A TROP Original

Rape and Rumor

Exploring Allegations that American
Soldiers are Raping Iraqi Women

Glen Reinsford 
(April 14, 2006)


[Editor's Note:  This article was written before the March 12, 2006 incident at Mahmoudiya was exposed by the U.S. military in June.  Some have suggested that we take it down, given that it is now all but certain that a single incident of rape did occur.  (Our opinion of the soldier behind the rape can be found here by the way).

The attention surrounding the crime, however, and the American military's obvious pursuit of truth and justice in the matter seem to confirm this article's conclusion that the rumors of rape (which began three years earlier) were baseless and unfair.

The tragic rape and murder at Mahmoudiya is truly the exception that proves the rule.  Beyond this singular event, the rumor that American soldiers are raping Iraqi women has never been based on fact, but rather malicious propaganda.]

Not many categories of crime rank worse than that of an armed man raping a woman.  It is one of the most extreme manifestations of cowardice and pathological selfishness, and it can be completely devastating for the victim on many different levels.  No one who takes rape as seriously as they should would ever accuse another human being of such a horrible act unless they saw it happen or knew of solid evidence to support the charge.

In May of 2004, as the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal was dominating headlines, the Boston Globe printed pictures of what appeared to be the rape of a Middle Eastern woman by American soldiers.  The pictures were also published on the Internet and continue to be circulated both online and in print throughout the Muslim world to this day.

The photos helped trigger a firestorm of implied allegation and innuendo that ran in articles with headlines like “Women Raped Before their Husbands” and “American Perverts Gang-Rape Defenseless Women.”  A trip through the message boards finds that, for many, the rape of Iraqi women by Americans has become a self-evident axiom that is impervious to either proof or disproof.  As one writer put it (in trying to justify terrorism), “What else are you supposed to do when you find that American soldiers have raped your mother, your sister and your daughter?”

Lindsey Graham, a Republican Senator, has said [in reference to Abu Ghraib] “we’re talking rape and murder here.”  Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy and Dick Durbin compared American soldiers to guards at Nazi concentration camps (in which women often suffered rape prior to being flung into gas chambers). 

A portrait of Americans raping Iraqi women has become ingrained in both the rhetoric and conscience of anti-war activism.  How can Iraq be better off if its women are being raped by members of an occupying force?  It is an issue that has been fully exploited by the Left, yet remains curiously unexamined; almost as if it is were a prized apple that looks too delicious to bite into for fear of diminishing the value.

Given the serious nature of rape, however, one would expect these sensational accusations to be supported by plenty of hard evidence, including an alarming level of reported rape.  If Americans are targeting Iraqi women for rape, including young girls and old women, then specific accusations would be made.  Defendants would be named.  Trials would be held.  Verdicts handed down …

But in fact, peeling away the surface of rumor and anecdote reveals… more rumor and anecdote.  Instead of an apple, the inquirer discovers the issue to be more like an onion, where the layer below is not much different than the layer above.

Given the hype and insinuation, it is somewhat astonishing to find that there are no substantive charges that American soldiers have ever raped Iraqi women outside the walls of detention centers.  Neither is there any public record of indictments, court proceedings or formal accusations.  Nearly all of the specific accusations center on Abu Ghraib. 

This is quite significant because out of a nation with 13 million females, only 42 were ever held by the Americans at Abu Ghraib, and all were released by May of 2004.  In other words, there are no substantive charges that any Iraqi woman has been raped by an American in the past two years.  The alleged rapes were supposed to have occurred prior to this - and been limited, for the most part, to a pool of 42 women.

Even with the guilty parties convicted and appropriately punished this would still be quite appalling if it had occurred.  Fortunately, the issue isn’t left to speculation, since a very extensive investigation was conducted into the abuses at Abu Ghraib even before the scandal was made public.  Subsequent outrage in America (which was across the board) also ensured that every allegation to come out of the shameful affair was sufficiently pursued.

Interviews were conducted with detainees by outside investigators and each accusation of misconduct was carefully examined to determine authenticity.  Seventeen personnel were removed from duty and seven soldiers were indicted and eventually convicted based on the investigation.

Surprisingly, although there were several allegations of sexual coercion, only two involved female detainees.  In one case, a woman was ordered to expose her breasts for a snapshot.  In the other, two soldiers kissed a female detainee and touched her inappropriately.  There were no instances of rape involving women.

In fact, the only formal allegation of rape at Abu Ghraib (which arose from an interview with a single detainee) involved a male prisoner.  Another prisoner alleged that he observed a translator sodomizing the detainee while a female soldier took pictures.  No photos or other witnesses were found to corroborate the story, and neither was there a translator by the name alleged, although the description did fit that of an Arab civilian who was known to be homosexual. 

