Victoria Brittain’s new book Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Pluto, 2013) has been featured on TomDispatch.com and crossposted on the Huffington Post US edition.
Tom Engelhardt (the founder of TomDispatch, and author of the post) writes an interesting intro to an extract of Victoria’s book. We’ve reproduced it below. You can view it in its original context by clicking the links in the first paragraph.
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The Global War on Terror has had many victims since it was launched by President George W. Bush soon after September 11, 2001. In his “crusade,” a word he used publicly before he thought better of it (“This crusade,” he said, “this war on terrorism”), the history of kidnappings and renditions, torture and abuse, imprisonment without charges or trial, drone assassinations and the killing of civilians is by now well known (for those who care to know). But there are other less noted kinds of “collateral damage” from more than a decade of such conflict, including damage to women on both sides – or perhaps ends – of the war.
The New York Times recently ran a two-part report on the toll that the war on terror era has taken on women in the U.S. military, and it makes for startling reading. Back in January 2012, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta estimated that there could be as many as 19,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. military – not in the whole war on terror era, but in a year of it (only about 3,000 of which actually get reported). Sexual assault and the threat of it, as the Times recounted, only adds to the pressures that, in these years, have been placed on American soldiers. They have experienced striking rates of brain injuries (usually from roadside bombs), rising cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), soaring suicide rates among both on-duty service personnel and veterans, increased use of drugs (legal and illegal), and a striking rise among women veterans in homelessness – a phenomenon that itself, reports the Times, is often connected to being raped, to the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) that follows, and to the PTSD that can follow as well.
This, in other words, is one kind of “collateral damage” seldom thought of as such when the war on terror is brought up. On the other end of that war, in a world where “terror suspects” have next to no recourse – and Washington’s record of doing terrible things to innocent men is daunting – are women and children connected to those suspects. As it happens, Victoria Brittain, a journalist and former editor at the British Guardian, has spent these last years with a group of such women. She saw first-hand how, in her country as in the U.S. effort more generally, a global war on terror became a global war of terror, a war that, at least in part, turned out to be against innocent women and children.
Her book on the subject, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror, has just been published. Through both of these worlds — the world of the woman warrior and of the woman connected to a suspect in the war — we get, as Noam Chomsky wrote in a comment on her book, “a revealing picture of what we have allowed ourselves to become.” Indeed. Tom
The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror
Victoria Brittain. Foreword by John Berger. Afterword by Marina Warner
Reveals the impact on the wives and families of men incarcerated in Guantanamo, or in prison in Britain and the US, during the ‘war on terror’.
“A searching, sensitive, and wrenching account of the ordeal of the women left behind, their torment, their endurance and courage, their triumphs over the cruel “extension of prison to home.” And not least, a revealing picture of what we have allowed ourselves to become.
“This is a window into an invisible world…a reminder that abandoning normal legal standards has serious consequences for the Rule of Law.” – Helena Kennedy, QC