Karen Ocamb

Homosexuality as a Weapon of Torture

Filed By Karen Ocamb | September 03, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Aaron Belkin, Don't Ask Don't Tell, gay politics, gays in the military, LGBT politics

Update:Both CNN and ABC News reported Friday morning that 8 ArmorGroup contact guards identified in the pictures by a US State Department investigator have been fired. Two others have resigned; other guards are still under investigation. We await word to see if the investigator or the State Department addresses the issues raised below. - KO

When I first saw the explicit photos on Gawker of the "sexually confused frat boys" who are under contract with the US State Department to guard the US Embassy in Afghanistan, my brain just could not stop screaming about the total hypocrisy of military and paramilitary life.

500x_Picture_13.pngThese hyper-macho straight contactors, many former military personnel, according to the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO), get to party down in drunken exhibitions, pretending to have anal sex, doing "butt shots," and "eating potato chips out of ass cracks" to blow off steam in the high-pressured environment of fighting a war. But if a gay military guy in Afghanistan - or any other situation - even mentions his sexual orientation, he's kicked out of his job and ex-communicated from the religion that worships all things male.

Surely the gay community would rise up and point to these sexual party pictures as evidence that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is inherently unfair. Nope. In fact, many of the gay guys with whom I shared emails shrugged and said these naked sexual frat boy hazing "animal house" activities go on all the time. No big deal.

POGO thought it was a big deal, sending a strongly worded letter to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, that said in part:

"The guards have come to POGO because they say they believe strongly in the mission, but are concerned that many good guards are quitting out of frustration or being fired for refusing to participate in the misconduct, and that those responsible for the misconduct are not being held accountable.....??

500x_Picture_14.pngNumerous emails, photographs, and videos portray a Lord of the Flies environment. One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity...." (Attachment 2) Photograph after photograph shows guards--including supervisors--at parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors.??

Multiple guards say this deviant hazing has created a climate of fear and coercion, with those who declined to participate often ridiculed, humiliated, demoted, or even fired. The result is an environment that is dangerous and volatile.

Some guards have reported barricading themselves in their rooms for fear that those carrying out the hazing will harm them physically. Others have reported that AGNA management has begun to conduct a witch hunt to identify employees who have provided information about this atmosphere to POGO....

More broadly, the behavior is evidence of a complete breakdown of discipline and the chain of command among guards and their leadership, itself a significant security issue."

Over at Americablog.com, John Aravosis refuted the POGO report dubbing the party a "Lord of the Flies" scene.

"From what I've seen in the pictures at least, I'm not too upset. Providing security in Afghanistan, of all places, has got to be a nasty job, so I'm willing to cut some slack in how these guys get their jollies during their time off. The photos, in my view, prove absolutely nothing - they're hardly Abu Ghraib. The other allegations alleged, perhaps. But we need to see the evidence - these photos, in my view, don't constitute evidence of much other than some of the guys being damn hot."

But now comes an in-depth investigation by Youth Radio detailing an abuse of power by at least one military supervisor toward those under their command that includes using "simulated" homosexuality as an Abu Ghraib-style technique.

"A Youth Radio investigation has found that between 2004 and 2006, sailors in the U.S. Navy's Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division, or "The Kennel," were subjected to an atmosphere of sexual harassment, psychological humiliation, and physical assaults."

In particular, in July 2005 Petty Officer Joseph Christopher Rocha,19, said he was "singled out for abuse by his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint, and others on the base, once Rocha made it clear he was not interested in prostitutes. "I was in a very small testosterone-driven unit of men," Rocha says. "I think that's what began the questioning-you know-'Why don't you want to have sex with her? Are you a faggot?'"

The "hazing" continued for two years, sailors told Youth Radio, "because of a series of threats [from Toussaint] that were also integral to the culture of the unit, which not only tolerated abuse, but also invited it."

Petty Officer Shaun Hogan told Youth Radio that:

"Petty Officer Rocha and another junior sailor...were instructed to go into a classroom by Chief Michael Toussaint, who orchestrated the entire training. And Chief Toussaint asked them to simulate homosexual sex on a couch."

Next in the simulation, Hogan says a handler and his dog barged onto the scene, and that's when "one person...would sit up, kind of wipe off their mouth, the other would get up, and they would be fixing their fly."

Rocha says Toussaint bullied him, "telling me I needed to be more believable, act more queer, have a higher pitched voice, make the sounds and gestures more realistic...I didn't think I had a choice...It made me feel that I wasn't a human being, that I was an animal, rather."

