Between the Lines

There was an article in the New York Times published on 7 July talking about an unusual public apology issued by two American officials for, in the words of the Times, “the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the killing of her family, saying that the crime, in which at least four soldiers are suspects, had injured the ‘Iraqi people as a whole.'”

The statement was probably issued in response to a move by the Iraqi Prime Minister to try and elimiate immunity for American miliary serving in Iraq. The Iraqi government is furious over the high rate of crimes committed by American soldiers, who often go unpunished for their deeds. (Although the military assures the government that “inquiries are being made.”) Alas, crime tends to go along with wartime occupation, along with violence against women.

This is by no means limited to American soldiers, or the 21st century–it is an age old tradition among occupying forces to further subjugate the occupied. And this tradition is also not limited to nubile, attractive young women–grandmothers and children are raped as well. In recent years, the military has attempted to clean up its image, and its act, under closer scrutiny. But I suspect that not a few officers and fellow soldiers look the other way when crimes against humanity are being committed, because this is part of war.

Traditionally, the military has preferred to administer its own justice, with an entirely separate legal and court system. This can be frustrating for occupied nations, who naturally are concerned that soldiers who commit crimes may not be penalized for them. Military justice is highly unusual, and worth an entirely separate discussion. Suffice it to say that I do not think military justice should be applied in cases of military crimes against civilians.

And here’s where reading between the lines comes in, and why it’s important to read a wide range of news sources for your information, rather than relying upon one or two. What I was intrigued by is this–later in the article, the Times clarifies the situation, explaining that “the four Iraqis, including a young girl, were killed on March 12.” Murder in Iraq, even of children, is not longer headline news. This is:

What the Times somehow fails to mention is that the young girl and the rape victim are actually one and the same. Abeer Qasim Hamza was 14 years old when she was gang raped and shot in the head. The article later admits that the rape victim may have been “as young as 15,” despite clear evidence that her birthday was to have been on 19 August.

When this case first began to hit the news, a number of right-wing apologists emphasized that four soldiers had been accused of committing the crime, and that final judgment had not been passed. Some even misreported the facts, saying that Iraqis had pointed the finger at American soliders. In fact, according to the Times, when the crime took place on 12 March and was reported by Iraqi civilians to American soldiers, the Iraqis were under the impression that the murders had been committed by other Iraqis. It was an American soldier who came forward in a counseling session and described the scene, saying that he had taken part.

The decedents were examined in March, though the American government claims that it wants to examine the bodies as well, and is fighting for an exhumation order. However, exhumation may violate Islamic law, and this is currently under debate. The argument from American military officials is that they need to be able to conduct a full forensic examination themselves before taking action. (Admittedly, not an entirely unreasonable stance, depending on the thoroughness of the autopsies already done by Iraqi doctors.) The issue is being complicated by the family’s reluctance to disclose the location of the bodies, due to the shameful nature of the crime.

Meanwhile, the military is conducting an internal inquiry to determine whether or not high ranking Marine Officers tried to cover up the crime.

So here’s what we have here, to recap: an American soldier claims that at least four other soldiers raped and murdered a 14 year old girl and her family. Why is this not headline news?

After all, another major news story of the moment involves the gang-rape of an 11 year old girl. And this should be headline news, because in a country where violence against women is commonplace and where children are routinely abused, this was sadly not an isolated incident.

Given the fact that the news usually jumps on sensational cases, I find it highly interesting that this case is being underdiscussed, and that the facts are being danced around, rather than blared across the front page. Perhaps because it might be considered a national embarassment for it to be widely known that American soldiers raped and murdered a 14 year old girl?

The thing is, kids, rape is wrong. I think we can all agree on that. The rape of children is also wrong. And not all soldiers are bad–this is not about attacking the American military, it’s about facing up to rape culture. Those who sponsor rape culture should be punished for it, and that includes soldiers.

But it’s even more disturbing when the rape is covered up and the facts are obscured by the newspaper of record. The facts of cases like this should be widely distributed so that people understand the full scope of war, that war is not all killing insurgents and keeping the streets safe and securing airports. War is also about very, very fucked up things. Like raping little girls.

Rah rah. Go America!