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Rape fears lead women soldiers to suicide, death

NEW YORK — U.S. female soldiers in Iraq were assaulted or raped by male soldiers in the women’s latrines, and an alarming number committed suicide, Col. Janis Karpinski reportedly testified before an international human rights commission of inquiry last month.

“Because the women were in fear of getting up in the darkness [to go to the latrine], they were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 in the afternoon,” Karpinski testified, according to a report on Truthout.org. “In the 100 degree heat, they were dying of dehydration in their sleep.”

Karpinski’s testimony was reported by Margorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild who writes a weekly column for the website.

Cohn wrote that she presented Karpinski’s testimony at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, which convened Jan. 20-22 at Riverside Church.

The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn’t located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom, Karpinski told retired U.S. Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview, Cohn reported. “There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night.” It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers.

Karpinski testified that a surgeon for the coalition’s joint task force said in a briefing that “women in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the port-a-lets or the latrines were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and in 120 degree heat or warmer, because there was no air-conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep.”

“And rather than make everybody aware of that — because that’s shocking, and as a leader if that’s not shocking to you then you’re not much of a leader — what they told the surgeon to do is don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report but don’t brief it in the open anymore.”

Karpinski said Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, the top deputy to Lt. Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the former senior U.S. military commander in Iraq, saw dehydration listed as the cause of death on the death certificate of a female master sergeant in September 2003. Under orders from Sanchez, Wojdakowski directed that the cause of death no longer be listed. The official explanation for this was to protect the women’s privacy rights, she said.

Sanchez’s attitude was: “The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory,” Karpinski quoted him as saying. Karpinski told Cohn that Sanchez, who was her boss, was very sensitive to the political ramifications of everything he did, Cohn reported.

“It was out of control,” Karpinski told a group of students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law last October, according to the Truthout report. Although there was a toll-free number women could use to report sexual assaults, no one had a phone, and no one answered the U.S. number when it was called. Any woman who successfully connected to it would get a recording.

Even after more than 83 incidents were reported during a six-month period in Iraq and Kuwait, the 24-hour rape hot line was still answered by a machine that told callers to leave a message, Karpinski told Cohn.

Karpinski, a brigadier general, was assigned to Iraq in July 2003 to oversee 17 prison facilities including Abu Ghraib. She was demoted to colonel after news broke of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib when the prison was under her command. Karpinski subsequently resigned from the military, and in October she published a book, One Woman’s Army, the Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story, in which she claims the prisoner abuses were carried out under orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The commission in New York heard testimony from Karpinski and others about indefinite detention, rendition for torture, destruction of the environment, attacks on public health and reproductive rights, and actions and inactions leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina, Cohn wrote.

Harry Belafonte, a participant and keynote speaker, said, “When a government fails to protect justice it is the responsibility of the people to rise up and change the guard, change the regime. Those who fail to answer that call should be charged with patriotic treason.”

posted February 8, 2006

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