Afghan Law Allows Rape of Women in Marriage–This is Liberation?

Afghanistan Women's 'Liberation': Rape Allowed in Marriage

In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, elite and mainstream opinion in the United States often sought to justify the war as being not only aimed at lessening the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States, but also as a way of overthrowing the brutal regime hostile to women’s rights. Proponents of the invasion said that an underlying goal was to “liberate” the women of Afghanistan.

Former First Lady Laura Bush described the policy, stating:

“Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

Numerous writers have critiqued this rationale, pointing out that the United States was silent to years of abuses before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and showing that progress has been slow.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has been highly critical of this rationale, stating:

“After the US and allies invaded Afghanistan around seven years ago, they misleadingly claimed of bringing peace and democracy and liberating Afghan women from the bleeding fetters of the Taliban. But in reality Afghan women are still burning voraciously in the inferno of fundamentalism. Women are exchanged with dogs, girls are gang-raped, men in the Jehadi-dominated society kill their wives viciously and violently, burn them by throwing hot water, cut off their nose and toes, innocent women are stoned to death and other heinous crimes are being committed.”

There have been relatively few gains for women and many of the abuses that took place under the Taliban are continuing to this day.

New Law Legalizes Rape in Marriage

Now, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai–who’s administration depends on U.S. support for its survival–has signed a law that legalizes rape within marriage and bans wives from leaving their homes without their husbands permission.

The law has not yet been published, but according to media reports the law:

“…the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.”

So, this is women’s liberation?

March Calls for Solidarity With Women in the Congo

About 100 people gathered Saturday in Grand Rapids to participate in a rally and march in support of women and girls in the Congo. Organizers said that they hope to raise awareness about the brutality that women and girls are suffering in the Congo and to raise money to support projects to help heal those who have been raped.

About 100 people gathered Saturday in Grand Rapids to participate in a rally and march in support of women and girls in the Congo. A “Walk Against Violence for Women & Children” was organized by the African Center of West Michigan. Organizers said that they hope to raise awareness about the brutality that women and girls are suffering in the Congo and to raise money to support projects to help heal those who have been raped.

Systemic rape of women in the Congo has been well documented in recent years and has been carried out by both the government military forces and armed militias. There has been an organized campaign to stop the rape of Congelese women and girls for several years, campaigns like the one organized by the international group V-Day. The march in Grand Rapids was a local action that is part of this larger international effort.

A few opening remarks were made by one of the organizers, a refugee from the Congo, Mr. Yaka Kamungi. He spoke in English and Swahili, his native language, especially since half the crowd were refugees from the Congo, Kenya, Somalia, and Burundi. After the opening comments the crowd marched towards downtown on Wealthy Street and made a loop back on Cherry. Those driving by in cars, sitting on porches, and walking by showed tremendous support for the marches who carried signs that had statements like “End rape in the Congo.”

The marches gathered back at the rally site to hear comments from a local African minister, a representative of the YWCA, and Jeannette Kabanda, a Congelese woman who has been part of several human rights trips to her home country. Jeannette said that what Congelese women have suffered begins for many of them when they are girls. Sometimes the soldiers for mothers to have sex with their sons, only to beat and murder the entire family afterwards. The speaker also stated that if women resist being raped they will be mutilated. Jeannette said that the US needs to pressure the government of the Congo to investigate these crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The funds that were raised at the rally will be used for programs that will provide “basic needs, trauma counseling, job training and health education to the women who have been victimized.” Several of the speakers mentioned that one of the many consequences of rape in the Congo is that a large number of women have become infected with HIV/AIDS, which further isolates these women from their communities.

If anyone is interested in supporting the work of the African Community Center to raise funds for the women of the Congo, they are welcomed to stop by their office at 1019 Wealthy SE, in Grand Rapids.

Media Investigation finds that more than 80 Military Recruiters have been Disciplined for Sexual Misconduct in the Last Year

A six-month investigation by the Associated Press has found several cases of sexual misconduct by military recruiters ranging from rapes committed at recruiting offices to the groping of female recruiters. The investigation found that more than 80 recruiters were disciplined for sexual misconduct in the past year.

