Nov 24 2006


If you’re anything like me — and why wouldn’t you be? — you’ve been whipped into something a froth by reports of “Bush’s mysterious new programs” targeting “Fifth Columnists” (supposed terrorist collaborators, disloyal fraternizers, kids who refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, what have you), AND how Halliburton has been awarded yet more contracts to build prisons to house the inevitable influx of the aforementioned traitors, not to mention those poor sods who, once they’ve been tortured by Rummy’s patented techniques, can’t ever be released for the rest of their lives on accounta they know too much about Rummy’s patented techniques.

Anyway, I’ve been ruminating on the subject of torture, and one thing has led to another, and, as was inevitable, I’ve started stewing about women’s underwear.

I mean to say that in report after gruesome report on torture tactics sanctioned by the Secretary of Defense and employed by American sociopath-imperialist forces in hell-holes like Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, one reads ceaselessly of “snarling military dogs,” “stress positions,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” “20-hour interrogations,” “sleep deprivation,” “forced to perform tricks while tethered to dog leash,” “waterboarding, and “forced to wear women’s underwear on head.”

Every news source reports this women’s-underwear-on-head situation without batting an eye. That it counts as torture strikes nobody as odd. Salon (its gripping series “The Abu Ghraib Files” uses images from the Army’s own investigation to chronicle the enormity of prisoner abuse from October to December, 2003) reports that women’s-underwear-on-head was (and undoubtedly still is) “standard operating procedure.” According to Salon, “The Fay report [a US military internal affairs report] found that there was ‘ample evidence of detainees being forced to wear women’s underwear.’ Fay concluded that the use of women’s underwear may have been part of the military intelligence tactic called ‘ego down,’ adding that the method constitutes abuse and sexual humiliation.”

All right-thinking Americans — people who would feast for 47 days and 47 nights if Donald Rumsfeld were finally tried for war crimes — accept without comment that, although the physical duress it entails must be something on the order of “comfy chair,” panties-on-the-noggin represents an act of degradation so extreme it appears to be a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

While is true that most of the prison photos show women’s underwear used in conjunction with one or more of the other more sadistic tactics, few media reports fail to accord the undies at least equal billing. A military CID caption of this Abu Ghraib photo


reads “Detainees [sic] is handcuffed in the nude to a bed and has a pair of panties covering his face.” Here the syntax reveals that “handcuffed in the nude” is deemed the equivalent of “panties covering his face.” Now consider, if you will, the caption I found accompanying this same picture at notinourname.net: “A naked prisoner, chained to his matress-less [sic] bunk, is forced to wear women’s underwear on his head.” Not “a naked prisoner, women’s underwear on his head, is shackled spread-eagle to a bare bunk.” By virtue of its position as the sentence’s predicate, the brutality of the panties is clearly the statement the caption’s author wishes to make about subject, revealing, I contend, the aspect of the photograph to which the writer has experienced the greater emotional response.

The prisoners themselves have expressed a marked sensitivity to the humiliative superpowers of women’s panties, recalling their underwearian experiences in what is to me surprisingly (given all the other godawful shit they’d endured) vivid detail. Back at Salon, detainee H—– says “They gave me woman’s underwear that was rose color with flowers on it.” Another detainee says, “[The] American police […] he put red woman’s underwear over my head.” Taken in context, their statements suggest they actually view underwear-on-head on a par with being suspended above the floor from shackled hands for 5 hours.

I am not arguing that forcing prisoners of war to wear women’s underwear on their heads is not an act of torture. Clearly it is torture. What interests me is the reason it is torture. How is it that nobody has anything but the utmost sympathy for a fellow shown with a pair of girly skivvies on his head? By what demented code does a swatch of soft pink cotton become an instrument of torment? What makes this particular cruelty stand out from a field of persecutions so squalid they can only have proceeded from massively deranged minds crammed with snuff films and bongwater?

Duh, it’s universally and unanimously acknowledged that there is no lower life form than a human female, no bit of her more base than her cunt, and no tangible symbol of that cunt more handy than a pair of her knickers. Clearly, on this point our sadistic American military jailers and their unfortunate captives agree. When you wanna totally humiliate, degrade, and dehumanize a dude, just call him a girl.

Military intelligence sadists realized, incidentally, that putting women’s underwear on female prisoners’ heads didn’t have quite the same resonance, so it was a case of “show us your tits or we’ll rape you” for the women they arrested on suspicion of, what else, prostitution.


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  1. blog.3bulls.net

    95% agree, but perhaps on an almost equal footing with what you assert, the underwear business is but the torture icing on top of the torture cake? Given the systematic humiliation of these prisoners, is it possible that given the various horrible things done to them, they reach for the most absurd to discuss? Obviously there is a views amongst certain circles that prisoners of a particular persuasion are extra-marinated in patriarchical juice such that they view panties on the head as particularly tortuous. The most obvious case of this was the smearing of fake or real menstrual blood on prisoners in Guantanamo. And of course the smearing of any body fluid from anyone would be terrible, this is the perfect distillation of what you are talking about. Additionally, it does seem that the panties are being discussed as just panties (not necessarily worn), which would support your point.

