Women with the Lowered Gaze

bluewateryThe women with the lowered gaze are the ones whose eyes most people should be ashamed to meet. Ashamed and afraid; some of the shame and fear they have known, may well up in their eyes and form questions instead of tears:

  • Where were you when we were being molested and humiliated?
  • Where were you when we were pawns in the hands of perverts?
  • Where were you when we were robbed of our honour?

Although the exact number of women illegally detained since the Iraq invasion in March 2003 is not certain, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that there were 30 Iraqi women housed in Abu Ghraib in October 2003. That number was reduced to five by May 2004 and finally to zero as of May 29, according to the military. What is sure-fire certain is that these women were held there for no real reason, other than being "security detainees."

In other words, the only value in illegally detaining them was that they might be related to someone who was on the occupying forces' wanted list and might be in a position to provide information about the spontaneous resistance that had sprung up against the invaders – never mind the fact that holding the relatives of suspects is an outright violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The main detention center was the women’s prison at Al-Rusafah in Umm Qasr, one of the three at the complex. Gali Hassan, an Australian professor and activist, cites an Iraq Occupation Watch estimate that at one time there were nearly 625 women prisoners in Al-Rusafah and 750 in Al-Kazimah alone, including girls of twelve and women in their sixties. Besides, Iman Khammas of the Occupation Watch Center affirms that there are five unknown prisons in Iraq apart from the well-known ten, which include Abu-Ghurayb, Al-Kazimiyah, and Al-Rasafah prisons in Baghdad and Um Qasar and Al-Nasiriyah prisons.

What went on in the prisons is recorded for posterity, repeated over reams of paper, spewed off the airwaves and TV screens so often, that the reel of horrors flickers in our minds without a cue. A perverted pattern of assault on the honor of the wives and daughters of Iraq, photographed with a victor's pride at a prized head claimed in a hunt, modern-day scalps that say: ‘Look at what we can do.’

Besides assaults, rapes and abductions on the street; Iraqi women have to contend with humiliating body searches during house raids or at military checkpoints. Detainees are routinely stripped and photographed, and subjected to the most perverted form of physical abuse and mental torture imaginable. Amal Kadham Swadi, an Iraqi attorney representing women detainees, says sexualized violence and abuse committed by US soldiers against female prisoners was "happening all across Iraq" Swadi and six other female Iraqi lawyers began investigating claims of sexual assault after a note reportedly written by a prisoner named "Noor" was smuggled out of Abu Ghraib, which detailed the excesses committed on female detainees.

These instances of sexual assault of detained Iraqi women are not uncorroborated allegations; chances are that countless cases have been swept under the carpet because the women are too diffident to talk about them. Yet, none of these incidents have been investigated seriously or reported widely in the mainstream press. In one appalling instance, the Boston Globe had the temerity to use the term "exaggerated" in connection with these claims: “Whether the stories are real or exaggerated, however, Iraqi women say they no longer shop alone or go out at night…”

Just as the American military, by its own admission doesn't do body counts, similarly coalition authorities and local police do not keep statistics on kidnappings and rapes of women in and outside of Iraqi prisons. Major-General Kimmitt stated in 2004 that the “total present female criminal population”, “there have been reports of abuses by Iraqi police in their jails.” in Iraq stood at 78, but denied that there were any women detainees at Abu Ghraib. He claimed to be “unaware” of reports of rape at Abu Ghraib, but admitted that

Among the reports that escaped Major-General Kimmit's attention were:

September 2003:

Nagem Salam interviewed a former Abu Ghraib detainee, Umm Taha, arrested on September 14, 2003 and held at Ba’qouba, Tokrit, Abu Ghraib and Tesfirat transfer station although she had two small children at home. She alleges that she was frisked by a female soldier in front of several men, yelled at, pushed around, and put into an old, very hot bathroom, infested with insects and with four clogged toilets. She was kept there for 22 days, sleeping on the floor and allowed out only to relieve herself in front of the male detainees, receive fluid infusions, or to clean toilets in front of the men. Since she was vomiting most of the time and was drinking out of an overheated barrel outside, she had to be given several bags of fluids with a dirty IV.

In Tikrit, she was kept in a tent surrounded by razor wire with another woman and 10 children between the ages of 10 and 14 years, forced to use a sieve to separate feces from urine in a waste-bucket, and then made to stir the mess after it was burned. She recalls another woman, Afaf Said, who had a black eye and ****** lips who told her she was put into a wooden cage and beaten.

According to other reports, a middle-aged woman was sexually assaulted after she was detained at Baghdad airport in September 2003.

October- November 2003 (especially November 8):

A US military policeman “had sex” with an Iraqi woman; Iraqi women were forced at gunpoint to bare their breasts (according to some reports also their genitals), and naked female detainees were videotaped. The photographic evidence, part of the Taguba report, has been shown to Congress, but has not been deemed suitable to show to the public.

November 2003:

Another woman at the US military base at al-Kharkh in Baghdad tells Amal Kadham Swadi, an Iraqi woman lawyer investigating the abuse, that she has been raped by several American soldiers and shows her the stitches where her arm has been hurt trying to fight them off.