Less than a week after a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found a 50% rise in abuses by military recruiters from 2004 to 2005, a six-month investigation by the Associated Press has found more that more than 100 young women interested in joining the military were sexually assaulted or harassed with more than 80 military recruiters disciplined for sexual misconduct in the past year. While the GAO report tracked allegations of abuse and confirmed cases of abuses—defining abuse as anything ranging from paperwork errors to sexual harassment—the Associated Press article focused exclusively on sexual misconduct and uncovered activities ranging from rapes committed at recruiting offices, assaults in government cars, and women being groped en route to enlistment exams. The investigation found that abuses took place across the country and in all of the branches of the military, with 35 Army recruiters, 18 Marine Corps recruiters, 18 Navy recruiters, and 12 Air Force recruiters being disciplined for sexual misconduct in 2005 according to records obtained by the Freedom of Information Act. Among the findings of the Associated Press:

  • The Army, which accounts for almost half of the military, has had 722 recruiters accused of rape and sexual misconduct since 1996.
  • Across all services, one out of 200 frontline recruiters – the ones who deal directly with young people – was disciplined for sexual misconduct last year.
  • Some cases of improper behavior involved romantic relationships, and sometimes those relationships were initiated by the women.
  • Most recruiters found guilty of sexual misconduct are disciplined administratively, facing a reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay; military and civilian prosecutions are rare.

The report details a number of cases, one of which is described in the following excerpt:

The sexual misconduct almost always takes place in recruiting stations, recruiters apartments or government vehicles. The victims are typically between 16 and 18 years old, and they usually are thinking about enlisting. They usually meet the recruiters at their high schools, but sometimes at malls or recruiting offices.

“We had been drinking, yes. And we went to the recruiting station at about midnight,” begins one girl’s story.

Tall and slim, her long hair sweeping down her back, this 18-year-old from Ukiah, California, hides her face in her hands as she describes the night when Marine Corps recruiter Sgt. Brian Fukushima climbed into her sleeping bag on the floor of the station and took off her pants. Two other recruiters were having sex with two of her friends in the same room.

“I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t like to think about it,” she says, her voice muffled and breaking. “He got into my sleeping bag, unbuttoned my pants, and he started, well …”

Her voice trails off, and she is quiet for a moment. “I had a freak-out session and just passed out. When I woke up I was sick and ashamed. My clothes were all over the floor.”

Fukushima was convicted of misconduct in a military court after other young women reported similar assaults. He left the service with a less than honorable discharge last fall.

It is also worth noting that unlike most states, the Uniform Code of Military Justice that bars recruiters from having sex with recruits also defines the age of consent as 16, meaning that recruiters who can “prove” that sex was consensual will likely face only a simple reprimand rather than jail time. As Anita Sanchez, director of communications at the Miles Foundation (a group for victims of violence in the military), says when she states in the article that:

You have a recruiter who can enable you to join the service or not join the service. That has life-changing implications for you as a high school student or college student… If she does not do this her life will be seriously impacted. Instead of getting training and an education, she might end up a dishwasher…

recruiters hold considerable power in any interaction with potential recruits, whether recruiters chose to acknowledge it or not. Moreover, sexual assault and sexual harassment are widespread in the military. According to the War Resisters League:

The atmosphere in the military encourages rape, murder, and other kinds of violence against civilian women, women who live with men in uniform, and women who are enlisted in every branch of the Armed Forces. Violence against women is not only an accepted part of military culture but an integral component in the training that desensitizes soldiers to violence and killing

Such an assessment is consistent with both the findings of the Associated Press investigation as well as other studies that have found that 50% of women at the Air Force, Army, and Naval academies report being sexually harassed and that 79% of women report being sexually harassed during their military service with 30% reporting attempted rape or rape.

Michigan Supreme Court Overturns Rape Victim’s Right to Damages

BlackBox Radio reports that a rape survivor from Flint Township, whose $1.25 million jury verdict against Hurley Medical Center was recently overturned, has lost her appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Flint Township woman was sexually assaulted by a nurse’s aide while hospitalized at Hurley Medical Center for psychological problems in 1998. Five years later, a jury found that the medical center was partially responsible, and awarded the survivor $1.25 million in damages.

But the recent 5-2 decision by the Michigan Supreme Court revoked the woman’s right to damages when it ruled that the hospital couldn’t be held liable for the actions of an employee who was acting outside the scope of his employment.

Attorneys for the woman unsuccessfully argued that the Supreme Court has previously adopted an exception to this rule in cases where an employee was aided by his employment status.