  2. eugeniaandino.com

    This reminds me of a torture technique that is rumoured to be used in Abu Graib: male prisoners are giving their meals by a female officer, and immediately afterwards they are told that the woman is menstruating. Apparently, food touched by a menstruating woman is impure. The food tray stays on the cell whether the prisoner wants it or not.

    I thought it was tragic.

  3. It’s obvious that the U.S. leadership projects its own views of women on to the Muslim world where, as PP puts it “there is a view amongst certain circles that prisoners of a particular persuasion are extra-marinated in patriarchical juice..” When coming up with a plan to force detainees to endure the most extreme forms of torture and humiliation, the Bushi’ites drew inspiration from their own fear and loathing of women.

  4. paycheckparty.org

    Perhaps I am so inured to the insanity of the patriarchal world view that such typical crap leaves me less moved than usual. My first reaction is that if a man is so fucked up by his place of fantasy privilege in a patriarchy that it causes him the slightest iota of distress to come into contact with female underwear, he deserves his wholly imaginary pain.

  5. blog.3bulls.net

    I do not doubt that a particularly controlling and violent form of patriarchy exists in nether regions, and thus those persons would be sensitive to our home grown bush-league fraternity/beer commercial variety. I would add that a truly American filtering of this crap would be to force the prisoners to buy tampons and talk about “feelings.” It is depressing that anyone would consider some hypothetical “spiritual” or what not degradation to be in the same ball park as simulated drowning.

  6. Twisty

    I don’t know if I made myself clear. My main sorta point was that any variation on “you throw like a girl” is the ultimate insult in any culture, but when the perceived horror gets to the point at which the Red Cross is obliged to intervene, and everyone is just sitting around going “of course it’s the worst thing in the world to have a pair knickers on your face”, misogyny has really just gone too far.

    Sometimes when I use these damned topical backdrops I get distracted from my thesis.

  7. blog.3bulls.net

    I think you are pretty clear. I’m just wondering if there are actually many more horrible and distinct layers.

    I think what is the worst about it is that it goes beyond that having perceived feminine characteristics (a “throwing like a girl” analogy) is insulting or degrading, it is that these characteristics are thought so horrible that the mere implication, either by touching woman juice, which I feel the implication is for wearing panties on ones face, or merely wearing women’s clothing that some sort of feminization is contagious- this is the worst part. That women are generally rendered both powerless and yet bizarrely powerful via cooties is very depressing.

    I would add that if there is anything I have learned from advanced patriarchy blaming it is that misogyny has no bounds.

    Finally, I would add that there may be the possibility that the photos, captions and articles do highlight this particular torture for two reasons, one would be to pick something that does not offend the more delicate of sensibilities and that they can actually show a picture of, and to discuss something that could be thought of as symbolic of much worse atrocities. I would suggest the latter supports TF’s thesis in that there is an underlying agreement with the reporter/captioner that the event depicted must be some sort of terrible/distasteful to at the minimum a Muslim male, but perhaps all males. Possibly, though, it does not imply that the panties on head are worse or the equal of waterboarding, etc. I would hope that the carelessness of the author only implied normal Patriarchical marination, and not a truly excessive level.

  8. I thought about your post, twisty, and it really caused me to muse upon the underlying ideology of torture and humiliation that the patriarchy associates with having women’s gitch forced upon one’s face. Then I thought, “well, hey, in most countries, as long as a guy has the dosh to shell out, he can pay hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars to have humiliation of an equal calibre foisted upon him by entrepreneurial dominatrixes.” I know guys who LOVE sniffing women’s undies. I also know guys who love having a woman’s spiked heel shoved up their butts, and they would be more than willing to pay for that unique pleasure. Really, it’s all about CHOICE. And that’s what democracy stands for: a free country where men have the CHOICE to wear women’s gitch upon their heads; where their shining capitalist dollars can allow them the freedom of speech to do so in peace and quiet. We can’t have the military going around FORCING this type of gruesome horror upon men in the form of gitch-torture: the miliary’s job is to fight for that beautiful democracy that allows men their freedom.

    Wait a second….

  9. unsanesafe.blogspot.com

    I don’t know. When I was a kid, there was nothing that some of the little boys liked better than putting a tube of pantyhose over their heads, purportedly to disguise their features, and enabling them to rush around acting out the role of little bandits.

  10. If and when I´m finally carted off (although if i ever should be so annoying or important by accident or design I suspect they´ll just snuff me like a fly and let the body lie) by Rummys inheritors I´ll be sure to be shouting “Not the underwear, God no! Not the underwear! Anything but the underwear bre`r Fox.”
    Some humiliations just don´t have a value unless agreed upon by both parties in the official patriarchal values committee.
    Their taliban is just a mirror of our Taliban, may the best “tali-man” win.

