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Dod Document Dump: Girl Power!

Remember that Pentagon program, revealed last month, that fed talking points to supposedly objective military analysts to push the Bush administration's line on Iraq? The Department of Defense just released thousands of documents from the program, so we asked Government Executive correspondent and TNR contributor Alyssa Rosenberg to sift through the documents and see what she can find:

The Bush administration has never been shy about switching rationales for the war in Iraq: Weapons of mass destruction, democracy promotion, fighting terrorism. But it always seemed to me that the administration's most cynical move was to wave the flag of women's liberation in the Middle East, given its decision to re-impose the global gag rule, its threat to veto the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, or for that matter, its warm and fuzzy relationship with Saudi Arabia.

So it's downright creepy to read the anecdotes about women pushed in the DOD talking points released last week--especially when they're interspersed with terse updates on the U.S. military's attempts to rewrite its pathetic sexual assault policies.

When it comes to exploiting imagery of Iraqi and Afghan women, the talking points read like a combination of Pippi Longstocking stories and Lifetime movies. In a July 4, 2004 briefing, a group of peppy Afghan schoolgirls buttonhole Donald Rumsfeld on their way to sports camp (can it get any more girl-power than that?): "After being introduced, young Roia wasn't shy about sharing her feelings with the secretary. ‘Mr. Secretary, all the girls we are very, very happy and pleased to be here,' she said through a translator. ‘We have one message for you ... Please don't forget the Afghan girls and Afghan women.' Rumsfeld's answer was simple, but carried a lot of weight. ‘We don't,' he said. ‘You can count on it.'"

The DOD shamelessly hawked photos of Iraqi schoolgirls grinning and holding up new, Navy-bought chalkboards, of American soldiers tying an Iraqi girl's shoes on the first day of school. We see women graduating from Iraqi Army Basic Training and taking the test to become police officers--feel-good stories all.

Except for this one, from September 23, 2004: "Sally's children were taken away from her more than six months ago. Her husband beat her. Her brother threatened her life while holding a gun to her head. Her own father contracted her deal with a $5,000 reward. Sally, an Iraqi translator, lost everything by working to help Americans rebuild Iraq. Still, she feels her service with Americans is the right thing for her country. ‘I lost everything I have, but I have gained so much,' Sally said. ‘If I had to do it over again I would. I help the Americans help my people.'"

The anecdote is meant to be an illustration of how much Iraqis love their American liberators; but given how Iraqi translators have been abandoned by the Americans they helped, it's a grotesquely ironic PR ploy.

Almost five years after the Defense Department promoted Sally's story, domestic violence in Iraq is skyrocketing, female illiteracy rates are 10 times higher than they were in the 1980s, and in the past few months more than 40 women--and in two cases their children--have been murdered for defying dress codes. I wonder if Sally still feels like working for Americans was worth it.

--Alyssa Rosenberg

DOD Document Dump, Part I: The Joke's On Us