In contradiction to what is often alleged, no former prisoner has ever come forward to publicly claim that they were sodomized or raped.

Interestingly, one of the detainees whose humiliation merited action against the guards responsible was being punished because he was thought to have raped a fellow detainee.

By Saddam’s standards, in fact, the general treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib was relatively benign.  No one died or lost body parts as a result of the "sexual humiliation" or abuse by guards. 

One death that is erroneously attributed to the subjects of the abuse scandal is that of a Saddam loyalist who was suspected of being behind the bombing that killed a dozen humanitarian workers.  Although guards posed in inappropriate fashion afterwards with the body, the victim was not a part of the prison system, and his death is alleged to be from smothering during an interrogation that was administered by other parties. 

This one fatality still evoked righteous anger in the West (including from this writer) but what is deplorable by American standards is often laughable by others.  Even as the prison abuse scandal was making headlines, 22 prisoners at Abu Ghraib were deliberately killed by Islamic insurgents in an April 20th, 2004 rocket attack (as American soldiers fought to defend the inmates, it should be noted).  The event went virtually unnoticed and without condemnation from those whose compassion for Abu Ghraib inmates seems limited to matters of convenience.

Even the famous photo – the so-called ‘symbol’ of Abu Ghraib – showing a black-hooded figure standing with electrical cords attached to his body shows no actual torture, only the assumed threat of torture (anyone pretending not to understand the difference would quickly drop the act if forced to choose between the two).  Misinformation has played an enormous role in the public’s perception of the scandal.  The New York Times, for example, published Abu Ghraib accounts that were later proven to be fraudulent, including testimony from an individual who falsely claimed to be the figure in the photograph.

And what of the pictures published in the Boston Globe that purported to show U.S. soldiers engaging in gang rape?  It turns out that they were fakes - and bad ones at that.  They had been produced by a pornographic Web site for its subscribers.  Apparently the newspaper did not bother to put the slightest effort into fact-checking before publishing the photos since anyone in the military could have told them that green uniforms aren’t worn by armed forces serving in Iraq.

When high-profile news organizations act so irresponsibly to defame the very Americans who put themselves in harm’s way to defend them, can any better be expected of the international community?

Indeed, the myth that American soldiers are raping Iraqi women has developed a life of its own, completely independent of mitigating fact.  Anti-war activists occasionally produce articles or reports that adopt an air of professional credibility with the liberal use of ominous phrases like “pattern of systematic abuse” to describe detention practices.  But a hard reading usually finds that there is precious little confirmed fact to be had amidst the recycled third-hand gossip and urban legends that make up the text of such “reports,” which, themselves, seem more like “patterns of systematic exaggeration.”

Again, nearly all of the rumors boil down to prison scuttlebutt at Abu Ghraib.  One such tale has a 70-year-old woman stripped naked, harnessed and ridden like a donkey across the floors of the facility, which sounds pretty salacious until one realizes that even a healthy young man would have great difficulty supporting the weight of another with bare knees on hard cement.

As the ball of yarn is further unwound in search of the fact that presumably lies beneath, one finds the sensational language of rape giving way to milder terms like “sexual humiliation” as accounts move closer to actual events.  Few of those people making wild, blanket accusations of rape appear to have examined the issue all that closely.

Another urban legend concerns a “letter” that was purportedly written by a female detainee at Abu Ghraib named “Noor” and “smuggled out” in late 2003.  No one by that name was in the prison at the time, but the note found its way to a female Iraqi attorney and activist, Amal Swadi, who suggested that “Noor” was an alias.  Interestingly, Swadi’s group of lawyers initially discounted the authenticity of the document, since the allegations seemed far-fetched.  However – as the story goes – when Abu Ghraib photographs depicting “sexual humiliation” (albeit mostly of males) began to surface along with hints of something darker, the attitude of the group changed.

The "Noor" letter has been immune from scrutiny, which is remarkable given that it forms the foundation for so much dramatic speculation.  On trying to separate fact from fiction, it should first be pointed out that the person who actually wrote the note has never been found.  The writing also makes several claims that are certainly untrue, such as the assertion that female inmates were starved and that all such detainees became pregnant through rape. 

Although there were legitimate accusations from Abu Ghraib concerning the quality of food provided in discrete cases (later rectified by catered meals) neither the effects of starvation nor pregnancy appear in the observations of independent monitors from that time period.  The charge of rape has also been disputed by other detainees, such as Huda Alazawi, who once made some awful accusations on the record (to the highly credulous Guardian) but insisted at the same time that neither she nor any other female had been sexually assaulted by guards.  Neither did she mention starvation.

