Forced masturbation, menstrual-blood facials, sleep deprivation, guard-dog tête-à-têtes: No, it’s not a scene from Hostel III. Instead, it’s a sampling of the tactics that prey on cultural and religious taboos now being used by U.S. military-intelligence officers to emotionally break Islamic detainees. As artist and cultural critic Coco Fusco shows in her striking faux CIA training manual, A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, these often sexual means of extracting information are made more humiliating—and more effective—if performed by women soldiers. Who can forget Marlboro-emboldened “terror chicks” like Lynndie England, whose leash-holding brutality at Abu Ghraib gave human-rights abuse a female form? Fusco notes that the spectacle of England—abject bad seed with a white-trash past—deflected attention from the prospect of state-sanctioned torture, and that gender was key to this ruse.
Fusco recounts posing as a student and undergoing simulated interrogation at the hands of military-intelligence trainers Team Delta, where her instructor explained: “All an interrogator really needed to do was plant fear in one’s head and let the mind do all the work.” Fusco then details her experience (the male interrogators kept her hooded and disoriented but decided against staging a mock-rape) in a letter to Virginia Woolf, who lived through the Great War and believed that women could end the killing by refusing to participate in the “women’s work” of war. But according to Fusco, “equal opportunity in the twenty-first century has been interpreted as obtaining access to hierarchical institutions and power structures that perpetuate male dominance, racism, and American political hegemony.” With accompanying directions and color illustrations of torture poses, this primer is a layered and provocative anti–Miss Manners for the war on terror.