Sex crime has a telltale signature, even when those directing the outrages are some of the most powerful men and women in the United States. How extraordinary, then, to learn that one of the perpetrators of these crimes, Condoleezza Rice, has just led the debate in a special session of the United Nations Security Council on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
I had a sense of dj vu when I saw the photos that emerged in 2004 from Abu Ghraib prison. Even as the Bush administration was spinning the notion that the torture of prisoners was the work of "a few bad apples" low in the military hierarchy, I knew that we were seeing evidence of a systemic policy set at the top. It's not that I am a genius. It's simply that, having worked at a rape crisis center and been trained in the basics of sex crime, I have learned that all sex predators go about things in certain recognizable ways.
We now know that the torture of prisoners was the result of a policy set in the White House by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Rice – who actually chaired the torture meetings.
The Pentagon has also acknowledged that it had authorized sexualized abuse of detainees as part of interrogation practices to be performed by female operatives. And documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union have Rumsfeld, in his own words, "checking in" on the sexualized humiliation of prisoners.
The sexualization of torture from the top basically turned Abu Ghraib and Guantnamo Bay into an organized sex-crime ring in which the trafficked sex slaves were US-held prisoners. Looking at the classic S and M nature of some of this torture, it is hard not to speculate that someone setting policy was aroused by all of this.
The nonsexual torture that was committed ranged from beatings and suffocation, electrodes attached to genitals, and forced sleep deprivation, to prisoners being hung by the wrists from the ceiling and placed in solitary confinement until psychosis was induced.
These abuses violate both US and international law. Three former military attorneys, recognizing this blunt truth, refused to participate in the "military tribunals" – rather, "show trials" – aimed at condemning men whose confessions were elicited through torture.
Though we can now debate what the penalty for water-boarding should be, America as a nation, maintaining an odd silence, still cannot seem to discuss the sexual crimes involved.
Why? It's not as if the sex crimes that US leaders either authorized or tolerated are not staring Americans in the face: the images of male prisoners with their heads hooded with women's underwear; the documented reports of female US soldiers deployed to smear menstrual blood on the faces of male prisoners, and of military interrogators or contractors forcing prisoners to simulate sex with each other, to penetrate themselves with objects, or to submit to being penetrated by objects.