What is most suspicious about the letter is how it is written, and, for this reason, its complete contents are “protected” by those who exploit it.  The document is referenced in a vague way by many individuals and groups, but none appear to have enough confidence to publish the full text.  This is understandable because the sections that have been leaked sound more like the work of a creative propagandist.  Alleged abuses are detailed in poetic prose, and each is blamed on “Zionists.”  The author also says that the prison system in Iraq is run by Jews.

References to the letter are usually accompanied by a claim that the American military has “confirmed” its contents to be “consistent” with the practices at Abu Ghraib.  The Guardian even went so far as to say that the Pentagon confirms the letter to be "entirely and devastatingly accurate."  But this is clearly untrue.  The supposed “confirmation” by the military is really just a 53-page report by Major General Antonio Taguba from 2004, which is a credible analysis of the irregularities at Abu Ghraib, but makes no mention of female detainees being raped. 

According to Taguba’s report there was a single instance of a guard having sex with an inmate and, though inappropriate and against the rules, did not involve direct coercion.  Even in the West this situation is not punished as a crime of rape, and any Muslim feeling particularly pious on the subject might want to consult Bukhari’s Hadith (Vol. 3, Bk. 46, No. 717-718) to see how the prophet Muhammad dealt with women captured in battle.

Following the investigation, the Pentagon has steadfastly denied that it has any knowledge of women being raped at Abu Ghraib, which directly contradicts any claim that the contents of the letter have been confirmed by military authorities.  Still, major news organizations, such as the Guardian, have repeated this falsehood without qualification, thus keeping the urban legend alive.

Yet another strike against the authenticity of the “Noor” letter is the mere fact that terrorist groups are well known to fake such material for propaganda purposes.  In February of 2006 a young Saudi (dubbed “Fatima’s Fiancé”) even strapped bombs to his body and embarked on a murder spree against Iraqis, with the understanding that he would marry an Iraqi woman in the hereafter who was supposedly raped and killed at Abu Ghraib.  The impassioned young man recorded a suicide video in which he read a letter that “Fatima wrote" from prison.

The letter was a fabrication, of course.  There was no Fatima, and the only women who died at Abu Ghraib were killed there during the Saddam era.  That insurgents would find it necessary to invent a fictional tale of rape provides obvious insight into what little reality has to offer them.

But it is more than just sophisticated hoax, wild rumor and a curious psychological need to believe the worst about America and its military that keeps the myth of rape afloat despite a lack of real accusers and real defendants.  The United States has been demonized to such fanatical heights in the Arab world that many Muslims simply assume that the Americans would do to their prisoners what the Iraqis did to female Americans captured in battle – or worse.

The pre-war reputation of Abu Ghraib plays into the public consciousness as well.  It is generally known that hundreds of prisoners were executed there under Saddam and that tens of thousands were tortured.  Videotape shows women being raped.  If an Arab leader can do this to his own people, then why would the Great Satan treat them any better?

The distortion is amplified by the rhetoric of opposition leaders in the U.S.  When American Senators boldly compare their own soldiers to Nazis, for example, then it is only natural when someone less familiar with the actual facts assumes that the rape of Iraqi women is practiced and perhaps even sanctioned at some level. 

The nuances of political posturing in America are lost on much of the world, which doesn’t understand that the exaggerated language and controlled outbursts are mere dramatic ploys.  Fewer still bother to consider that the politicians making the most comprehensive claims about the damage that Abu Ghraib supposedly does to America’s image are – not coincidently – those with the most to gain from keeping the scandal alive, as evidenced by their efforts to publicize and embellish the very issue that they claim is damaging.

Obviously it can’t be said definitively that no rapes have occurred in Iraq.  In fact, it is alleged that about a dozen female soldiers have reported being raped by fellow Americans.  Real numbers are difficult to come by because news sources often lump the actual rape of females in uniform with lesser incidents of sexual assault or sexual harassment for maximum effect (ie. “There have been 88 cases of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault in the past

This may sound shocking (and, of course, it is inexcusable) but it has occurred at a rate that is significantly less than that of the general population in America, despite the fact that military males fall into the most prolific age bracket for rapists.

According to the FBI, there is one case of reported rape each year in the United States for every 1,200 men (although this certainly doesn’t mean that one out of every 1,200 men is a rapist, since most rapists commit multiple assaults).  Given that there have been over 100,000 American men in Iraq for the past three years, normal crime patterns should have produced close to 300 incidents of rape during that time, even apart from any supposed lenient policy toward such behavior. 

