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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Blog 75. Lynndie England - a Feminists’ dilemma?

War is very much a feminist issue and not just because of the power gap between the testosterone fuelled madness that leads to war and those caught in the cross fire. Nor is it just an issue for the feminist camp because of the way rape is routinely used as a weapon of war. The increasing involvement of women soldiers on the frontline has opened up dark corners and has possibly pitted feminism against some of its assumed bedfellows – pacifism and small ‘l’ liberalism.

Nowhere is this dilemma more clearly personified than in the figure of Lynndie England. If this name rings unpleasant bells but you can’t quite place it – think of those horrendous pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused, tortured and humiliated in Abu Ghraib during the Iraq invasion. US private Lynndie England is the face of that nightmare. She is the painfully young-looking soldier guerning over the pyramid of naked prisoners and she is the juvenile-looking t-shirted soldier with a naked prisoner on the floor on the end of a leash (and they weren’t the worst pictures).

There was little surprise when latterly the general view finally coagulated round the truth that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. It is interesting that, as we mark the centenary of the outbreak of WWI this year, the more politicians try to harness some frisky jingoism – the more the voices of the ordinary soldiers sing out strong from the mass of graves “what a waste”. But whilst the, often illiterate, foot soldiers of that time were duped by their warring masters, Lynndie England was duped at every level. From the system that failed to educate her to a close and senior soldier who clearly had emotional and sexual influence over her to the hawks who peddled the nonsense that justified attack, right up to her president and Commander in Chief who seemed to want to show daddy Bush what a big boy he was – she was conned.

To this day she proposes no penitence, sticking to her mantra that they were “the enemy”. Even that, as we now know, was wrong. George W in fact was quite good pals with Sadam until it no longer suited him to be. The war was cooked up between Bush and Blair – and depending on how you view the current global blood bath, often underpinned by a Muslim / western-Christian divide – would it would be too far-fetched to suggest that those two gentlemen (I use the term loosely) kicked off WW3?

So why would a pacifist like me sense an uncomfortable conundrum when it comes to Lynndie England? Firstly, there is a general moral problem in convicting soldiers of war-crimes when the two main and most senior perpetrators remain unpunished. In trying to explain that one an analogy might help. Imagine a couple of burglars – the two top dogs in the hood – decide to break into a house. They enlist a group of children (because the children can get in and they can’t – come on you’ve seen Oliver Twist) and the children have to obey them. During the burglary the children damage things in the house. How would we feel if the children were then captured and punished while the two burglars not only got off scot free but went off to live free and prosperous?

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that our own favourite war criminal – Mr. Perma-tan-Tony himself, is not only at liberty but estimated to be now worth around £75million.

As a pacifist I find the idea that there are right and wrong ways to slaughter people bizarre (see blog 44. Killing them Softly). But where an invasion is dubious, troops go into the hell pits of conflict with a psychological profile even more warped than usual. And Private Lynndie England was a woman in a mess who was thrown into one of the ugliest messes in our time.

Lynndie England, who joined the army in her teens from her trailer-trash background, first became involved with Charles Graner – 14 years her senior in age and senior to her in rank – in 2003.

It’s a well circulated idea that the group of soldiers arriving at the crowded Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 were led to believe that the ritual humiliation of prisoners was a technique that was sanctioned by their commanders. It was used as a means of ‘softening up’ prisoners and had been in use long before they arrived. That is not an excuse – it’s just interesting information.

Garner (convicted ring-leader of the abuses which came to light) was in the habit of taking explicit pictures of Lynndie when he had sex with her and encouraged her to pose with the prisoners in the manner described above. Graner got Lynndie pregnant (though he disowned her and even initially denied paternity) while also sexually involved with one of her friends and fellow soldiers.

There is no way of denying that part of what shocked about these particular abuses, involving Lynndie England, was her gender. There were worse abuses, including the slaughter and rape of women and children by rogue soldiers but we almost expect that in war. If we don’t we should by now. But we cannot deny that – even in war – we expect better behaviour from women. Maybe we have to accept that when a male and female soldier stand side by side – each with a weapon – there remains something unequal about them that requires our questioning.


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