Torture and Abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison

The Sodom Series, #8

Why did American soldiers—both men and women—abuse, torture, molest, and rape Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in 2003?

As you ponder this question, follow these links with discretion:

Perhaps the people of Sodom had the same attitude and objectives as the U.S. soldiers at Baghdad Central Prison:

  • Primary: Interrogation—knowledge
  • Secondary: Sexual abuse—degradation

The kind of sex the inhabitants of Sodom wanted was not for sensual pleasure, but for domination, control, cruelty, humiliation, debasement, and abuse.

This kind of treatment isn’t about sex; it’s about racial and imperialistic arrogance that revels in the degradation of foreigners, outsiders, and strangers. It’s xenophobia. It’s the attitude fueling Trump’s Mexico border wall.

Sex as a weapon

In ancient cultures, forcing sex on other men was a way of besting them, of humiliating them and showing them who’s boss.

For instance, during war, besides raping the women and sometimes slaughtering children, victors cut off the garments of the defeated men, exposing their buttocks, and then chained them and paraded them through the streets to debase and humiliate them.

See:

In Ancient Athens, “male rape was employed to signify the victory over foreign enemies in war” (Michael Carden, Sodomy, 35).

Rather than representing sexual desire and erotic expression, rape is best understood as sexual violence intended to assert power or express anger…. [M]ale rapists are primarily heterosexual men…. … In Western society, then, male rape reinforces the heterosexuality of the rapist while casting that of the victim in doubt (Carden 33, emphasis mine).

Sometimes conquerors would rape the men—not because the perpetrators were gay or took passionate pleasure in homosexual acts—but because it was the ultimate humiliation to treat the enemy as women, who in that day were considered little more than property. In essence, it was a way of treating the abused men like slaves.

Among some macho heterosexual men today (as well as school children), the ultimate putdown is to call another guy a “fag.” In ancient times, it was to call a man a “woman” and to treat him like one sexually.

Rape, a tactic of degradation

Did the abusive soldiers at Abu Ghraib do what they did because they all had a homosexual orientation?

Did they strip and molest prisoners of both sexes because they were otherwise incapable of healthy sexual relations with a person they cared about?

abu_ghraib_thumbs_up
Lynndie England and fiance Charles Graner posing behind a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners, giving the “thumbs up” sign.

In both Sodom and Baghdad, the horrible acts that took place were not expressions of a gay orientation.

In ancient Babylonian sex-divination texts, anal sex is regarded as a power relationship by which the penetrator is either advanced or diminished according to the status of the men he penetrates. … [I]n the ancient Mediterranean world, the act of penetrating other males did not stigmatize the penetrator and that male-male anal sex was considered an act of aggression by which the penetrated male is feminized by the penetrator. … [H]e also notes that male rape was employed as a form of punishment (Carden 31, emphasis mine).

The people of Sodom weren’t looking for recreational sex with the angels. They wanted to perpetrate a violent act of humiliation and abuse visiting strangers who, as a class, they had no respect for. Rape was only the means to degradation.

Ostensibly, this was Sodom’s common practice, and the cities of the Plain had structured their entire society around it. Their degrading behavior was the opposite of the righteous hospitality that Abraham and Lot showed these outsiders.

[T]he incident clearly indicates that strangers may not be welcome, or have no rights, in Sodom. Attempted rape here is illustrative of the evils of inhospitality and abuse of outsiders that are typical of Sodom (Carden 21).

Like the misguided soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, the crime of the people of Sodom wasn’t their sexual orientation, but their xenophobic prejudice and shameless contempt for human rights and debasement of outsiders—individuals unlike themselves. (See Sodom’s Hatred of Strangers.)

When children are taken from their parents simply because they’ve crossed our national border, is the U.S. in danger of committing the sins of Sodom?

God commanded Israel, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex. 22:21 NIV). The people of Sodom flagrantly violated a value dear to the heart of God.

The Sodom and Gomorrah account is not the only one that deals with such ungodly mistreatment. To get to the ultimate meaning of the Genesis 19 account, we must study a similar passage in Judges 19. Next time.

More information:

To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.
The Sin of Sodom cover

8 thoughts on “Torture and Abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison

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