Rocha says at the time, he had no gay friends, no male lovers, and wasn't even fully out to himself about his sexuality. "The fact that I was starting to figure out that I was a homosexual, it was the most degrading thing I've ever experienced in my life." Still, eight thousand miles away from home, he was afraid to report the constant hazing. And Rocha was not the only one."

Youth Radio also uncovered another incident in which "two female service members were ordered to simulate sex with each other on video. According to the Findings of Fact, the women were handcuffed to a bed and appeared to be naked under a sheet."

The Navy later promoted Toussaint.

Aaron Belkin, an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Palm Center at UC Santa Barbara who has long argued against the military's anti-gay policies, says the abuse heaped upon was not "hazing" but torture.

"By referring to torture as "hazing," or "homosocial behavior" we make the violence seem like it is okay, just boys being boys. In fact, the victims of such treatment often develop PTSD and have suicidal ideation."

But this is not just an isolated series of incidents, Belkin notes.

"One of my doctoral students just completed her dissertation on military training, a project for which she actually went through boot camp as a part of her research. I begged her not to go to boot camp to do her research because i believed she could get assaulted. Sure enough, every single woman in her training was sexually harassed, including one woman who was raped.....

[T]he pattern of violence is not an accident, but reflects official policy, including the "don't ask, don't tell" law which makes it almost impossible for gay victims to report abuse. And even though the military does have policies in place to deter violence against women, these policies often produce contradictory results. For example, I am aware of a rape case that was not reported because the base commander had announced a "zero-tolerance" policy for assault, which the troops took to mean (accurately according to people I interviewed) that he did not want to hear about incidents.

Today's news should be a reminder that war is a violent business, and the people we train to conduct it often direct that violence at one another. Whether we're talking about private contractors or military service members, our collective national stereotypes about the purity of the uniform leave a lot unspoken."

But it's not just the uniform. Any minute now some religious right-winger is going to point to those supervisors in Kabul and Bahrain and claim they are homosexual sexual predators pretending to be heterosexual. In fact, they might say, this "deviant" behavior is precisely why there must be a total ban against gays in the military so such behavior doesn't become the norm (even though it apparently already is).

Why do I think the right wing will make use of this - secretly, behind the scenes, if not openly? Because they are enthralled by the taboo of sexuality - a magnetic attraction they can then either justify with brutality (rape or gay bashing) or repulsion via policy ("Don't Ask, Don't' Tell or the supposed "zero tolerance" of sexual harassment) or over-the-top -shame-designated moralizing. Remember Attorney General Ed Meese plunging into the detailed depths of the ills of pornography or Special Prosecutor Ken Starr detailing the explicit encounters between Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton?

The bottom line: policy makers must grow a backbone and truly understand that if their job is to ultimately protect the citizenry, they are complicit in torture if they continue to dismiss abuse of power as "boys will be boys" or bullying or "hazing" as if everyone is just having some good clean fun.

Oh - and the White House had no comment on the Afghanistan story.

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No surprise that Aravosis shrugs of sexual harassment....

But I wonder what else we can expect to happen out there? I know that "the troops" were all declared saints a few years ago, making anything they do right, but American troops come from a culture that adores violence, domination, and cruelty.

You take people from a country that talks about how it's a special place that doesn't have to follow any of the rules and is allowed to capture, torture, and kill people just for looking like they could be a threat against the Best Country that Ever Existed, and you take mostly young males, and you give them a little power, and independence from their parents for the first time for many of them, and look what happens.

Honestly, I don't think this is even the tip of the iceberg.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 4, 2009 11:50 PM

Alex, I agree, only I would say this behavior is only slightly beyond what a friend of mine used to describe on construction sites and on an all-male assembly line where he worked in rural California. As well, is it really any different than college hazing which, although outlawed, still goes on?

Personally, I find the behavior offensive and very troubling. Its true purpose seems to be enforcing male hierarchies and the position of males above females in society, in the process allowing ostensibly straight men to have gay sex.

Think how differently such scenes would play out in a truly gay and sex-positive environment, among men who had not been taught to despise their sexual drives and look down on anyone willing to be penetrated.

Yeah, I looked through some of the news stories, and it does look less cruel (as in pain) than I thought it was originally. It does look more like domination and humiliation being used as excuses to act on homosexual urges that they'll probably deny their whole lives.

Please don't forget that psychological and emotional pressure to engage in homosexual acts - even, as Youth Radio reported, if a guy is working through his own coming out process - is a form of torture and can lead to thought os suicide. Aaron Belkin noted this in the piece I cited.

