This week Capt. James Yee’s book concerning his experiences in Guantánamo
will hit America’s bookstores. This morning’s Sunday
Times (London) offers a fascinating set of excerpts from Yee’s work.
“It was my turn to be humiliated every time I was taken to have a shower.
Naked, I had to run my hands through my hair to show that I was not concealing
a weapon in it. Then mouth open, tongue up, down, nothing inside. Right arm
up, nothing in my armpit. Left arm up. Lift the right testicle, nothing hidden.
Lift the left. Turn around, bend over, spread your buttocks, knowing a camera
was displaying my naked image as male and female guards watched.
“It didn’t matter that I was an army captain, a graduate of West
Point, the elite US military academy. It didn’t matter that my religious
beliefs prohibited me from being fully naked in front of strangers. It didn’t
matter that I hadn’t been charged with a crime. It didn’t matter
that my wife and daughter had no idea where I was. And it certainly didn’t
matter that I was a loyal American citizen and, above all, innocent.”
When all the baseless suspicions against Yee were disproved, the Pentagon
turned to its favored technique to punish him. He was accused of improper sexual
conduct. In American society today, these words generally relate to
conduct that is abusive – unauthorized sexual contact. Not in Donald Rumsfeld’s
Pentagon: there they relate to consensual sexual relations between a man and
a woman. The consistent factor is that one of the sexual partners has made it
on to the Pentagon’s black list for one reason or another.
The Rumsfeld Pentagon has developed destruction of the character of
those who get in its way to an art form. Those viewed as troublesome become
the target of a special investigation. Wiretaps are applied to their telephones
and their emails are read. An evidentiary case is built and humiliating leaks
to the press occur.
Let’s stop for a moment and ask: when the persons in question are two-,
three- and four-star generals, at what level must this be authorized? In fact,
the targets have included two-, three- and four-star generals, and the authority
or impetus for such action has almost certainly come from the Office of the
Secretary of Defense. The charges brought have tended to fall into two baskets:
charges of petty dereliction and sexual misconduct. In the former case, we have
seen charges that officers kept classified documents on their laptop computers
– when the documents turned out not to be classified; and we have seen
charges of petty errors and oversights in contract administration. (Conversely,
serious cases of contract misadministration involving billions of dollars and
Halliburton are resolved by persecuting
the whistleblower.) But the favored technique clearly lies in bringing charges
of improper sexual conduct, invariably involving consensual sexual relations.
These charges are easily brought. The number of eunuchs and sexual abstainers
among the uniformed military is low and sociological research has long shown
that the vast majority of the population has sexual relations outside of wedlock
at some point. That means that these charges can be brought against virtually
anyone. If the rules were enforced uniformly and aggressively, we would not
be able to maintain a volunteer army. But the current highly selective application
may achieve the same result. Two important bar organizations have already looked
at the situation and concluded that the application of sexual misconduct rules
by the uniformed services suggests highly uneven application. Both urged reforms.
The Pentagon refuses to budge. The tool is too powerful, and too readily abused.
Therein lies its attraction.
In addition to the case of Capt Yee, developed in his current book, consider
Gen Thomas J Fiscus, Judge Advocate General of the Air Force – known
to have criticized rules on treatment of detainees – accused of sexual
Gen John Riggs – questioned the level of troop commitments to the
Iraq campaign – accused of sexual misconduct and technical contract infractions
Kevin Byrnes – responsible for incorporating changes in doctrine on
interrogation and treatment of detainees, rumored to have had reservations about
changes hammered through by Rumsfeld – accused of sexual misconduct
Each of these cases suggests highly irregular investigative and disciplinary
process which sharply discredits the Pentagon and the military justice system.
Press reports also demonstrate a remarkably incurious media that frequently
plays into the Pentagon's smear tactics by failing to fathom the currents under
the press releases. The Pentagon is aided in this process by the coerced silence
of the accused, usually eager to salvage something of his pension and benefits.
A good example is the Washington Post article reporting on the punishment of
General Fiscus. An unnamed Pentagon source is quoted as saying, with obvious
malice, that Fiscus can expect to be disbarred as a consequence of their action.
When I raised the matter with a bar ethics committee chair, I was told this:
"If we began disbarring lawyers because of consensual sexual relations,
we would rapidly run out of members."
To really understand what’s going on, these cases and the extreme sexual
priggishness they reflect must be juxtaposed against a decision – taken
at or near the top of the chain of command and crammed down on investigators
– to jettison prior military doctrine requiring humane treatment of detainees.
In introducing new, inhumane practices, the Pentagon leadership embraced sexual
humiliation tactics with particular relish. An examination of published accounts
of the twelve internal Army investigations discloses the following admittedly
- enforced nudity, including suggestive poses and stacking of bodies;
- allusions to and threats of improper sexual conduct;
- improper and unauthorized touching, including touching of genitalia;
- probes involving light sticks and other tools (which may come close to constituting
rape by instrumentality under state statutes);
- use of (fake) menstrual blood;
- sexual blackmail;
- distribution and use of sexually explicit materials;
- suggestions that detainees are homosexual or have otherwise engaged in sexual
conduct inconsistent with Muslim religious values; and
- having an interrogator deliver “lap dances” to detainees.
These practices clearly violate legal rules and traditional US military doctrine
on the treatment of detainees. They also degrade the US service personnel who
are required to apply them. But consider the swing between the disgrace and
ruin of highly valued career officers for consensual sexual relations and the
officially sanctioned, grossly abusive sexual misconduct described above. It
demonstrates a plasticity in moral values, that can only be called breathtaking.
How are we to bridge this chasm? The most appealing explanation lies in the
motives of those driving this ostensibly schizophrenic conduct. Plainly, they
view sexual morals as something to be manipulated for the accomplishment of
political objectives. Hence, lewd and offensive sexual conduct can be deliberately
used as a tactic against detainees. On the other hand, officers who earn the
leadership’s ire will be humiliated and disgraced using innuendo of sexual
misconduct as a tactic.
The cynicism and immorality of this mindset is staggering. It reflects a wholesale
repudiation of traditional military values.
One can well question the efficacy of sexual humiliation practices as tools
for interrogation and intelligence gathering. However, no one can question their
highly inflammatory effect in the War on Terror: they tarnish America's reputation
and put our soldiers at risk. And they may well claim another victim. Experts
are already noting that at Rumsfeld's current burn rate, the volunteer army
cannot be sustained much longer. Rumsfeld's cynical sexual policies are destroying
military morale and discipline and hastening the volunteer army's demise.