The DRC, Sudan, and Looking Forward.

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Dave Waldman writes on Obama’s reluctance to prosecute for torture:

That poses an extraordinarily broad array of difficulties, not the least of which is that it’s an open an ongoing threat to the greater Obama agenda, which is itself often invoked as a reason for not dabbling in the “distraction” of “looking backward.” But unless we can demarcate Cheneyism — the “anything goes” philosophy as explicitly illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate, its continued existence (and threatened practice by future administrations) calls into question the value and durability of the whatever parts of the Obama agenda are ultimately implemented, on detainee policy or anything else.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had a hearing entitled Confronting Rape and Other Forms of Violence Against Women in Conflict Zones: DRC and Sudan. The US Senate wishes to tackle rape as a weapon of war. Barbara Boxer feels we are in good position to affect the atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan.

Why conflate these two subjects?.

Our political prisons contain pyramids of naked men shamed in their sexuality, sometimes bruised and bleeding, humiliated and afraid. We have documented evidence that interrogators mutilated an inmate’s genitals. People in our prisons died from abuse. We use illegal tortures by another name, and Dick Cheney is on a victory tour. He tells the world he is proud that he tortured. Yet, our society defends him, and our President tells us to look away. Look forward. No distractions.

The United States has plenty of war-stained dirty laundry of its own, and this undercuts its ability to hold moral authority. Yet, there are members of our Senate who think we have the power to stop militias from using rape as a war crime abroad.

Notwithstanding torture, Americans also have trouble agreeing about rape. Marianne Mollman of Human Rights Watch tells us that only ten percent of reported rapes result in a conviction in the United States. The problem is not that we lack the forensic ability to prosecute rapes — the problem is our own confusion about the subject. Surely there are cases where the answer is obvious, but often a rape will fall into a grey area where cultural standards and personal projections get in the way. And every region has its own standards. Mollman cites four common justifications for rape that span across cultures:

It’s not rape if she is my wife.

It’s not rape if she is my daughter.

It’s not rape if she was drunk.

It’s not rape if my culture mandates intercourse.

Toward eliminating suffering in the Sudan and DRC, we will consider one: It’s not rape if my culture mandates intercourse. Rather, it’s not wrong if my culture mandates intercourse.

Systematic rape in the DRC is unprecedented. It is complicated, because the acts of violence span across ethnic groups, and rape is used in many contexts. It also differs from other systematic rape campaigns in recent European history: it is made fantastically complex by the fact that women have little status and the DRC tolerates rape during relatively peaceful times. In times of war, the government supports militia groups who are allowed to rape and pillage with no consequence.


There are many uses of rape in war. Sometimes women are used for gratification, like in the video above. If it spans across ethnic groups, it is often used as weapon of torture, or for ethnic cleansing. Women are raped in front of their families, they are forced into pregnancies to “dilute” ethnic bloodlines, and they are kidnapped and kept for the wanton comfort of the bloody militias. But the violence between ethnic groups is not limited to rape. The Rwandan militias particularly have a habit of mutilating women and leaving them to suffer a protracted and painful death.

The UN High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) on the DRC:

The human rights situation in the DRC continues to deteriorate. Serious violations, such as arbitrary executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are pervasive, committed mostly by the army, police and intelligence services. The latter, highly politicized, are often used to commit politically-motivated crimes during specific periods and then revert to daily harassment and intimidation of Congolese citizens. Armed groups operating in the country, both foreign and Congolese, although responsible for only six per cent of documented human rights abuses, have perpetrated massacres, arbitrary executions, abductions of villagers, and subjected women to systematic rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence with full impunity.


So yes, I commend the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations on their interest in the violence in the Sudan and DRC, and I welcome any effort that congress puts forward to help the innocent people in these countries. They suffer crimes that are absolutely monstrous.

But we will not be able to do much in the world until we end the semantic confusion about violence at home. There is a persistent controversy about whether or not waterboarding is torture. We now justify a practice that we have executed people for using against our own. We use stress positions, sleep deprivation, isolation — and age old bag of long recognized tortures hidden under the guise of enhanced interrogation. Until we resolve our own demons and confusion, we will never be in a position to pick up the ball and tackle cultural demons abroad.

President Obama, throughout your campaign, you told us that you would screw up from time to time — and that it would be our job to set you straight. That time is now. How can we begin to understand the conflict-based human rights violations in other countries if we do not even address our own?

Health care, the economy, rebuilding infrastructure are necessary priorities. Pursuing prosecution for torture alienates the people he needs to support his worthy agenda, and it uses resources that he could spend elsewhere. But this problem exists, and history is doomed to repeat itself. We need to give Obama pushback on his desire to sweep these crimes under the rug.

Women for Women International.

Learn about blood minerals.

**Be sure to read teacherken’s excellent diary on Marianne Mollman’s article.


    • rb137 on May 22, 2009 at 18:01

    • rb137 on May 22, 2009 at 21:14

    (Also at Antemedius.)

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