I was suicidal struggling with my sexual identity. I landed in a hospital for several months after I "succeeded" and was brought back as a 20 year old. And I wasn't in a war zone with absolutely no on to talk to about my struggle.

That's torture, too, even though no "pain" is evident in my book.

It is a big deal, both because of the coercion and the hypocrisy. I imagine most of these guys would balk at working with an openly gay man. But forcing an underling to eat potato chips from the crack of a (presumed) straight co-worker's ass? It's all in good fun. *sigh*

Obama is a worthless, duplicitous sack of shit.

They're PSCs (Private Security Contractors), why would anyone be shocked? Trying to align this with the military is insulting, especially since PSCs are generally loathed by both the military and govt civilians. I don't have much sympathy at all for guys who make $200k, almost half of it tax free, and inhibit the necessary work that needs to be done.

Alex - Your ability to lump everyone in a group is equal to that of Rush Limbaugh. Do you feel a swell of pride?

Agreed about the mercs, Red. They're loathsome and should never be doing the job of our military to start with. Bush used them so he could have more troops elsewhere and make the war look smaller than it actually is by using fewer "troops." How many mercs have we been funding for years now?

From the Greeks on, the standard rule of warfare has been that you put the mercs on the front line as feed for the meat grinder - not in positions of authority or trust. They'll bite you in the ass every time since there's no allegiance or authority. What's new?

Another example of Bush's idiocy in action - only carried over by Obama.

While the story about the embassy in Afghanistan is about private contractors, the Youth Radio story is not. It involved front line U.S. Navy personnel. To suggest that the military is somehow immune from the "frat boy" attitude that supports violence and torture against our own in the name of "hazing" is nonsensical.

Denigrating a culture or sub-culture which is not your own in never, ever, ever, going to get them to see your point. Using the values of that same culture, the ones they teach as their most highly prized values, that is the way to get them to see your point, as well as cogent arguments. For example, the US army lists theirs as:

Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage

Can't you see the incredible wealth of opportunity to argue successfully for our rights within that framework? This is why we may again lose DADT, because the shrill wing nuts on our own side can't make decent arguments when presented with easy talking points!

What both the writer here has done and many of commenters is to trash the military in every way, and then expect a smiling "Why gosh we had no idea, thanks for showing us the light, shone down from heaven by you enlightened beings" response. My response to that would be "you can go fuck yourselves" if you did it to me, and I bet lots of people will do the same.

I'm so sick and tired of this blame-the-left BS that's constantly being trotted out in our country,* and it's especially annoying to see it being spewed by a gay man. It's totally disingenuous of you to say that the writer and most of the commenters are trashing the military in every way. We're saying it's heinous that some men and women in the military are being treated the way they are and that the higher-ups aren't doing enough to stop it. Are we supposed to whitewash rape (!) so that you don't feel offended? If the Army really lived its core values, it wouldn't stand for even one of its soldiers being raped. And there's no way you can honestly believe a failure to repeal DADT will be the fault of "the shrill wing nuts on our own side" who aren't framing the argument properly. About 70% of the public favors repealing DADT, including 86% of self-identified liberals and 58% of self-identified conservatives. If it doesn't happen, it will be because our cowardly president and Congress care more about offending the shrill, bigoted minority of conservatives who will most likely never believe GLBT people should serve openly in the military than they do about making the right decision and going along with what the overwhelming majority of the American public wants.

*And of course, copperred, you should feel free to interpret that statement as totally meaning that I hate America. **rolls eyes**

It is important to realize, as has already been stated, that these are PSCs (Private Security Contractors) not military.

Somehow, it seems to me that framing this in terms of homosexual vs. heterosexual is missing the point. The harassment seems to be more "polymorphous perverse" than either gay or anti-gay.

It is the harassment, coercion and hypocrisy that is objectionable --- if it were all consenting adults having a naked party, then I'd say, "Well, who cares?"

I concur that the harassment by the hyper-masculine is broader than that directed towards gays - such as the treatment of women.

However - whether private contractors or those in the military - there is a deep conflict between using supposedly homosexual acts (which straights also engaged in) as a means or a weapon to punish or intimidate someone over whom the abuser wants power - and what appears to me to be an equally intense desire to watch those acts performed.

So - what would happen if the weapon for punishment and humiliation was taken away in military and paramilitary settings - that is, if homosexuality was accepted? You'd still have sexual violence and abuse - witness the rapes of female soldiers - but the repulsion and thrill of homosexuality as punishment would have to be a more overt strategy of torture used in countries where homosexuality was still abhorred.

I don't care if gay or straight men have wacky naked drinking parties that get sexual. Just don't have the double standard of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and don't use sex as a weapon.