December 2003:

The anonymous letter writer the CSM article refers to, “Noor,” claims that she and others were stripped, raped, and impregnated by American soldiers. Her case is investigated by Amal Kadham Swadi, who finds her credible and part of a picture of systematic abuse and torture perpetrated by US guards “all across Iraq.”

December 2003:

David Enders writes that there were nearly 1,000 prisoners in Al-Rusuphah in December 2003, 54 of whom were women, held in cells as they were at Abu Ghraib. The cells were certainly safer than the tents in which the men were held. Prison officials insisted that none of the women were pregnant, but according to Enders at least one was seven months pregnant. Another had recently given birth while incarcerated. His report indicates that there were other women held all across Iraq. Some of the women held include economist Heifa Abdul Rahman, 50, Victoria Abdulla Dirbash, the former director of one of the Rashid Banks in Al-Dora, south of Baghdad who had only one leg and had been held since August 11 for being a member of the Baath party, a lawyer Wajiha Mohsin Shalash, over 50 years old, who said she had been arrested at her house in Diala on July 24 during a wake for her brother and had been made to stir a barrel of human feces in front of other prisoners, including men. Also imprisoned were psychologically disturbed women and three juveniles, one 14 years old.

Daham al-Mohammed, head of the Iraqi group, Union of Detainees and Prisoners, also reports a case of a mother of four, arrested in December, who killed herself after being raped by U.S. guards in front of her husband at Abu Ghraib. The story was related to him by the woman’s sister who had assisted with the suicide. Iman Khammas of Occupation Watch Center describes the abuse of several women including Um Tai, the wife of an ex official in the presidency. She was arrested as a hostage to force her husband to give himself up. Over sixty, she had liver and kidney ailments but was kept in solitary confinement in a tent the size of one mattress, not allowed to go to the bathroom for two days, left without water or food for two days, and had to use one corner of the room-mattress as a bathroom.

Iman Khammas also describes eyewitness accounts that state that in Abu Ghraib there were women who had given birth to children inside the prisons or had been arrested while they were pregnant. Khammas, Mohammed, and Hoda Nuaimi, a politics professor at Baghdad University, all separately said that three young rural women from the Sunni Muslim region of Al-Anbar, west of Baghdad, had been killed by their families after coming out of Abu Ghraib pregnant.

One prisoner in Baghdad described three separate rooms for three different kinds of women prisoners and estimated that there were 56 women altogether. The rooms had cold drafts from open windows and there was little or no hot water. The women had stomach, colon, respiratory, and ear infections as well as diarrhea. There were only two meals a day consisting of a handful of rice, soup, beans, lentils, or eggplants. The food was so bad and greasy that diarrhea was prevalent.

One prisoner was raped 17 times by Iraqi policemen with the knowledge of American guards. An older woman was humiliated and beaten publicly in the genitals in full view of male detainees by a female soldier frisking her. A male prisoner gave the names of 3 Iraqi women who were forced to lie on their backs with their legs up and were beaten on their feet. Khammas also cites a second report of an older Iraqi woman forced to stir feces in front of male prisoners.

February 2004:

Professor Huda Shaker is sexually assaulted at a checkpoint. She reports that a colleague is also sexually assaulted. She describes having heard numerous accounts of rapes and impregnation of Iraqi women by American soldiers.

March 2004:

When Swadi complains about not having access, US guards threatens to arrest her.

April 2004:

Three soldiers are fined and demoted for sexually assaulting a female detainee.

According to a Reuters cameraman held at Abu Ghraib, a 12-13 yr old girl is stripped and paraded before male inmates.

May 2004:

British Labour MP Ann Clwyde investigates and finds accurate a story that an Iraqi woman in her 70s, held for six months without charges, was derided and then harnessed and ridden like a donkey.

May 2004:

At Abu Ghraib, until May, a handful of middle-aged women were held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day with windows boarded up in cellblock 1A, where the notorious photographs were taken. US military officials only said that they were suspected of “anti-coalition activities.” None had seen their families since their arrest earlier in the year. Swadi found the charges against them “absurd.” The women were apparently arrested not because of anything they have done, but to coerce their spouses and for potential intelligence value.

One former detainee, Mithal Il-Hassani, a 55-year-old divorced mother of five, who was accused of supporting insurgents, was dragged, beaten, and stripped of her clothes by American soldiers. Two former prison-mates, the sisters Hoda and Nahla al-Azzawi, the last two women now at Abu Ghraib have been behind bars for more than seven months, also accused of supporting insurgents.

Two detainees admit to having been beaten before their arrival. The officer in charge admits that rape has taken place in the cell block. Hamid Abdul Hussein, whose brother was held at Abu Ghraib says former detainees who have returned to their home town reports that several women have been raped and have committed suicide.

The burden of shame that these women are unable to bear is ours, not theirs. If they end their lives feeling helpless, it is because we have not risen to their help. If they find their life not worth living, it is because we are so busy "getting-on" with ours.

The women in the pictures from Iraq have lowered gazes because we have averted ours from their plight.

Source: All statistics and information have been taken from Iraq Occupation Watch. This article was taken from cageprisoners.com.

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