The CIA and Rape: Media Representations of the Victims

The CIA and Rape: Media Representations of the Victims February 10, 2009

Various news organizations have reported that a CIA officer stationed in Algeria, identified by CBS News as Andrew Warren, has been accused of drugging and raping two Algerian women. The women, according to CBS, came forward separately and “reported the incidents months after they occurred.”  This from ABC News:

The CIA’s station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.

Of the incident ABC also reports:

The alleged victim said she remembers being in Warren’s bed and asking him to stop, but that “Warren made a statement to the effect of ‘nobody stays in my expensive sheets with clothes on.'” She told investigators “as she slipped in and out of consciousness she had conscious images of Warren penetrating her vagina repeatedly with his penis.”

The second victim told investigators she sent Warren a text message accusing him of abusing her and he replied, “I am sorry,” the affidavit says.

According to the affidavit, when Warren was interviewed by Diplomatic Security investigators, he claimed he had “engaged in consensual sexual intercourse” and admitted there were photographs of the two women on his personal laptop. He would not consent to a search or seizure of the computer, leading investigators to seek the warrant.

According to the affidavit, a search of Warren’s residence in Algiers turned up Valium and Xanax and a handbook on the investigation of sexual assaults.

The affidavit says toxicologists at the FBI laboratory say Xanax and Valium are among the drugs “commonly used to facilitate sexual assault.”

But these women may not be the only victims. Investigators found video tapes of the rapes, or videos in which “Warren engaged in sexual acts” and among them they found videos from Cairo. Warren has since been recalled to the U.S.

A few reports have also mentioned how Warren is a convert to Islam. This may be in an attempt to ease the blow. As it is, the incident has very colonial undertones to it, hinting to the days when colonizing men viewed the women they were colonizing as bodies to which they had access. (Though I could easily argue that is occurring today as well in other parts of the world). Even though Warren is not a white American, which would have added the extra dimension of white superiority of the American imperial colonizer, the power an American CIA agent has in many parts of the world can easily be abused to demonstrate patriarchal power and exploitation. Telling us that he is a convert to Islam may make him seem less colonizing and more “one of them”, allowing American media to distance America from him. It’s as if they are saying “He’s not one of us. He’s really one of your own. This cannot be a demonstration of our imperialism when it was one of your own (sort) who did this.”

The response from the CIA regarding the rapes is as expected. Their main concerns are what this means for security:

“From a national security standpoint,” said Baer, the alleged rapes would be “not only wrong but could open him up to potential blackmail and that’s something the CIA should have picked up on,” said Baer. “This is indicative of personnel problems of all sorts that run through the agency,” he said.

and what it means for relations with the Muslim world:

This will be seen as the typical ugly American,” said former CIA officer Bob Baer, reacting to the ABC News report. (ABC News)

“It has the potential to be quite explosive if it’s not handled well by the United States government,” said Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in women’s issues in the Middle East. (ABC News)

News agencies themselves are speculating what this could mean for relations with the Muslim world:

The alleged assaults, if confirmed, are viewed as particularly serious because they could potentially damage diplomatic relations with Algeria, a U.S. ally, and undermine U.S. efforts to improve its image in the Muslim world, former diplomats and foreign policy experts said. (Houston Chronicle)

The case could be particularly delicate in Algeria, a Muslim country where the United States is working with local officials to combat militants. (The New York Times)

Both the women who came forward to complain and made sworn statements are Muslim, and the case could spark a strong reaction in the Arab world. (The Telegraph)

The impact on the women who were raped, or allegedly raped as the reports point out, do not seem to appear on their radar, with the exception of this quote from ABC News:

“Rape is ugly in any context,” said Coleman, who praised the bravery of the alleged Algerian victims in going to authorities. “Rape is viewed as very shameful to women, and I think this is an opportunity for the U.S. to show how seriously it takes the issue of rape,” she said.

Although their story may come out in the future, at this moment we are not provided with their voice, except through the affidavit.

The majority of the news reports focus on the CIA and Warren himself. However, often when the women are mentioned it is highlighted that they are Muslim women. Often that is the only descriptor provided. In these situations, they are not referred to as Algerian women, but rather Muslim women. From a political standpoint this may be stated to emphasize, perhaps, the sensitivity of the issue. At a time when American president Barack Obama is trying to mend ties with parts of the Muslim world and has promised to respect the Muslim world, such offenses in a Muslim country will seem to have graver implications than if the context were different.

Mentioning that these women were Muslim seems to be a tactic to dramatize perhaps the situation. The Muslim identity of these women has become a part of the political game playing. And within the context of this political game, mentioning Warren’s own Muslim identity becomes another move to soften the political blow and buffer a possible backlash. The CIA is probably thanking the heavens Warren is a Muslim, too.

However, this is all tragic nontheless. Rape, regardless of the religion of the victim or perpretrator (and their relation to each other), is a dispicable act of aggression and control. When a man rapes a woman he is trying to exert his power over her. Place that on an international platform and the implications of exertion of power and control take on a whole new meaning. The CIA and American media may be right to worry about how this will impact their image.

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