape or murder certainly happen in the military, as a function of the overall population involved if nothing else.

Did you know that *male* soldiers also try real hard to avoid going to the latrine at night? Do they also fear being raped?

I've said this a couple places now in relation to this. I'd feel safer *naked* in a foxhole full of Soldiers or Marines than fully clothed walking across a University campus at night.

Being naked wouldn't be my *first* choice but I'm serious about where I'd be safer.