Let me begin this post by saying how difficult it is to judge the actions of the soldiers involved. Not to make a judgment on anyone’s character and including myself in the mix, I truly do believe that each of us is susceptible (though we may have different levels of susceptibility) to commit the same actions that each of the soldiers implicated did. We are all exposed to the same hyper-“masculine” ideals rampant in U.S. society, so it would only make sense that we are all capable of committing such actions.
Puar and Phillips both comment on this hyper-“masculine” ideal prevalent in the U.S. These hyper-“masculine” ideals very roughly and briefly include a need to be “strong”, violent, in power, etc. I believe this is a climate that engulfs all of the U.S. despite Bush claiming that “their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people” (Puar 14). It is precisely this nature that created the atmosphere for the torture, especially the type of torture.
Puar talks about this hyper-“masculinity” in regards to homophobia. It is a well-known fact that there is a lot of homophobia in the military. I believe this is partly to do with the stereotypes we have about gay men as being effeminate (which not all gay men are) contradicting with the “fact” that “real” men are “masculine.” As Puar details, this also touches upon the fact that femininity is viewed down upon in American society. Women in the military, such as England, are thereby more inclined to act masculine (sometimes even surpassing men’s actions) in an attempt to fit in with their male counterparts. Just to illustrate the reality of this situation for women, I know that when I was in an all-male, hyper-“masculine” organization, I began to feel this sort of pressure. Between talking derogatorily about women and boasting their own perceived image of masculinity, it was an exhausting situation to be in. I ended up leaving the organization because I did not want to try to fit into their standards; however, if I had not left, the way I carried myself would have had to change drastically in order for me to be able to survive in the organization. I image this pressure for women to be all the higher in the military. In that way, England’s actions are logical (not synonymous with excusable) in that type of hyper-“masculine” setting.
Moving past that tangent about women and femininity in the U.S., sex between men is still viewed as particularly taboo/disgusting. (Sex between women, on the other hand, is disgustingly viewed as “sexy” and it is particularly “masculine” to watch two women have sex.) For men to take on a “feminine role” of having sex with other men is degrading. That, in concurrence with how queerness is perceived in the Muslim world, is why American soldiers focused so heavily on sexual acts between men as forms of torture. If there were not a climate of homophobia and anti-femininity in the U.S., the thought of “gay sex” (do not like this phrase, but it is what the article kept using) would not have crossed the soldiers’ minds as a possible mechanism of torture. I think it would still not have crossed their minds regardless of whether or not homophobia were a problem for Muslims. The reason I believe this is because the “sexual acts simulated are all specifically and only gay acts” (Puar 33). Even though American soldiers raped women detainees, they did not force women upon other women or men upon other women. They only forced men upon other men. This means that the American soldiers themselves thought there was something particularly degrading or exceptional about forcing men upon other men.
Phillips also describes a hyper-“masculine” environment, but in a different light. He talks more about violence and the need to feel physical domination (as opposed to the mental domination/humiliation that Puar refers to). One quote that particularly stood at to me was when Keller spoke about his first experience with torture (Phillips 59). He said that it was “uneventful”, anticlimactic in a sense. This type of boredom then fostered the environment that allowed for increasingly torturous and violent tortures to occur. (I will stop here so as to not make this post too long.)
Phillips and Puar both note the importance and influence of this ideal of hyper-“masculinity” in the military and American society in general.