Volume 6 number 6, June 2004
The Female Abu Ghraib Detainees:
Baghdad, May 30
Iraqi women who have been detained by U.S. forces and held within the dreaded prison have largely been the untold story from Abu Ghraib. Lost in the torrent of photographs, videos, and horrendous stories of abuse and humiliation of Iraqi men at the hands of U.S. soldiers has been the fact that a handful of unfortunate female prisoners have suffered similar abuse, if not worse.
Why have we not heard much of this? Primarily because Arab and Muslim culture have caused the women who have been released to remain underground. To not tell their stories, in order to save their families from being shamed; or even worse, to save their own lives. For in a country where honor killings still occur, if a woman is raped, it is possible for her family to kill her in order for honor to be restored. In Islamic society, to be raped by an American soldier would bring shame beyond imagining for the woman and her family.
Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi is a political scientist at Baghdad University who works as a researcher for the International Human Rights Group Amnesty International. Luke Harding for The Guardian reported that she found that a woman named “Noor” who was in Abu Ghraib is now probably dead. Why? Because as Nuaimi said, “We believe she was raped and that she was pregnant by a U.S. guard. After her release from Abu Ghraib, I went to her house. The neighbors said her family had moved away. I believe she has been killed.”
As far as response to these claims from the Coalition Provisional Authority, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt said the prisons department is unaware of any such reports at Abu Ghraib, and that the reports have not yet been confirmed.
The U.S. military reports that five women remain in solitary confinement inside Abu Ghraib in the feared cellblock 1A. However, reports continue to emerge from the prison that point toward abuse and even rape of Iraqi female detainees.
According to the New Yorker magazine, the Pentagon has yet to release photos and videos showing American soldiers “having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner.” This has been confirmed by a secret report by General Antonio Taguba of the scandal that states “a male MP guard” was shown “having sex with a female detainee.”
International Occupation Watch Centre (IOWC), an NGO based in Baghdad, has said one former detainee has told them of the alleged rape of her cellmate.
"She claimed she had been raped seventeen times in one day by Iraqi police in the presence of American soldiers," said Eman Ahmed Khamas who heads IOWC.
In addition, Iraq-based Union of Detainees and Prisoners (UDP) has reported the story of a mother of four who was detained in December, who killed herself after being raped by U.S. guards while they made her husband watch at Abu Ghraib prison.
It is not easy to report these stories when most of the women are loath to tell their stories upon their release for obvious reasons. This is compounded by the fact that journalists are barred access to female detainees within Abu Ghraib.
While many Iraqi families are claiming that women in Abu Ghraib are being raped and killed within its walls, others like the mother of Farah Abrahim Mohammed, have been beaten regularly. During a recent interview in Baghdad, Farah said that a women detainee recently released from Abu Ghraib delivered a note from her mother to the family, which stated, “They have broken my hand.” Having been denied access to her mother, Farah speaks with great sadness, for her aunt is in Abu Ghraib as well. The same note from her mother stated that her aunt had facial trauma from beatings.
“They searched our house in December and found nothing,” said Farah, “Yet they took them anyway, along with my father and brothers.”
She said the note spoke of similar traumas to her seventy-year-old father, along with scratches up and down his arms and legs. She and another of her aunts, Nehala, speak quietly about what has happened to their female family members inside the prison. “We know horrible things have happened to them in there,” said Nehala, “One of them passed a note to us that said she was happy that the resistance was mortaring the prison, and she hoped she would be killed.”
Most female prisoners in Iraq are held at Rasafa Prison Complex, which is located at the Ministry of the Interior headquarters. It is a women’s prison, along with others around the country. Oftentimes women are incarcerated and held as hostages without being charged with anything, as a means to leverage male family members suspected of aiding the resistance to the occupation.
However, the main problem concerning female detainees continues to be what they face upon their release. Both IWOC and UDP have said that three pregnant women from Al-Anbar Province had been killed by their families after they were released from Abu Ghraib prison.
While hundreds more detainees are being released during the coalition’s attempt to earn back some moral merit it forfeited from the scandals of Abu Ghraib, the future of Iraqi women in the U.S.-run prison system here remains bleak.