Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Laugh At Torture

So as I was reading this charming little piece in the New Yorker detailing the history behind the notorious photos from Abu Ghraib (found by way of the Slate review of Errol Morris' new documentary Standard Operating Procedure), I couldn't help but laugh. Yeah, fine, torture is no laughing matter, yadda yadda yadda. But it's just that the whole enterprise reminds me so much of something out of a bad week at scout camp. I mean, sure, when I first heard about it, I was like, "How could this have happened?" But the situation, as presented in the article, is so basic, so common-place, really, I feel like I could have just as easily done the same thing. It's just the age-old problem of the people in charge not bothering to tell the underlings where to draw the line. Besides, once we decided to go to war like we did, what was the point of acknowledging any sort of moral rules at all? It's like, "Well, we can invade any country we want, but once we're there, remember not to abuse any of the prisoners!" Uh, don't think so. It's war. What did people expect? Some choice bits:

“I’m like, ‘Hey, Sarge, why is everyone naked?’ You know—‘Hey, that’s the M.I. That’s what the M.I. does. That’s the M.I. thing. I don’t know.’ ‘Why do these guys have on women’s panties?’ Like—‘It’s to break them.’ Guys handcuffed in stress positions, in cells, no lights, no windows. Open the door, turn the light on—‘Oh my God, Allah.’ Click, turn the light off, close the door. It’s like, Whoa, what is that?"

The M.P.s on the M.I. cellblock never learned the prisoners’ names. Officially, they referred to their wards by their five-digit prison numbers, but the numbering system was confusing, and the numbers told you nothing about a person, which made them hard to remember. So the soldiers gave the prisoners nicknames based on their looks and their behavior. A prisoner who made a shank and tried to stab someone was Shank, and a prisoner who got hold of a razor blade and cut himself was called Slash. A prisoner who kept spraying himself and his cell with water and was always asking for a broom was Mr. Clean. A prisoner who repeatedly soaked his mattress with water was Swamp Thing. There was a man they called Smiley, and a man they called Froggy, and a man they called Piggy. There was a man with no fingers on one hand, only a thumb, who was called Thumby—not to be confused with the enormous man called the Claw or Dr. Claw, because one of his hands was frozen in a half-clenched curl.

Harman said that she began photographing what she saw because she found it hard to believe. “If I come up to you and I’m like, ‘Hey this is going on,’ you probably wouldn’t believe me unless I had something to show you,” she said. “So if I say, ‘Hey this is going on. Look, I have proof,’ you can’t deny it, I guess.”

“I guess we weren’t really thinking, Hey, this guy has family, or, Hey, this guy was just murdered,” Harman said. “It was just—Hey, it’s a dead guy, it’d be cool to get a photo next to a dead person. I know it looks bad. I mean, even when I look at them, I go, ‘Oh Jesus, that does look pretty bad.’ But when we were in that situation it wasn’t as bad as it looks coming out on the media, I guess, because people have photos of all kinds of things."

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