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(en) US, Bring The Rukus* E-Journal, January, 2005 Lynndie England - Tormentor or Women? - by Traci

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 8 Feb 2005 12:36:24 +0100 (CET)

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It is the beginning of the New Year and to date only one soldier has
gone on trial for his role in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal. As I write
this, Army Specialist, Charles Graner is on trial for his chief role in
the torture of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Three fellow guards from
the 372nd Military Police Company have already pleaded guilty to
abusing prisoners. On January 17 and 18, Lynndie England will be
court-martialed on charges stemming from the same prisoner abuse
scandal. While Graner is described as the ringleader and faces 17
years in prison, England faces up to 38 years.

While we may not know or remember the names of the other soldiers
involved in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, we all know Lynndie
England. When the pictures first came out, the world was shocked at
the atrocities that were waged on the Iraqi prisoners. But even more
shocking was the pictures of the “little girl” holding a leash,
smiling over the degradation of Iraqi citizens. Those pictures have
made her infamous.

While the world was shocked, the response from the left and from
activists in particular has not been one of surprise. We have seen the
photos, we have heard the reports, and as a group of people who are
at the very least aware of the realities and atrocities committed by this
country, we have responded with a lot of I-told-you-so’s and
many this-has-been-going-on-for-centuries. Funny enough in all of
this discussion, there have been very few thoughtful probes into what
the particular portrayal of Lynndie England means and why we know
so much about her. While we are quick to point a finger at the
soldiers for their deplorable racist acts, and the government for its
role in yet another racist war to preserve capitalism, we have failed to
recognize that the portrayal of Lynndie England and her role in all of
this is significant.

For the rest of the world who is fed their information by the 6
o’clock news and is susceptible to sensationalism, the portrayal
of Lynndie England may seem like a normal event. But to those of us
who strive to understand patriarchal institutions and call ourselves
feminists, the depiction of Lynndie England should have sent up red
flags. But it didn’t. Instead we lumped her in with the other
abusers, and made her the poster child for the abuse. We failed to
question the significance of the rising role of women in the military.
We failed to question what war means for women. We failed to
examine the role of patriarchal institutions and we failed to question
why Lynndie England is significant.

I am not excusing the actions of anyone involved in the Iraqi prison
abuse—from our enemies at the top to the executors of their
actions at the bottom—any more than I excuse the people who
abuse the 2 million prisoners in this country on a daily basis.
However the way that Lynndie England has been portrayed as
something “different” from all the other soldiers has seem to
gone unnoticed and un-questioned by the left. After all the fact that
she is a woman has been notable, and apparently quite newsworthy
for the rest of the world. Why hasn’t it been for us?

Lynndie England appears to be the only woman involved in the
accusations of abuse. This fact alone has prompted the world to
single her out. However, the fact of her being a woman is not the
only thing that we know about her. In the first reports coming from
Iraq, there were lists of the names of the soldiers involved: Sgt.
so-and-so from wherever, Pvt. Whoever from whatever city. But
when they got to her, they consistently described her as Lynndie
England from a trailer park. I have just found it interesting how above
all of the other soldiers, they have demonized her. Even Charles
Graner, who is on trial at this very moment for being the ringleader of
the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, remains a mystery. We don’t know
where he hails from. We don’t know who his high school
girlfriend was. We don’t know what his parents do. But we know
about Lynndie England. We know about her background, who she
has been married to and for how long, how far along in her pregnancy
she was, and now, that she has given birth to her child. We know
where she has worked, what her class background is, what her
parents do for a living, who her best friend is, and that the father of
her child is Specialist Charles Graner. Lynndie England has become
someone that we have come to know intimately. Her background
information has been discussed around water coolers, pictures of her
family are flashed at us on TV screens, interviews with old beaus and
best friends have become topics for headline news. However, we
know very little about the other people involved aside from their
names ranks and serial numbers.