Yet, no one in the media has been able to substantiate a single such allegation concerning Iraqi women, and, in an age of DNA and advanced medical examination practices, there are only a handful of rape cases within the ranks.

In putting together this article, TheReligionofPeace.com contacted and requested supporting documentation from many of the more credible-sounding sources making the claim that American soldiers were raping Iraqi women.  Not one of the parties contacted was able to support their heinous charges.

By contrast, several soldiers currently serving in Iraq were quick to explain the obstacles that would confront a potential rapist, not least of which is that American soldiers and Iraqi women always travel in groups.  The military also takes steps to ensure that all soldiers are aware of the very serious consequences of sexual assault, which partially explains the sharply reduced level of actual rape against demographic expectations.

Given the urban legend that has grown up around such a serious subject, the lack of specific evidence (or substantive allegations even) that American soldiers are truly raping Iraqi women would seem to be a newsworthy story, and it is somewhat puzzling that major media outlets have declined to aggressively pursue the truth of this matter. 

Under what circumstances should fictional rape merit more attention than actual rape?  There shouldn't be any.  But contrast the media frenzy over Iraq, where not one victim has come forward to even claim that she was raped, with the virtual media blackout of what is happening in Sudan, where real victims with real names are gang-raped by Arab men merely because they have black skin.

Though it isn’t possible to prove a negative – and there may indeed be legitimate indictments that have somehow managed to escape public attention – there is absolutely nothing that even suggests a pattern of Muslim women targeted for rape by Americans.  Neither is there the slightest bit of evidence that such a crime would be tolerated by the military.  In this case, the burden of proof should rest squarely on those making such ghastly accusations in the first place – and none appear capable of taking up the challenge.

Ironically, the absence of rape patterns seems most disappointing to those who would otherwise claim to be most outraged.  One gets the sense that they are not just assuming the worst, but actually hoping for it, as anti-Americanism has apparently become a goal unto itself.

So ravenous is the appetite for horror stories that tales must either be invented where they don’t exist, or their absence explained by imaginative constructs.  When confronted with the reality that Iraqi women simply aren’t charging Americans with rape, for example, frustrated cynics often fall meekly back on the hypothesis that it isn’t happening because these women fear being killed by their own families.

Anyone desperate enough to argue from pure speculation in the absence of evidence needs to understand that this is not the sort of issue where imagination can be substituted for fact.

Where are these rapes supposed to be taking place, and under what circumstances?  How is the opportunity created?  Who is doing it?  Where is the proof?

Not content merely with leaving these questions unaddressed, hardened believers up the ante by whispering tales of women being murdered by their families after returning home from prison.  Such a fate is said to have befallen the elusive Ms. Noor – with the proof being that she hasn’t been found (the possibility that she never existed, apparently isn't even a consideration).

Unlike with other honor killings, however, dead bodies, names and eyewitnesses are mysteriously absent, which generally defeats the point.  Like terrorism, honor killing isn't very effective if no one knows about it.  The purpose, after all, is to restore public honor after public shame.

And so, we reach the core of the onion only to find that there was very little beneath the surface.  The wild, inflammatory accusations of American soldiers raping Iraqi women turn out to be founded on nothing more than a few strands of rumor knitted with highly questionable third-hand gossip and fueled by creative imagination, forgeries, irresponsible journalism, and deliberate misrepresentations of official findings by those in desperate need of anti-war propaganda.

Unlike other urban legends, however, this is not a practical joke without harmful effect.  Instead, it is calculated disinformation that trivializes the issue of rape and unfairly taints some of the most selfless men of our generation. 

In the real world, American soldiers have literally given their lives in defense of Iraqi women.  Even the terrorists recognize the protective inclination that U.S. soldiers inherently have for defenseless females, and they have exploited it.  On April 4th, 2003, for example, two women stopped their car outside an American checkpoint at Haditha Dam and screamed for help.  The ruse worked and three of the five soldiers rushing to their aid were killed in the ensuing bomb blast.

Anyone who truly understands the seriousness of rape would never cast spurious allegations, no matter the cause - and a noble cause doesn't require lies.  Falsely accusing someone of rape, much less leveling blanket charges against men putting themselves in harm’s way in service to their country, is almost as despicable as the crime itself.

This article was written by Glen Reinsford, who wrote Age of Tolerance, a novel that tracks the current trends of immigration, economic and social policy into the future.

Go back to the List of Islamic Terrorist Attacks


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