Bad Blood


One of the Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo tortures recently revealed is US women smearing menstrual blood on Islamic prisoners and fondling or rubbing them sexually to defile them. The tactic includes taunting prisoners that they will then have no water to purify themselves to pray. Some prisoners were also shown pictures of their wives with their heads superimposed on naked women’s bodies posed beside Osama Bin Laden. "I see my wife everywhere, everywhere’ Mamdouh Habib, an Australian ex-detainee reported.

This differs from the physical tortures-electric shock to head and genitals, bloody beating, sodomizing, suffocating, and drowning. The women’s participation was not just to torture, degrade and abuse, but specifically to pollute and defile spiritually.

The women who smeared menstrual blood and rubbed their breasts on men who sometimes spat at them as whores are not the young women revealed last year posing with men on leashes and mocking prisoners’ genitals. The women who brandished menstrual blood were part of an interrogation cadre doing what they were told would break the spirit of jihadists. Rumsfeld and Bush professed shock at sexual tortures last year; they have not spoken about this variation. Do they find it disgusting? Or do they applaud these women as their valiant and covert warriors, doing a tough and disagreeable job that needs to be done? President Bush often deplored the degrading treatment of women in Afghanistan and Iraq, citing the liberation of women as part of our mission in ‘bringing freedom’ to these cultures. The liberated women we present in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantánamo are not attractive to cultures that value modesty.

Women’s menstrual blood pollutes in many cultures. An orthodox Jewish man must not touch any woman outside his family and is defiled if any menstruating woman touches him. As in Islamic practice, this is part of a complex code dealing with sexual control and practice. It is religious just as every aspect of life-what you eat and touch and think-is religious, part of right-acting before God, one’s identity.

To most Americans being smeared with menstrual blood might seem a less horrible torture than electric shock to the genitals or being smeared with feces and hooded and beaten and suffocated or almost drowned. It seems less terrifying to me than Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz’s recommendation of lawfully inserted surgical needles to extort information. The schemes of the torturers reveal not only their imaginations of the other but their own fantasies. So the use of women’s blood as polluting is instructive. The agents of American power reached to women’s genitals for a weapon to emasculate Islamist males.

The tactic reveals the religious heart of war-the object is to kill the culture not simply the carrier. As the Greeks slaughtered a pig on the altar of the temple in Jerusalem, and the French revolutionaries installed a whore on the altar of Notre Dame, so the Americans smear menstrual blood on captives and show them their wives naked with Osama Bin Laden.

Unlike warrior blood which sanctifies and sanctions violence, and unlike Christ’s blood which heals, women’s blood is offal. It is a shame or a curse or a sign of sin- polluting. It is bad blood which can disarm the pious Islamic male warrior not broken by physical force, a spiritual weapon to make him unclean and unable to pray to his God for strength to fight.

We might ignore the perversity, depravity and spiritual malice of smearing menstrual blood on Islamic prisoners. But it reveals another sexual side of our faith in blood. Our bloodthirstiness for war, for killing and dying for freedom and democracy is held up as noble bloodletting. It is very much the same for Osama Bin Ladin who also believes in nobly shedding blood-killing the infidel and dying for his God. But the female blood is not ennobled, sanctified or worshiped. It is hidden, not holy; it pollutes. It is bad blood as opposed to good.

In Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Guantánamo even bad blood gets put to our good blood purpose- it can bloody our enemy by defiling him. Sexual spiritual torture provides new insight that the war on terror is terrible.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

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