Her actions are not exempt from scrutiny; after all, she has been
described by her family as a “strong-willed girl.” Surely she
knew the difference between right and wrong, certainly she knew that
keeping a human being captive and performing acts of humiliation
and abuse was a crime or at the very least, immoral…even in the
military. But, why Lynndie England? Why do we know her above the
others? Why has she consistently been depicted in political cartoons
and not one of her fellow male abusers? Why does her trial make
headline news while her ex-lover’s does not? I find it chilling that
we live in a country that just got through portraying Jessica Lynch as
the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl from the small town, the
homecoming queen, the Virgin Mary, and without so much as a
break from her TV movie and Playboy option we have found our
succubus, our evil woman, our Mary Magdalene in Lynndie England,
without even questioning why and what this means for those of us
who are actively engaged in feminist politics.

There is a myth that men die in order to protect women and children,
yet no one has stopped to point out that the institution of war has
never been good for women even while we are told that we will reap
the benefits of victory. No one has examined the fact that more and
more propaganda is directed at women in support of our participation
for war efforts even while women and our children are more likely to
be displaced during a war. No one has questioned how and why
women play supporting roles in the perpetuation of violence and the
masculine warrior ideal while we simultaneously become the targets
of rape and cruelty in war zones. No one scrutinized why we are
pushed to play ever more active role in the military even while we and
our sisters all over the world are more likely to be left in the aftermath
to pick up the pieces and rebuild our communities with little or no
resources. Women are often required to make more sacrifices for war
efforts and we have failed to question why. But we have not failed to
find out Lynndie England’s sexual history.

There is such a mixture of shock, outrage, and confusion at the fact
that a woman did this. People have come to her defense and claimed
that she was just following the orders from the man who was her
superior officer... and the father of her child. I mean, after all, women
don't act like this—do they? We are the quiet demure ones in the
back of the room, coerced, and co-opted.
I'm not sure what is worse. On the one hand the general public sees
this as going against the very character of women, and to explain that
away they have used her class background and personal sexual
history. On another hand, she has been portrayed as lacking all ability
to think for herself, as a demure figure, quiet, and intimidated into
performing these abusive acts by her lover and superior officer. So
which does she get to be? The madonna, the whore, the abuser or
the victim?

The nature of oppression is a tricky one and in this case the nature of
oppression is even more confusing. Surely we can recognize that
there are elements here that placed England in a double bind, which
reduced her options to act differently. After all, she is a woman who
was involved with her superior officer who in fact got pregnant by
him and delivered his child in October. She was a member of a
military who in the very worst of our imagination sent down direct
orders to violently humiliate and degrade the prisoners of Abu Ghraib
and at the very best sent down a vague directive for soldiers to
interpret. She is a member of a military who is not only untrained in
the formalities of the Geneva conventions, but were unclear whether
or not they applied to the prisoners of Abu Ghraib. In all these cases
she was restricted, not only as a member of the military, but also as a

Still England had a choice and because of this choice we can see
some very different meanings to the nature of her oppression. She
was a member of a military who has degraded and oppressed an
entire country for capitalist gains. From this perspective England is
not oppressed, but an oppressor. The same oppression she has been
subject to as a woman, she helped to perpetrate on a country a
thousand times over. While the nature of her oppression often
appears to have limited her options and confined her judgment, it has
also meant that her opportunities have been enlarged at the expense
of others, namely the prisoners of Abu Ghraib and the citizens of

Two things are very apparent in the Lynndie England case. The first
is that we on the left have dropped the ball in terms of our
examination of the portrayal of her and the complicated nature of
oppression in this instance. I suggest we pick it up again. The second
thing that has been made very apparent is that Lynndie England is a
white woman from a "trailer park." She will not only be persecuted
for her "lowly" beginnings, but for being a woman who should not
have engaged in such "unwomanly" behavior. She will be prosecuted
both in the media and everywhere else for the rest of her life. But
what is her crime? That she is a tormenter or a woman? I suppose
England should be counting her blessings. Just think of what would
have happened to her if she was a woman of color.

Traci is a member of Bring the Ruckus.
* Bring The Rukus is an antiauthotitarian anticapitalist
direct action revolutionary initiative.

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