24 May 2009

Release All the Abu Ghraib Photos

I disagree with Phillip Gourevitch about whether the Obama Administration should release what remain of the unseen photos from Abu Ghraib, but he has written this thoughtful Op-Ed in The New York Times today. Why do I disagree? In large part because Cheney and the other storm troopers - in both politics and the media - who are trying to sanitize the Bush Administration's policies have too easy a job if all is simply left to the imagination. Let them explain the brutality and the blood. Let them try to define what the photos depict as something other than what it is - torture. And then let sensible people decide whether the Bush crowd and their minions are at all credible. And let those same sensible people see precisely the practices for which Cheney, et. al. now hope to define as something for which they can take political credit instead of being something for which they should be held legally accountable.

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Blogger Stan B. said...

People were raped and killed during some of those torture sessions- and yet the press continues to belittle the whole nasty affair with tales of caterpillars and discomfort! We need every single picture out there, or these deniers will have their way...

24 May, 2009 17:50  
Blogger Anna Neighbor said...

These photographs, and understandably, have long operated only within the context of serving as potential witnesses to acts of torture. But they also serve as a testament to a frighteningly typical sub-narrative of love, jealousy, and ego largely uncovered by the press. Erroll Morris' revealing documentary, Standard Operation Procedure, through intensive one on one interviews with Specialist Harman and Lynndie England (among others), peels back the many layers behind the lack of oversight and ineptitude, only to leave us with the story of a love triangle and power struggle between soldiers that manifested itself via the manipulation of detainees. Without denying that there was complicity from the upper levels, it is fascinating to find that in the end, at the basic level, it was not about 9/11, or repression under Hussein's regime, or even the deaths of fellow prisoners, but actually a megalomaniac guy (Graner) who strived to be the center of the party and make shit happen, and a girl (England) who loved him and would do whatever he wanted (such as pose in a photo with thumbs up while standing on a detainee's back), and another girl (Harman), who couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on and took pictures as a way to figure it out.
This high school drama may seem trite in the face of such grievous crimes, but were in fact the driving force behind many of the photographs taken.

Perhaps the most stunning, and saddening, revelation in Morris' interviews was that a significant majority of the photographs that came out of Abu Ghraib were (torture) events staged FOR THE CAMERA. The (illegal) existence of the camera on site acted as a catalyst for the staging of moments, with the photograph operating itself as the central tool of torture, as it forever imprinted the degradation of those involved detainees. Those human pyramids, those leashes, those faux sexual acts, were all born out of photographic possibility, and very likely would not have occurred if the camera had not been there (at least according to the interviews). That is not to say other types of torture would not have taken place, but it is vital that we, as imagemakers, recognize the psychology of the photographic mind and how it enabled and played itself out in this tragedy.

As for whether additional images should be released, I am admittedly unsure. So many of these photos were taken as acts of humiliation themselves, and to have them circulated and re-circulated seems to play into the original purpose of the torture itself. There is already no doubt among the educated and/or curious public that these events occurred. Books and articles will continue to be written, interviews will continue to take place, films will continue to be made. Do we want to further the idea that only the photograph can testify to something having occurred? That things cease to exist unless they're photographed? That blood and gore splashed across the front pages of our Sunday paper are the "right" of the public? What of the rights of those photographed?

I really don't fucking know.

24 May, 2009 22:00  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Anna- blaming it on a couple of hicks, a love triangle and "lack of oversight" plays right into the wretched excuse of "a few bad apples." The Graner episode, as well as countless others, occurred because it was allowed and encouraged from the top down- full well knowing that if it ever hit the fan, those at the bottom rung would absorb the consequences. The major megalomaniacs here are Rumsfeld and Cheney.

As for the rights of those photographed- in all honesty, I can't speak for them, and neither can you. But if it had been me- the biggest humiliation of all would be to let these bastards get away with it. How many still await, hoping and praying for an Honest day in court?! Don't you think they would have to spill and relive all in court and before the world to see justice done? And those photographs remain the major evidence against their torturers. How many "advanced interrogation" videos were erased by our so called Intelligence operatives? How many more Holocaust deniers would be out there if not for the photographic evidence?

25 May, 2009 11:07  

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