  11. This reminds me of a newspaper article I read many years ago when I was a child. An elementary school boy had been forced to wear his sister’s dress to school as punishment for something, I don’t remember what. There was a lot of outrage over how cruel this was to the boy, but not a single word over how it must have affected his sister.

  12. Here we have a torture that plays on the misogyny of the tortured but once it is out in the world, it underlines the misogyny of the media. These pictures are clearly chosen because they are titillating which says more about the choices of the news editors than they may have wanted to say. I once got irritated by a local radio newsman who would always defend his misogyny by saying that he had five daughters. I knew that he was the one choosing the three news articles at the top of every show and so I did a thirty day chart. Of the three items over a thirty day period, one was always about a sexual/feminine issue. They were sometimes gruesome and on a slow day, they would be humorous. Other news outlets were finding plenty of other news on the same days but on one memorable day he avoided a major announcement by the federal gouvernment in favor of an article about a 70 year old phone sex worker in one of the Southern States. I stopped listening to that radio station until they finally got a new news chief, it is marginally better now.

  13. Thanks for this simple observation, Twisty.

  14. One day, I was walking through the park, and came upon a man playing a little pickle with his son, who was about 7. The man was obviously a bully and was needling his son by telling him he threw like a girl. He threw the ball at his son, really hard, and the boy of course, couldn’t catch it. As the ball rolled by my feet, I could see the look of misery on the kid’s face. I picked the ball up and the man held his hands up so I obliged him and threw the ball to him.

    Ok, ok. I confess. I played baseball for a lot of years and I have a rifle of an arm that’s deadly accurate. I didn’t just toss it to the man. I shot that ball into his hands like it was blown out of a cannon. The man of course couldn’t handle it and dropped it, and then started dancing around, yowling in pain and frantically shaking his hands from the sting of it. I said to the boy, “Who knows? Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be lucky and throw like a girl, too.” The boy’s delight was obvious. His whole face just lit up like a Christmas tree and he gave me a grin as wide as the Mississippi. I winked at him and went on my way.

    It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, I gave a man a real attitude adjustment and made him eat his words piping hot and smiled as he choked on them.

  15. acunningplan.typepad.com

    Luckynkl: too bad you didn’t aim lower.

    Twisty: I would expect nothing less of those who torture than to replicate their own misogyny. Though I tire of a media that can’t seem to examine these kinds of actions without some acknowledgement of gender.

  16. Wow. Just…wow. I don’t know what to say except you are brilliant, Twisty. Just brilliant. You are spot on.

    My only question would be this; due to the fact that this particular culture treats women in the most abusive, subservient, misogynistic manner anyway (worse than North Americans), would the panties on the head thing be even more of an insult to them? Women are less than nothing to these people (men) so IMO, this would be humiliation on a level like no other.

  17. “the brutality of the panties”

    This cracked me up. I would’ve liked it as the heading! ;-)

  18. On the subject of underwear: my grandmother finally asked the family to stop including her husband in our habit of giving all male family members goofy, colorful boxer shorts for Christmas. When we asked why, she said she preferred that he wear white shorts, so she could “Clorox” them. Because clearly anything that had touched male genitals needed to be bleached to high heaven.

  19. Julybirthday? It’s possible your grandmother is just uncaring and a too too tool of the patriarchy for bleaching. Then again, it’s possile there are other reasons. And if you still don’t get it, volunteer at a nursing home for a couple months.

  20. faultline.org/place/toad

    Pony nails it again.

    For the record: Yeah, I have worked and volunteered at nursing homes. But you don’t have to go that far from home, really.

  1. sonitus.org » Blog Archive » Torture

    […] I Blame The Patriarchy […]

  2. What I forgot to include in yesterday’s essay would fill a book at I Blame The Patriarchy

    […] Register « Torture […]

  3. Ban the Burqua « Hidden Dragon

    […] Over at I Blame the Patriarchy, they are griping about the misogyny of putting women’s underwear on the heads of Muslim Terrorists at Abu Graib. Sheesh. Who has the perspective here? […]

  4. Feministe » U.S. Marine Guilty of Raping Woman in the Phillipines

    […] Sexual violence has permeated much of the war in Iraq, and we shouldn’t be surprised when U.S. soldiers — most of whom have grown up in a culture that eroticizes violence, and all of whom have been trained within a sexist, homophobic institution that further ties sex to violence and systematically denigrates women — commit violent sexual acts, or associate female sexuality with humiliation. Case in point: Torture pictures, which, as the article said, are taken with “the aesthetic of pornography.” As Twisty points out, there is littlte more humiliating than putting women’s underwear on men’s heads — because there’s something humiliating about being a woman. And sexual violence has been utilized in almost every conflict since before the Iliad — to demoralize the enemy by sexually conquering “their” women, to “pollute” or get rid of certain ethnic groups by attempting to impregnate women and thereby dillute the unwanted ethnicity’s bloodline (see Darfur, Yugoslavia), to systematically torture, to promote bonding among male soldiers. […]

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