Saturday, May 08, 2004

what happens next

Feeling ever so slightly late to the party on blogging Abu Ghraib; I have a post in my drafts folder that I started when the news first broke, but I just can't seem to write intelligently about it. Not if my speaking is any indication--there's a lot of voice-raising and hand-waving. The whole situation defies my attempts to understand it. Everything boils down to something my mother said today as we walked to the elevator: we didn't accept "I was just following orders" at Nuremberg.

Of everyone I've read on the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Respectful of Otters has most closely hit the points I was considering, and done it from a psychologist's perspective. Check out her list of explanations that certain commentators have given, trying to rationalize and justify what happened. But only if you didn't just eat a big meal. Being on drugs won't help things either; some of these pieces are trippy enough as it is. Well, actually, maybe being drugged will make them untwist and become clear, the way I understood Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch" much better when I was stoned than I did sober.

There is something I haven't seen anyone else discuss yet. Rumsfeld told the Armed Services Committee that we should brace ourselves, because there are more photos, worse ones--and there's video. My question is, how much more of this do we really need to see?

I'm not suggesting that we need to be protected. Far from it. It was important for us to see the first ones; hopefully many eyes have been opened, and our military and government are being forced into a position of accountability. Think of the photos as the receipt for the money we're pumping into this pointless war.

We paid for what happened at Abu Ghraib. We're paying Lynndie England's salary. We paid for the chemical lightsticks, the black sacks. This is being done in our name. We need to see that, and the photos make it possible.

Now, though, I wonder if we need to see any more of them. Primarily I'm concerned about the Iraqis in the photos, and trying to protect their dignity as best we can. Blurring their genitals when the photos are printed or shown on television isn't enough; their faces are still visible, their identities knowable by their families and friends and co-workers. I don't care what England's mother says about this being a harmless prank, and it doesn't matter that Muslims are more circumspect about beking naked in front of other people than we appear to be; forcing people to be naked when they don't want to be is just wrong. Would it be less awful if it were our people, photographed naked in captivity? No. It wouldn't, not for them, not for their families.

The other thing I'm concerned about is the creeping bad pornography of the thing. I mean, I felt it in myself, when I heard there were more photos: a not entirely wholesome desire to see them, to see what fresh horrors were in store. Like slowing down to gawk at the accident on the freeway. Can you see any blood? Maybe it's just me. But I started thinking this awful thought tonight, that there were people out there who would be eager to have a collection of these images, who would enjoy looking at them, who would get off on seeing unconsenting people being humiliated. And that made me sick.

Remember that I am an artist's nude model who hangs out with pornographers. Conceivably that could make me think that most of this is no big deal, but it's completely the opposite. If anything, I think I'm more sensitive to where the lines are. And I seriously doubt those prisoners all signed waivers saying it was okay for their nakedness and distress to be spread all over hither and yon.

So my suggestion is this: at the very least, the next batch of photos and videos, if they're broadcast or published, need a lot more blurring. Or maybe they could stay in the hands of the Armed Forces Committee. I'm not sure. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?