Sunday, May 09, 2004

"Not Unfamiliar"

Just a quick pointer to the Donna Hughes article in the National Review describing the similarities between the events at Abu Ghraib and her own experience with techniques used by sex traffickers in Eastern Europe to beat down the women they intend to merchandise.

A few years ago, I was hired by the Council of Europe to research how new information technologies (mostly the Internet) are used to traffic women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation. I documented and analyzed websites which offered rape videos, live video chat of sexual abuse and torture of victims, sex tours, the sale of Eastern European women for the production of pornography, and mail-order-bride services that are likely front operations for trafficking of women and girls. I found websites with sexualized images of women depicted as being dead or murdered. I saw many images that resembled those from Abu Ghraib.

The images from Abu Ghraib are trophy pictures. The sadistic MPs are shown posing, smiling, and gloating over their victims and what they have made them do. Similarly, I found numerous offers on the Internet from pimps for men to bring cameras and video recorders with them to make trophy images and videos of their sexual use of women and girls.

Why are we shocked by these images from Abu Ghraib, but when the victims are women (or gay men) the images are called pornography or "adult entertainment"? Why can we easily see the violations of human beings in one set of images, but miss it in others? What if the Iraqi men had been forced to smile, could we be convinced that there was a newly formed "publishing and film production" company in Baghdad instead of sexual abuse and humiliation being perpetrated?

Part of the impact of the Abu Ghraib affair has been the sense of betrayal many supporters of the war have felt at finding that some of those they trusted most were least worthy of it. The shock of discovering a Bishop at peepshow comes not so much from a finding that peepshows exist as in accepting that some Bishops watch them. "Love," John le Carre once remarked, "is whatever you can still betray" and it was the mark of how deeply we loved the troops that the abuses of Abu Ghraib have cut so deeply into the soul of the nation. And every betrayal's trademark is the belated realization that we should have suspected it all along. But betrayal is an old friend. Former Navy Secretary John Lehman remarked about the clarity of some things in hindsight.

This problem goes back a long way. We have been asleep. Just by chance about six months ago, I picked up a book by V. S. Naipaul, one of the great English prose writers. I love to read his short stories and travelogues. The book was titled Among the Believers (New York: Vintage, 1982) and was an account of his travels in Indonesia, where he found that Saudi-funded schools and mosques were transforming Indonesian society from a very relaxed, syncretist Islam to a jihadist fundamentalist fanatical society, all paid for with Saudi Arabian funding. Nobody paid attention. Presidents in four administrations put their arms around Saudi ambassadors, ignored the Wahhabi jihadism, and said these are our eternal friends.

We have seen throughout the last 20 years a kind of head-in-the-sand approach to national security in the Pentagon. We were comfortable with the existing concept of what the threat was, what threat analysis was, and how we derived our requirements, still using the same old tools we all grew up with. We paid no attention to the real nature of this emerging threat, even though there were warning signs. Many will recall with pain what we went through in the Reagan administration in 1983, when the Marine barracks were bombed in Beirut—241 Marines and Navy corpsmen were killed. We immediately got an intercept from NSA [National Security Agency], a total smoking gun from the foreign ministry of Iran, ordering the murder of our Marines. Nothing was done to retaliate. Instead, we did exactly what the terrorists wanted us to do, which was to withdraw. Osama bin Laden has cited this as one of his dawning moments. The vaunted United States is a paper tiger; Americans are afraid of casualties; they run like cowards when attacked; and they don't even bother to take their dead with them. This was a seminal moment for Osama.

After that, we had our CIA station chief kidnapped and tortured to death. Nothing was done. Then, we had our Marine Colonel [William R.] Higgins kidnapped and publicly hanged. Nothing was done. We fueled and made these people aware of the tremendous effectiveness of terrorism as a tool of jihad. It worked. They chased us out of one place after another, because we would not retaliate.

Cleaning out the military of miscreants is of a piece with ridding it of its institutional blindness. Nothing, least of all illusion, survives contact with the enemy. Neither wishful thinking nor the fantasy of safety in flight will help us in our hour of need. And while we may sincerely say 'my country right or wrong, my mother drunk or sober', better right and better sober.