Saturday, May 18, 2013

How Buck McKeon's Mormonism Played Right Into The Military Rape Epidemic Coverup


Last summer the cover-up of the epidemic of military rapes at Lackland-- engineered by House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon-- began to unravel, due, primarily, to the tireless efforts by Protect Our Defenders. POD battled McKeon's determination to cover up the scandal and keep it out of the public view. At all times, he insisted on closed briefings rather than the public hearings this kind of scandal demanded. And who was McKeon's point person on the Committee, with his own peculiar take on rape? Todd Akin, of course. It was two of Congress' most backward, patriarchal and misogynistic Neanderthals that John Boehner put in charge of "protecting" the Pentagon... and leaving the rape victims to twist in the wind. This from last summer:
For one of the most misogynistic members of Congress, Buck McKeon, the decision on whether or not to have an open hearing on rape in the military was easy. No! That’s been the answer given to Protect Our Defenders (POD) and Lt. Paula Coughlin-Puopulo, USN (ret.) who delivered 10,000 signed petitions to McKeon asking for an open investigation into the sexual assaults at Lackland Air Force Base. Some may remember Lt. Coughlin as the whistleblower in the Tailhook Scandal in the early 1990’s where 83 women and 7 men were sexually assaulted in a Las Vegas Hotel. A statement from POD read, “More than 20 years ago, 87 servicewomen were sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. Navy, in what became known as the “Tailhook scandal.” Paula was one of the 87. The former Naval aviator reported the incident to senior officers, but they did nothing. So she went public. Today, Paula is going public again demanding Rep. McKeon open a congressional hearing about Lackland and then legislate fundamental reforms.”

A closed briefing was held instead and one general reportedly asked McKeon not “to hobble base commanders” in determining how to handle sexual assault cases.

Military sexual assaults have been put back in the spotlight after 38 female Air Force recruits came forward with complaints of sexual assault or rape by instructors at Lackland AFB. Fifteen instructors have been implicated and two already found guilty. One awaits sentencing and another given only 30 days’ confinement and a reduction in rank-- a punishment criticized by POD asserting the military doesn’t take these crimes seriously.
I'm in the middle of reading Rana Husseini's courageous book on how men brutally enforce their will on women, Murder in the Name of Honor. Much of the book covers her beat as a journalist and activist: so-called "honor" crimes in her native Jordan. But she goes beyond Jordan and talks about the dynamics of these horrific and barbaric crimes against women around the world. Patriarchy is so ingrained that even many women are ready to blame the victims like this 25 year old Jordanian with a Masters degree in economics:
"Women are the source of seduction for men and if all women are chastised then men would become good on their own. We are in a Middle Eastern society and I am for punishing women more than men because men cannot resist the seduction of girls who are dressed improperly... When women are punished, fear of their families will build up among them and they will think twice before committing any immoral mistake."
She was talking about women who are brutally, savagely murdered by their own families because they are raped-- and about the murderers who go unpunished by patriarchal legal systems-- whether sharia courts in Muslim countries or outmoded military chain of command decisions in our own Pentagon.

In an interview with Jordan Member of Parliament Mahmoud Kharabesheh for the Jordan Times Husseini found an attitude that many privileged males feel all over the world: "Women adulterers cause a great threat to our society, because they are the main reason that such acts [of adultery] happen. If men do not find women with whom to commit adultery, then they will become good on their own." Well, if they can't find a woman to rape, some rape children or other men. Others turn to sheep. And when Jordan decided to start allowing women deputies in Parliament, religious conservatives there reacted the same way religious conservatives did here. A deputy from Amman's fourth district, explains Husseini, "strongly opposed the idea. He said that being an MP was a man's job; a woman can jeopardize her honor by going out late at night to take part in related social activities. If his daughter stayed out late at night he would shoot her himself, he added. He told the gathering that a woman's presence in Parliament 'would be damaging, since a woman in the house would distract make deputies and stir trouble when male deputies instinctively look at her breasts.'" Husseini traces these attitudes back to the primitive Bronze Age origins of the three Abrahamic religions:
This has its roots in numerous ancient texts, including the Old Testament, specifically Deuteronomy (22:12- 21), where proof of the bribe's virginity could be presented to both sets of parents in the form of stains on the bedsheets. If an unwed woman was found not to have been a virgin, then she was to be punished by being stoned to death.
This was convenient for men in a patriarchal society who might be paranoid about "his" woman comparing his prowess in the sack with other partners. And, all across the patriarchal world even murdering women who are perceived as not living up to the patriarchal rules, is forgiven because it is judged to be in "accordance with tradition." A Pakistani Senator insisted that "We have fought for human rights and civil liberties all our lives but wonder what sort of human rights are being claimed by these girls in jeans."
In February 2008 an Islamic fundamentalist shot and killed a government minister because of her refusal to wear a Muslim veil. Zilla Huma Usman, the Punjab Provincial Minister for Social Welfare, was shot as she prepared to address a public gathering in the town of Gujranwala. The attacker, Mululvi Ghulam Sarwar, said that he was opposed to the participation of women in politics and the refusal of many professional women in Pakistan to wear the veil.

