A new report out of Colombia reveals that between 2003 and 2007 US military personnel and contractors stationed in Colombia raped at least 54 children and dozens of women. According to Renan Vega, the lead author of the report,“There is abundant information about the sexual violence, which occurred under absolute impunity because of the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials.” (TeleSur, 3/23)
In 2004 54 girls in the town of Melgar were sexually abused by American military contractors. The abuse was filmed and sold as pornography. The victims and their families were then forced to flee the town under threat of death. In 2007 an Army sergeant and a contractor raped a 12 year old girl inside a US military base. Colombian authorities were blocked from making an arrest by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) foreign nations sign when forced to host American soldiers. The perpetrators were then flown back to the US to evade charges. (TeleSur, 3/23)
Horrifying as these actions are they are nothing new or unusual. In 2006 US soldiers raped 23 women in Colombia. In 2007 there were another 14 reported cases. Nor are these actions relegated to just Colombia. The vast overseas network of American military bases that buttresses the empire represents also a vast system of rape and violence. Twenty years ago 85,000 Okinawans took to the street in protest after two American marines and a sailor kidnapped and raped a 12 year old Okinawan girl “just for fun” according to one of perpetrators. Admiral Richard C. Macke, commander of US forces in the Pacific, heaped insult onto injury when he responded to questions about the rape, “I think that [the rape] was absolutely stupid. For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl,” meaning a prostitute from one of the many brothels set up for the use of American servicemen.
Indeed the life of Okinawans is considered cheap by their American occupiers. As historian Chalmers Johnson notes, between 1988 and 1995 169 soldiers in Okinawa were court-martialed for sexual assault. This rate was twice the rate of the general population in the United States. A startling fact consider the great lengths the military goes to cover-up rape at its overseas bases and the immense social pressure in places like Okinawa on women not to report. In fact the 169 number must be a vast underestimation of the actual level of victimization. (Blowback)
In South Korea rape was baked right into the American occupation. According to historian Bruce Cummings during the Korean War the South Korean armed forces reformed the network of “comfort women”—mostly Korean women forced into slavery to serve as prostitutes for soldiers—that the Japanese military had built during its occupation of China and Korea. US soldiers took part in the rape of comfort women during the war. And after the war when many of these women too shamed by a sexist society to return home they formed the original labor force for the brothels that ring American bases in South Korea. (The Korean War)
During the 1960s revenue from prostitution in these camp towns made up 25% of South Korean GNP. At one point ROK dictator Park Chung-Hee even pushed for the importation of women from the southern part of the country to these rape camps out of fear that he was losing sex tourism revenue to Japan. (JoongAng Daily,10/30/08; Violence Against Women, 9/2007)
Sexual violence continues around American bases in Korea today. In 2011 Private Kevin Lee Flippin robbed, beat, and raped a 17 year old Korean girl at knife point. That same year another Camp Casey soldier broke into an elderly couple’s home and beat them with a piece of lumber before trying to rape the 64 year old woman (Stars & Stripes, 10/21/11; 2/28/11). These incidents are exceptional only in the fact that they sparked mass outrage in Korea forcing the US press to report them.
When revelations of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq first appeared in late 2003 it revealed a pattern of sexual violence different only in type from that visited on those surrounding America’s overseas basis. At the infamous prison US soldiers and their contractors sodomized prisoners with broom handles and chemical lights. Inmates were raped while soldiers watched and took pictures perhaps “just for fun” like their compatriots in Okinawa (Guardian, 9/20/04; Daily Telegraph, 5/28/09; Washington Post, 9/19/11). When the Senate torture report investigating activities at Guantanamo Bay was released late last year again it was revealed that sexual assault played a large role in America’s imperial prisons. (Feministing blog, 12/12/14)
Today the major American news organizations remain silent regarding this explosive report out of Colombia (FAIR, 3/26). The network of overseas bases that hold up the American empire and the violence that they bring to those around them are too important to American capitalism to risk. News organizations see no need to get Americans riled up about imperialism and occupation as the US stands to increase its military commitment in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East all in the name of “democracy” and free markets. For the people in the 130 countries in which the US military currently operates, however, this report out of Colombia represents something very different. This violence deeply rooted in racism and sexism is the face of American imperialism around the globe. It is time the empire was torn down.
Brian Platt is an aerospace machinist living in Seattle.