Not Just Another Abuse Scandal

By Colbert I. King (THE WASHINGTON POST, 08/07/06):

Please don't lump what happened in Mahmudiyah with the alleged attacks by U.S. troops on unarmed Iraqi civilians in Fallujah, Haditha, Qaim or Salahuddin province. True, the murders of innocent noncombatants, and the humiliation and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, are deplorable acts deserving condemnation and swift and severe punishment. But the event that occurred in Mahmudiyah, a village south of Baghdad, deserves a category all to itself.

Mahmudiyah wasn't a case of soldiers exceeding their orders or authority in the interrogation of prisoners -- or an example of war-weary, stressed-out troops mistakenly assuming a villager was a member of the insurgency. Neither was it a situation in which U.S. service members, grief-stricken over the loss of a comrade, decided to take out their anguish on people who looked like the enemy.

Mahmudiyah, if the charges are true, was a case of something else; a vile event made all the more disgusting because a soldier, afforded the opportunity to serve his country, chose instead to indulge his private need to hurt, degrade and murder.

Twenty-one-year-old Steven D. Green, honorably discharged from the Army in May for a "personality disorder," is charged with entering an Iraqi home near Mahmudiyah in March and raping a young woman (Iraqis say she was 15 years old; the U.S. military says 20), shooting her in the head and setting her body aflame -- after he was done using it.

But first, it is alleged, he herded the young woman's mother, father and 5-year-old sister into a bedroom, where he shot and killed them. Arrested by the FBI this week, Green has pleaded not guilty.

The young woman's body and those of her family were found burned in an effort to cover up what happened. And Green, according to an FBI affidavit, wasn't the only rapist; another soldier in his unit is said to have taken part in the assault.

Some might call that a tactic of war. It was nothing of the sort. Yes, there are numerous cases of mass rape that were methodically carried out during times of war. Look no farther than Darfur and Kosovo.

But if the reporting out of Iraq is accurate, Mahmudiyah is a tale of sadism and degradation and of the desire of one man and possibly others to display mastery over the weak for reasons having nothing to do with why America is in Iraq.

The Post's Ellen Knickmeyer reports that the young woman had told her mother she was afraid because of the unwelcome attention of the American soldiers stationed at a checkpoint she had to pass through almost daily. She told her mother that the soldiers had been sexually aggressive toward her. Her mother feared the soldiers would come for her daughter at night.

Green and other soldiers, it has been reported, went to the young woman's house with the intent to rape her. That, if true, represents a premeditated use of power and intimidation to achieve gratification.

That's not a tactic of war; that is an act of tyranny.

They set out to devastate that young woman. Her family had been shot and killed in the next room before she was raped. Knowing that, she was already in agony when Green and the other soldier came for her.

Much is being made of the impact of this sex crime in Iraq and the Arab world and the backlash it could have on U.S. forces because of Islamic culture.

It's hard, at least for me, to get past the impact of this crime on the victims, and thoughts of the young woman's distress, and knowledge that in our civilized world she is not alone.

Her disgust with the harassment, her anxiety about her movements being studied and her fear of being raped are not peculiar to women living in Islamic cultures. Thinking twice about how to dress, when to go out, where to walk and how to speak are not a thing of the Middle East. Many women all over the world have to live with that. On the other hand, the men most able to relate to those concerns are those who themselves are prey behind prison walls.

Mahmudiyah was about murder. It was also about the deliberate, calculated violation of a woman. Such malevolence should never find its way into a U.S. military uniform.