Speaking to a local TV channel, he said, 'I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah's commandment. Islam will not allow women to hold, positions of leadership. I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path. if I am freed again.'
What about Iraq, where the Bush Regime proclaimed that women's rights would be at the center of the project to make Iraq a democratic model for the rest of the Arab world? In Iraq women's rights have deteriorated dramatically since the start of the U.S.-led coalition's occupation.

And this kind of patriarchal mentality is certainly not unique to the Muslim world.
In Brazil, it is widely believed that a man can legitimately kill allegedly adulterous wife on the grounds of honor and such cases are regularly treated with leniency in the courtroom. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of women killed by their husbands from the 1970s to the late 1990s for leaving or divorcing their husbands, returning home late from work, refusing to sleep with their husband, suspicion of adultery or because they had been caught in an adulterous situation.
So what does this have to do with Buck McKeon's Mormonism and how he orchestrated the cover-up of the military rape epidemic? After all, Mormonism isn't the same as the Muslim faith, even if both were rooted in extreme patriarchy and polygamy... right?
Anyone who has lived among Mormons has observed the sect’s legendarily happy families and tight-knit communities. They are self-satisfied, devout and abstemious; overwhelmingly white and middle to upper class. Hard working, acquisitive, conservative and disciplined. A whopping majority of them consider helping the poor a top priority-- an admirable quality even if their anti-poverty efforts are mostly directed at their own ranks.

...Mormonism is a valid issue of concern not as a religious test for office, but for its most distinctive characteristic — male authoritarianism. The controversial and secretive religion is a multibillion-dollar business empire ruled by a stern patriarchal gerontocracy. Only “worthy males” can ascend to positions of power-- both now and in the afterlife-- and women are relegated to supporting roles. Male dominance is the essence of the faith, as the Mormon feminist Sonia Johnson found when she was excommunicated for her support of the Equal Rights Amendment. In her memoir, From Housewife to Heretic, Johnson describes a patriarchal world in which everyone is taught that "God, being male, values maleness much more than he values femaleness, that God and men are in an Old Boys’ Club together, with God as president.”
Protecting the victims of rape was the last thing on Buck McKeon's mind as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Protecting the old boys' network at the Pentagon was. This week President Obama called the military heads into his office for a chat. He had a very different perspective:
[O]ne of the great honors of my life is serving as Commander-in-Chief to what I consider to be the best military in the history of the world. And I am in awe of the work that the vast majority of our men and women in uniform do.

But the reason we are so good is not because of the fancy equipment. It’s not because of our incredible weapon systems and technology. It’s because of our people. And the capacity for our men and women in uniform to work as a team, a disciplined unit looking out for each other in the most severe of circumstances, is premised, as Ray Odierno said, on trust. It comes down to do people trust each other and do they understand that they’re all part of a single system that has to operate under whatever circumstances effectively.

The issue of sexual assault in our armed forces undermines that trust. So not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be. And as such, it is dangerous to our national security  So this is not a sideshow. This is not sort of a second-order problem that we’re experiencing. This goes to the heart and the core of who we are and how effective we’re going to be.

Now, the good news is I am absolutely confident that everybody in this room and our leadership, starting with Chuck Hagel and Marty Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs, as well as our top enlisted men and women, they care about this. And they’re angry about it. And I heard directly from all of them that they’re ashamed by some of what’s happened.

But it’s not fixed yet, and that’s clear. So even though I think there’s a level of concern and interest that is appropriate, we haven’t actually been able to ensure that our men and women in uniform are not experiencing this, and if they do experience it, that there’s serious accountability.

So what I’ve done is I’ve asked Secretary of Defense Hagel and Marty Dempsey to help lead a process to continue to get at this. That starts with accountability, and that means at every level. And that includes accountability not just for enforcing the law, but also training our personnel effectively, putting our best people on this challenge.

I think Secretary of the Army McHugh made a very good point, which is I’m not sure we’ve incentivized some of our top people to understand this is as core to our mission as anything else. And we’ve got to reward them, not think of this as a sideline for anything else that they do, but incentivize ambitious folks in the ranks to make sure that they understand this is important. So that’s part of accountability.

Empowering victims. We’ve got to create an environment in which victims feel that they’re comfortable coming forward and they know people have their backs, and that they will work through this process in a way that keeps the focus on justice and make right what’s been wrong as opposed to suddenly they’re on trial, it may weaken their position, it make compromise their ability to advance.  That’s going to be important. They’ve got to know that they should have no fear of retaliation, no fear of stigma, no damage to their careers, and certainly no protection for criminals.

Third thing is justice for the victims. When victims do come forward, they deserve justice. Perpetrators have to experience consequences. And I’m pleased that Secretary Hagel has proposed reforms that would restrict the ability of commanders to overturn convictions after trial. Those reforms have my full support.

...I want to emphasize-- everybody in this room has heard from me directly. They’ve heard from Secretary Hagel, and they’ve heard from Marty Dempsey. They all understand this is a priority and we will not stop until we’ve seen this scourge, from what is the greatest military in the world, eliminated.

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