Abracadabra at Abu Ghraib: the Tragic Story of Lynndie England, Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl
A reader, Martha, a former Air Force enlisted, who has been following the thread on women in combat with concern, writes to explain the “Abracadabra” issue:
I have heard horrid stories from deployed friends about the attitude toward women in the ranks. Even unattractive girls have a throng of men around them all the time when they are in “Bad Guy Land”. The names they give those women is crass. “Golden P**sy Syndrome” and similar things.
Then, on the flight home, “abracadabra” they are ugly again. The rejection is as sudden and violent as an IED attack. How can men be allowed to treat fellow soldiers like this, then turn around and treat them with respect on the battlefield?
Sadly, I didn’t have to go further than today’s New York Times to get a real-life illustration of why this kind of thing is no small matter. In an article, Behind Failed Abu Ghraib Plea, a Tangle of Bonds and Betrayals about Lynndie England, Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl, the reporter, Kate Zernike lays out a tragic story that puts an even sorrier twist to the already sordid tale of Abu Ghraib.
Lynndie England and Charles Graner
Credit: L.M. Otero/Associated Press
Graner’s new wife
The short version of the story is that Charles Graner was treating the United States Army like his own personal harem, carrying on overlapping affairs with both Lynndie England and Megan Ambuhl. Then, when Lynndie got pregnant, and sent home, they broke up. Graner sent an email to his father: “I stopped seeing her back in january but when all this garbage came out i started seeing her again,” he wrote. “chances are very good that it is my child….o well….daddy what did you bring home from the war????”
That’s some war souvenir.
With Lynndie sent home, Graner focused on Ambuhl. The two co-conspirators recently married at Ft. Hood, a surrogate groom standing in for Graner, who is already in prison.
A few quotes from the NYT piece:
In Iraq, Private England was disciplined several times for sleeping with Private Graner, against military rules. She flouted warnings to stay on the wing where she worked as a clerk, and spent most of her nights in the cellblock where he worked the night shift. . .Ms. Ambuhl had been involved with another soldier in the unit. But by late December, she had ended that relationship and started one with Private Graner. In e-mail messages, the two dreamily recalled their nights stolen away in the crowded prison cells where the military police lived. . .
It’s a sordid tale. But does it have any broader implications? Why talk about it?
Two reasons. First, any time women in combat comes up, supporters scoff at the argument that fraternization is a problem. But the question has to be raised: the “abracadabra” syndrome is rooted in the wildly skewed female-male ratio on deployment. If it’s a challenge in a secure rear-area, how much more so when the going gets really tough? Do we want those kind of complications when lives are on the line?
Second, we also often hear denials that sexual relationships among colleagues causes “complications.” Turn a blind eye, live and let live.
But then you get Abu Ghraib. Even without the prisoner abuses, the NYT article highlights the discipline problems that arose with England, Graner and Ambuhl having multiple partners in the unit and sneaking around to have sex.
Not to mention Lynndie’s pregnancy which resulted in her being sent home. SOP. Non-deployable. From a military readiness perspective, she’s a “casualty.” Friendly fire.
And there’s not a woman alive who doesn’t read this story without understanding instantly the formerly incomprehensible actions Lynndie England took that embarrassed our nation at Abu Ghraib. She was competing to keep him; she did it to hold on to him, the father of her child.
That’s why it matters.