05 May 2009

Is this for real?

Andrew Sullivan linked to a disturbing report of anti-gay violence in Iraq.  There's a lot of real, confirmed repression, abuse and murder of homosexuals in the Middle East, so I don't want to come across as denying or minimizing that fact.  It's a bad, dangerous place to be gay.  But this sounds more like something out of an urban legend:

Iraqi Gays Face Gruesome Torture/ Murder Technique
As the murder campaign targeting Iraqi gays intensifies, a leading Arabic television network last week revealed the use of a horrifying new form of lethal torture against Iraqi gay men - anti-gay Shiite death squads are sealing their anuses with a powerful glue, then inducing diarrhea, which leads to a painful and agonizing death. The use of this stomach-turning new torture was first reported by the Al Arabiya network, which is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and was alerted to the story by a leading Iraqi feminist and human rights activist.
Does this sound plausible to you? I'm skeptical.

So what might this mean?  How exactly does one seal an anus?   Let's say they have some version of dermabond, maybe something a bit stronger for the sake of argument.  Then they force the victim to drink GoLytely (an electrolyte solution which is used to "wash out" the bowels prior to surgery or endoscopy).  Would this kill?  Reliably?  I dunno.   Colonic obstructions are serious -- they cause severe retrograde vomiting, but that would not be fatal in itself.  If the obstruction persisted a while, exacerbated by GoLytely, I can see it causing perforation, leading ultimately to sepsis, and death.   But that would really take some time, time in which the anal seal would need to remain intact, which seems to me to the the weak point in this supposed technique (no pun intended).

Bear in mind that the anus is not like a piece of household copper plumbing -- you can't just "cap it off" and assume that it'll hold its seal against whatever internal pressures are generated.  It's a soft, mobile and malleable orifice ending in skin and mucosa.  The pressure generated by a full rectum, cramping and straining and trying to have a bowel movement, would be quite high, so a very robust seal would be required to completely obstruct this.

First, I don't know how well Dermabond or other glues would hold to the moist, oily skin down there.   Second, the tensile strength and flexibility of these glues tends to be not so great, which is why you don't use it over elbows and other places where there's a lot of skin tension and flexion going on.  Finally, even if the tensile strength of the glue and its adhesive properties were strong enough for the application, the mechanical properties of the skin and mucosa of the anus are not that strong.

To put it bluntly, even if the glue adhered, and even if the glue were flexible and strong enough to withstand the pressure, the skin itself would probably tear as the victims involuntarily strained and the stool would blast right through the "seal."

Would that hurt?  Yeah, like crazy.  Would it cause bleeding and injury?  For sure.  Would it kill?  No way.

The other element of this story which sounds like an urban legend is they way it takes what heterosexuals would (wrongly) assume to be the central element of homosexuality, the anus, and does violence to it in a way that's intended to be ironic or perversely fitting.  The gays like to put things up their butts -- but what if their butts were sealed off?    The anus has long been used in a manner to torture or kill in the past -- forced sodomy and impaling being the common mechanisms.  So if you want to murder yourself some gays, what's wrong with the ol' broomstick technique?  It's a lot simpler and more efficacious than this convoluted and rather implausible mode.

Allegations like this are all-but-impossible to disprove, and the limits of cruelty displayed in Iraq in recent years are themselves beyond belief.   So it would be presumptuous in the extreme to say it's impossible.  But I call Bullshit on this one until more substantiated facts come to light.


  1. They could glue the guard of a fully-inserted buttplug, thus providing more glue surface area to dry skin and perhaps a better seal. Alternatively, a balloon-inflatable device could be inserted, or a mixture of solids (marbles etc.) followed by a glue enema.

    Saddam used to tie off the end of his victims' penises then force them to drink while hanging them from ceiling hooks by their wrists which had been tied together behind their backs, dislocating their shoulders.

  2. From the article, "A two-person team from Human Rights Watch (HRW) currently in Iraq to investigate persecution of LGBT people has also confirmed the use of this form of torture."

    So SF you seem to be suggesting that the "Gay City News" and the HRW are spreading lies about Iraqis in order to advance their agendas. That's a surprising position coming from you, I must say, and I simultaneously respect you and mock you for taking it.

  3. The Buttplug idea just might work -- I commend you for coming up with it. It takes an unusual mind...

    As for the HRW source and their motives, my skepticism comes from the vague nature of the sourcing. Almost more of a rumor -- but it's "confirmed" so it must be true, right? I have more concerns about the credibility of the reporting than I do about the HRW, of which I know fairly little.

  4. I agree with you that glue alone wouldn't likely be effective. It might require a pursestring suture first.

    (ER docs are problem solvers!)

  5. I think you guys are trying too hard to apply (potentially) humane tools to this question. They're probably just filling the poor guys up with plaster of paris or similar.

  6. i too have my reservations about the truth of this story. however if it is true i wonder if death may be partly due to the toxic effects of something like a contact adhesive enema. i don't imagine the average iraqi homophobe is quite as much of a problem solver as an er doc. his concept of sticking the anus closed would likely be more primitive and less anatomically thought through. he would be looking for a strong glue which could be delivered in large amounts preferably through a nozzle. i imagine that an enema of toxic stuff would more likely be the result rather than a functional colonic obstruction. death may ensue. the story may be true.

  7. If anything like that is true, it's just sick and sad...like so many other things in our "Sick Sad World".

  8. Not likely to be tested on "Mythbusters" any time soon.


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