How a Young Girl's Rape Mirrors the Fate of Her Nation
By Firas Al-Atraqchi
In early 2003, an Arabic-language newspaper ran a cartoon depicting the nation of Iraq as a young girl being raped by a U.S. soldier while several Arabs in traditional garb enthusiastically egged the soldier on. The message was simple: Iraq was about to be plundered of its wealth, stripped of its manpower, its expertise, its middle and educated classes, its infrastructure and its knowledge base. Like a rape victim, the country would be scarred, mutilated and contorted, never again to appear fully sovereign.
This vision became horrific reality in the town of Mahmoudiya in March 2006, when 16-year-old Abeer Qassem Hamza Al-Janabi was raped, shot and burned by a team of American soldiers who allegedly had been planning to perpetrate their crime for a week. Their plan included discarding their military uniforms and donning dark clothes (resembling that of militia or fedayeen ) to avoid identification as U.S. military personnel. Abeer's family was executed in the assault, including her seven-year-old sister, so that none may point a finger of blame at the U.S. military.
In the immediate aftermath, the U.S. military cordoned off the area surrounding Abeer's house, announcing that her family were Shiite and were murdered by Sunni "insurgents." We now know that neither claim was true. Al-Janabi's neighbors protested that the family was Sunni, and that the girl had complained of harassment by American troops at a nearby checkpoint some time earlier.
Three weeks before the American military announced an internal investigation, the alleged lead perpetrator of Abeer's rape was discharged from the Army on grounds that he was mentally unstable. The undeclared reason, according to some sources, was that the U.S. military was aware of his conduct in Mahmoudiya and sought to avoid further embarrassment to a military plagued by atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, among dozens of other reports of human rights violations.
Rather than face a court martial, "former" U.S. Army Private Jeremy Green is being tried in a civilian court in Kentucky. Four other servicemen currently serving in Iraq have also been charged.
For Iraqis, Abeer's rape and murder mirrors the fate of the nation. Her attackers stalked her, watching her house for a week before launching their offensive. In the minds of many, this is synonymous with preparations for the invasion of Iraq itself. Certain world powers continuously targeting Iraq, gathering intelligence (which later proves misleading if not fabricated) and finalizes plans that totally violate the sovereignty of the country.
Further, Abeer's complaints of harassment are synonymous with appeals made by Iraq before the 2003 invasion; that it was not affiliated with al-Qaeda nor did it possess weapons of mass destruction. Iraq appealed to neighboring countries and the U.N. to bring a halt to the military juggernaut massing on its borders. But just as Abeer's neighbors proved unable to help, so too did the world community in failing Iraq.
Abeer's life as a whole is testament to the suffering of the Iraqi people. Born the year Iraq invaded Kuwait, Abeer lived out her infancy under the regimen of punitive sanctions. She grew up differently from other girls in the Arab world: an innocent child, yet punished for wrongs she could not begin to understand. By the time she turned 13, Iraq had been invaded and entire cities and villages were under siege. In the great war of liberation, waged allegedly to stifle terrorism and liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, Abeer paid with her life at the hands of the liberator.
Despite the best efforts of senior officials to categorize Green's actions (and those of his unit cohorts) as aberrations, evidence increasingly emerging from Iraq indicates that similar crimes and human rights abuses are perpetrated nearly on a daily basis.
In Hamdaniya, U.S. soldiers planted a shovel and AK-47 on an Iraqi man they had shot dead, seeking to hide the murder by depicting the man as an "insurgent" planting an improvised explosive device.
In Haditha, a military investigation led by Lieutenant General Peter W. Chiarelli has found officers negligent in not questioning contradictions in the accounts of an attack on a Marine unit and the subsequent massacre of 24 civilians, including women and children. The criminal investigation is ongoing.
Regarding Abu Ghraib, two years on from the scandalous atrocities captured on camera and leaked to the press, according to New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, thousands of pictures and video footage showing ongoing torture, human rights abuses and the rape of minors remain unpublished.
The rape and murder of Abeer has created a tidal wave of outrage in Iraq, prompting Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to berate the U.S. military in the sharpest rebuke to date. "There needs to be a plan to educate and train soldiers, and those who are brought to serve in Iraq shouldn't bear prejudices nor be reckless toward people's honor," he said.
But who is to define reckless? While the U.S. military's recruitment drive has failed to meet its quotas, the standard of eligibility for military service has dropped, leading to questionable - if not purposely lax - screening of candidates.
In recent months, The Los Angeles Times and other U.S. media have reported that members of various gangs have "infiltrated" the American military and are serving in Iraq, where they hope to gain skills and expertise they can apply on their return to neighborhoods in America.
Media also report that gang graffiti has been scrawled on walls in Iraq, including proclamations of loyalty to the Aryan nation - a statement usually made by white supremacists.
The notion that racist ideology exists among U.S. military servicemen and women serving in Iraq is hardly new. In late 2004, British officers told The Telegraph that they viewed the U.S. use of force as aggressive and disproportionate. They added that it was the belief of many British commanders that certain quarters within the American military viewed Iraqis as untermenschen, or sub-humans.
Perhaps it is such dogma that facilitates the emergence of Web sites that display pictures of Iraqi dead or allow for songs to be written about the killing of an Iraqi girl and her family (Hadji Girl) by a U.S. Marine. Adding insult to injury, such songs are being bought up by radio stations in the U.S. and will be available for download at a premium.
The American military has a serious personnel problem on its hands and has all but lost the hearts and minds campaign it aimed to win among Iraqis. How could it be otherwise when Abeer's savage rape and murder stands as testament to the absence, at the core of the U.S. military, of adherence to even the most fundamental tenets of ethics and human morality?