Psycho-Social Drives of American Servicemen in Torturing Arab and Muslim prisoners — annotated

Commentary on the psycho- social drives of American soldiers, as they try to “save civilization” by torturing Muslims and Arabs at Abu Ghraib.

May serve as appropriate analyzation concerning “why” they torture American women and men in cointelpro type voyeurism — now, today, — explains their sociopathy and “save civilization” from the “other” cover-up explanation, in doing this.

From: International Feminist Journal of Politics
Volume 9, 2007 – Issue 1

Pages 38-59 | Published online: 17 Apr 2007³errs.1080/14616740601066366


Dominant discourses in the United States paint the acts of prisoner ‘abuse’ committed by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib in 2003 as either the obscene but exceptional example of some low-ranking soldiers gone mad, or as the direct result of the suspension of the rule of law in the global ‘war on terror’. Alternatively, feminist theorist Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that the pictures depicting female soldiers torturing prisoners are both horrifying and a sign of ‘gender equality’. This article departs from all three of these positions. I argue that the micro-level violences shown in the Abu Ghraib pictures are neither just aberrations nor a sign of gender equality. Rather they follow a pre-constructed heterosexed, racialized and gendered script that is firmly grounded in the colonial desires and practices of the larger social order and that underpins the hegemonic ‘save civilization itself’-fantasy of the ‘war on terror’. I explore how the participation of some of the US Empire’s internal Others, namely White western women, may disrupt some of the social processes of normalization underpinning this colonial fantasy, but nevertheless serves to re/produce the identity and hegemony of the US Empire and its heterosexed, racialized and classed World

This article is part of the following collections:
Teaching Feminist International Politics

I am deeply grateful to Anna M. Agathangelou for her encouragement and extensive comments on an earlier draft of this article. I also wish to acknowledge the valuable comments of Bobby Benedicto and Elisa Wynne-Hughes as well as of the two anonymous readers at IFJP. My argument throughout is indebted to the work of Sherene Razack (2004). ‘They Never Call It Rape’, by Miriam Axel-Lute, is reprinted with kind permission of the author.

1. All four official US investigations belittle the acts of torture as ‘prisoner abuses’.

2. ‘Sexuality’ in this article refers to both a field of knowledge and an erotic practice.

3. Among the transnational feminists incorporating sexuality studies are Alexander (1991, 1994) and Puar (1998).

4. Due to the limited scope of this essay, my reading of the events surrounding the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib focuses largely on the US Empire’s hegemonic foreign policy discourse, the ‘save civilization itself’-fantasy. As I will elaborate below, I do not conceptualize discourse or imperial power as monolithic and produced merely in a top–down fashion. In fact, this essay is part of a larger project in which I seek to explore how alternative narratives and identification-practices complicated or interrupted the workings of the ‘save civilization itself’-fantasy in Abu Ghraib, e.g. the multiple and potentially contradictory positionings of soldiers themselves due to their gendered, classed and/or racialized subjectivities in other social, historical and spatial contexts as well as the prisoners’ contributions towards, and contestations of, this discursive formation.

5. I use fantasy instead of discourse or ideology because it captures better the contribution of our dreams and unconsciousness to the inter-subjective creation of our life worlds and the ways we get to know ourselves. See Yegenoglu (1998: 2) for a discussion on ‘the risk of psychologizing structural processes by reducing them to individual psychological motivations’; see Grewal (2001) on the Eurocentrism of (Lacanian) psychoanalysis.

6. Said has been rightly critiqued for not accounting sufficiently for variances between and within different national orientalisms, for example due to the gendered (Lowe 1991) and heterosexed (Boone 2003) nature of colonial discourses.

7. On the racialization of the non-western Other in US foreign policy, see Hunt (1988) and Doty (1996).

8. This racist slang directed at the homogenized Arab/Muslim/Iraqi/Taliban Other draws on the Arabic word for Muslims who have undertaken the pilgrimage to Mekka (‘haj’) (Rockwell 2005).

9. There are reports that US drill sergeants use chants of ‘burning turbans’ and ‘killing ragheads’ to prepare their recruits in the ‘war on terror’ (Rockwell 2005).

10. I owe this thought to Razack’s (2004) exploration of the discursive effects of constructing Somalia as ‘Indian country’ in her insightful book on Canada’s ‘Somalia Affair’.

11. Razack (2004) makes a similar argument in the context of the quasi-peacekeeping operations of the Canadian military in Somalia.

12. In fact, while it was only in 2003 that the US Supreme Court struck down ‘anti-sodomy’ legislation, the Iraqi Criminal Code did not explicitly criminalize ‘homosexuality’ until 2001 (Brown 2005). Rather than engaging in a discussion about which country is more aggressively homophobic, I want to problematize Hersh’s construction of the homophobic Other that ultimately secures the Self as more ‘civilized’ and benign.

13. I am grateful to Mark B. Salter for pointing this out to me.

14. Among these practices are Bush’s attempt in February 2005 to re-nominate prominent anti-queer activist Bill Pryor for the federal court of appeal and the 2001 Global Gag Rule restricting funding for family planning.

15. For a good discussion on how the recent decriminalization of ‘sodomy’ sanctions only a particular form of ‘homosexuality’, see Ruskola (2005).

16. I am grateful to Carmen Sanchez for pointing this out to me.

17. Taking trophy pictures of the violences enacted on the bodies of ‘Third World people’ seems to be a common practice in peacekeeping missions involving western soldiers (Razack 2004: 53).

18. In fact, the seven prison guards accused of ‘abusing’ detainees emailed pictures of their acts of violence to friends and family back home (Hersh 2004).

19. Several gross orthographic mistakes made by the seven MPs offer a hint of the appalling class divide in US society reflected in military recruitment. For example, none of the ‘civilizing’ prison guards noticed that they had misspelled the word ‘Rapest’ [sic] when spraying it on one of the naked prisoners. In another instance, an MP log indicated that a detainee was ‘neked’ [sic] (Fay 2004: 89).

20. For other studies exploring the interpellation of internal Others into colonial fantasies, see Lewis (1996) and Yegenoglu (1998) on White women and Razack (2004) on racialized soldiers.”