The Flint Journal printed the survivor’s statement that read, “I am very upset with the Supreme Court. I think it’s horrible that I go into a place of treatment and I’m not protected, and that they are not responsible at all.”

Lorenzo Powell, the hospital employee who was accused of another sexual assault during his time at Hurley Medical Center, pleaded no contest to a felonious assault charge and was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay the victims’ counseling costs.

The Press Commits Another Sin of Omission: When Rape is Passe

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

On April 13, in the Religion section, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article from Newhouse News Service writer Julia Lieblich about a US nun who is engaged in a protest/ fast across the street from the White House. Actually, the article spends more time talking about the “concern” that National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and his associates are having in this case.

The headline reads “Administration officials make late-night visits to see protesting nun.” The title alone is enough to lead you to believe that they are on some humanitarian mission. According to the article, Lake has paid three visits to Sister Diana Ortiz who has been camped out since April 2. In fact, the article gives more print space to the supposed empathy of government officials than that of the reasons for Ortiz’s actions.

The Press article simply states that Sister Ortiz “was raped and tortured in Guatemala.” No other specifics are mentioned. We are given no date or any testimony from Sister Diana herself about what happened. It is almost as if rape and torture were incidental in this case. The article mentions former US Ambassador to Guatemala Thomas Strook’s challenge of Ortiz’s story, but no one who supports her case is cited. For as much as the article reflects the agony of the government officials on this case you might expect the writer to give equal time to the agony of Sister Ortiz. Not so. The specifics of her abduction, rape, and torture are quite available, however. You can find full testimony in publications such as Report on Guatemala, the Bulletin of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA, as well as a taped interview on Alternative Radio. Any competent journalist could easily find these sources.

Some of the specifics of her case are as follows. She was abducted on November 2, 1989. Her abductors took her to a warehouse-like building, where Sister Diana recounts that she heard “the despairing screams of people being tortured and I watched helplessly as an innocent person was tortured.” She was then questioned and every time she responded men burned her with cigarettes. In all she has 111 burns on her back from the interrogation. She then says, “I was raped numerous times. After pouring wine over my body they used and abused my body in horrible ways that are too humiliating to describe in detail. Then they lowered me into an open pit packed with human bodies – bodies of children, women, and some men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive – and all swarming with rats.” Had any aspect of this testimony from Sister Ortiz been included in the Grand Rapids Press article would it have changed your impression of this case? I think it probably would have.

None of these serious omissions by the corporate media should surprise us though. If we look at the date of the crimes committed against Sister Diana, Nov. 2, 1989, we can make other conclusions about the self-censorship that the corporate media engages in regularly.

According to Noam Chomsky in Terrorizing the Neighborhood, when this story appeared on the AP wire service on Nov. 6, 1989, none of the major media picked the story up, nor were there Congressional calls for an investigation. Just over a month later and right before the illegal US invasion of Panama, George Bush waxed indignantly about what happened to a US woman in Panama. “If they threaten and brutalize the wife of an American citizen, sexually threatening the lieutenant’s wife while kicking him in the groin over and over again – then….please understand, this president is going to do something about it.” (see Stephen Shalom’s Imperial Alibis, pg. 178-79) So, if a US woman is terrorized in a country that the US military is about to invade it is an outrage, but if a woman is terrorized in a country that systematically murder’s its own people (with US government support) it is not worthy of mention? You decide.

Finally the Press article does make mention that Sister Diana is pushing the Clinton Administration to release all classified documents related to her case. They also cite a catholic priest who believes that Anthony Lake’s interest is more posturing than genuine concern. However, the article does not seriously look at the present efforts by the Guatemalan solidarity community in this country to push the Clinton Administration to release all declassified documents related to Guatemala since the CIA-led coup of 1954. In the most recent issue of Report on Guatemala, Jennifer Harbury states that after receiving some declassified documents it is clear that Anthony Lake and other US government officials were either withholding information from her or deliberately deceiving her in regards to the status of her husband Efrain Bamanca Velasquez, who is now believed to have been killed at the hands of CIA paid military officers in Guatemala. No wonder the corporate media is “missing” the real story, it would not only indict the role of numerous US administrations in grave human rights abuses in Guatemala, it would also be self-indicting since the bulk of the information on cases like Sister Ortiz has been available for decades and has not been reported on.