THE BLOG

The Invisible War and Unlimited Power

05/28/2013 05:18 pm ET | Updated Jul 28, 2013

It is hard to relinquish power once you have it, particularly when it is unlimited and unquestioned power. President Obama in a major policy speech last week acknowledged both the helpfulness, even necessity, of having the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) law. He also questioned it, noting the danger of continuing to have a law with such unlimited and far-reaching power.

On the other hand, having unlimited power and license to rape within the military system until recently was not questioned. The sexual crime of rape is all about power. The Independent Lens film, "The Invisible War," shows the culture of privilege, power and impunity within the U.S. military. The U.S. Department of Defense in its recently released 2012 report showed that 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted last year, a 35% increase from 2011. It is not about men and women in close proximity or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is about domination, the unquestioned right of some men to dominate and overpower women and men they assume they can. And it is about being able to retain that power. Rape and war have long been intrinsically intertwined.

Strange, isn't it, that women entering the military, particularly in combat zones, was projected as being a danger to military men's morale and ability to fight. Likewise, fighting side by side with gays would supposedly weaken the strength of what was thought to be a heterosexual male military. It turns out women were not dangerous. They were in danger of being sexually assaulted by the very men they were told they would demoralize. And the real danger was to LGBT people themselves. And the silent torture of thousands of straight men has been that they, too, have been sexually assaulted. It is all about domination.

On Memorial Day we honored those who died in war. We honored them by remembering their lives, their dedication, and their service. We carry forth that honor by being honorable ourselves and by helping create and sustain a military culture as an honorable place to serve, a place where people honor each other's personhood and body.

President Obama addressed difficult topics in his major policy speech including terrorism, the use of drones and closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The latter is an elusive goal, complicated by Congress. As expected, however, disproportionate news coverage was given to the one woman in the crowd who called out her passionate views on Gitmo. Reports said things like, "Protestors repeatedly interrupted. . . ." (there was one person and one incident) or, "President is speechless for 30 seconds when. . . ." Actually President Obama remained in calm control without being drawn into either anger or argument. He was patient, not powerless, and then simply went off-script to give an even a finer explanation of his position.

Obama did not so much defend his use of drones on the basis of his power to do so, as deliver rubrics in their use. He said it is clear their use is effective and legal. But, he added, their use must also be wise and moral.

Think about those words in terms of any use of power. In terms of the invisible war within the military, sexual assault and rape is effective in retaining male dominance, and in keeping power within the hands of the most powerful. And it has mostly not been judged illegal. Changing that will be a huge challenge, but one taken on by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) whose bipartisan legislation has the support of Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). It places the reporting and decision making for cases of sexual assault in the hands of a trained military prosecutor instead of with the commanding officer.

What about wisdom and morality? Victims of rape in the military have been continually victimized after the assaults. They have no power, most often receive no justice, and are often denied medical treatment. They have faced loss of their careers, PTSD, even suicide. They, even if single, were accused of adultery, while their married assailants were not.

"The Invisible War" documentary stated that 33% of servicewomen did not report their rape because the person to whom they had to report was a friend of the rapist. Twenty-five percent did not report because the person to whom they had to report was their rapist.

When interviewed, a person higher in the chain of command said they had alternatives such as to go to their congressional representative, to which a victim responded, "Who in the civilian culture when raped is told to go to their congressperson?"

Of the victims interviewed, their assailants retained careers and license to continue to perpetrate sexual domination. One was promoted to lieutenant. Another was named "Airman of the Year" during the time his victim's rape was being investigated. Another is now a supervisor in a major U.S. corporation and there sexually assaulted a female employee.

It is hard to relinquish power once you have it.

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