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The Torture Report's Missing Victims

Did the United States Abuse Female Terrorist Suspects?

Most of the recent Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 is gruesomely detailed. But one thing is missing. In the report, it seems that all of the detainees subject to torture were men.

There are several possible explanations. The CIA might not torture women, although we know from the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison that women have certainly been perpetrators. Or maybe the report reveals a selective reading of the CIA documents reviewed. As Amanda Gutterman, an editor at the Huffington Post, noted, the word “she” appeared fewer than 20 times in the extensive document. And these references were largely to female senators or to the former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. 

Another explanation is that, perhaps, as fears mount about a backlash in the Islamic world to the report’s release, the omission of women was a calculated decision. In areas of ongoing conflict, particularly in culturally conservative societies, attacks on women are often seen as a deeper symbolic wound.

It could also be part of a general trend of overlooking women in torture reporting. A Danish group, Dignity, found that in the past six years only a quarter of the reporting on torture and detention made any reference to women.

Although the number of women in torture chambers is likely to be much lower than the number of men, we know that there were female suspects in U.S. custody. These women had similar profiles to the men who were on the receiving end of inhumane degradation. Human rights groups monitored the New York trial of one U.S.-educated woman, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national, who was believed to be held in secret custody, possibly in one of the infamous black sites. In March 2004, she was placed on the U.S. attorney general’s most wanted list for suspected terrorist activity in Afghanistan, but she was formally charged for attacking an interrogating soldier. She was missing for years. It is hard to believe that

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