Gender and the homoerotic logic of torture at Abu Ghraib
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The focus of this dissertation is a social and cultural theoretical analysis of the empirical data regarding the prison abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by American forces. I provide the following: an examination of the photographs of abuse that were leaked to the press in the fall of 2003; an analysis of both Lynndie England’s and Sabrina Harman’s courts-martial (two of the “rotten apples”); a discussion of the body associated with punishment and torture, and also as marked in ways of identification; and an assessment of additional representations regarding prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Throughout this analysis, I use gender as a lens to understand Abu Ghraib and the subsequent courts-martial. It is important to note that I gained access to and was intimately involved as a graduate researcher for Dr. Stjepan G. Mestrovic, an expert for the defense, and experienced the events of the trials themselves, first-hand and during closed counsel and open session. The empirical data provided is drawn primarily from first-hand qualitative research that involved participant-observation of two trials, interaction with soldiers and officers, and analysis of both documents pertaining to the trial as well as the photographs of abuse themselves, among other things. I incorporate cultural studies, feminist and sociological theory (modern and postmodern), and feminist philosophy so as to provide a theoretical analysis of the abuse at Abu Ghraib and the subsequent courts-martial focused on gender and sexuality. The result of this dissertation is a social and cultural theoretical analysis of the empirical data regarding the prison abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by American forces, where women, gender, and sexuality are shown to be important criteria for examination. Specifically, the results of this project highlight areas that current analyses of the abuse at Abu Ghraib have left out: how women fit into American military politics, how gender functions as power within the military, how gender is socially constructed in the military in terms of heterosexuality, and how both gender and sexuality are used as weapons by the American military. This kind of examination is useful in future policy considerations for the military and for detainee treatment, where analyses of women, gender, sexuality, and power have been so far neglected in any serious way, and even by sociologists Phillip Zimbardo and the application of his Stanford Prison Study to the events of Abu Ghraib.
Caldwell, Ryan Ashley (2007). Gender and the homoerotic logic of torture at Abu Ghraib. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from