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Torture Culture: Lynching Photographs and the Images of Abu Ghraib

Author(s): Dora Apel

Source: Art Journal, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), pp. 88-100
Published by: College Art Association
Stable URL: .
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In 2004, photographs of prisoner torture in
Abu Ghraib prison became street murals
inTehran. Photograph: Behrouz Merhri/
Getty Images.
In the on the moral of Abu Ghraib, several com
topical commentary disgrace
mentators have noted a resemblance between the torture
photos from Iraq and
American These similarities have remained
lynching photos. largely unexplored,
however, including perhaps the most significant effects of the two sets of
which is that both came to function as sites of resistance the very acts

they represent. Between deeds that are very different in nature and motivation,

and which took place at very different times and places, what
DoraApel might we learn from the similarities? What indeed constitutes
these similarities?2 In this essay, I examine the usefulness of par

Torture Culture: allels between taken atAbu Ghraib and lynching

the photographs
photographs from the early decades of the twentieth century,
and explore the political responses to the Abu Ghraib photos
Lynching Photographs both through their public distribution and in contemporary
and the Images of artworks and civic displays.
We may think the similarity between the lynching and
Abu Ghraib prison photos resides in the unabashed
picturing of torture

and humiliation itself. But more even, in both sets of

are the proud whose we do not to
photos, perpetrators smug gloating expect
see and who flaunt an shamelessness. This is because we the
appalling identify
as the immediate criminals here, not their In
perpetrators prisoners/victims.
both cases, for us, national and international laws torture and murder
are violated, the basic of humanity and dishonored,
clearly imperatives decency
1.See Luc Sante, "Tourists and Torturers," opinion and the images, like the acts represent, evoke revulsion at the humiliation and
editorial, New York Times, May I 1,2004, A23; of it all. But the perpetrators see it this way. in part
barbarity don't These events,
Susan Sontag, "The Pictures Are Us," New York
Times Magazine, May 23, 2004, 24ff; Frank Rich, for the camera, occur because both sets of perpetrators, in their loftiest
Was the Porn That Made Them Do It,"New believe are their deeds for the good of the
rationalizations, they committing
York Times, May 30, 2004, Section 2, I ; "Abigail
"Remote Control," Artforum, nation or, at the least, that their acts are sanctioned a and
Solomon-Godeau, by larger community
Summer 2004, 61. serve the interests of that This belief illuminates the fact that the
2. For key texts on Abu Ghraib, see three articles
exercise of such sadism and humiliation is a fundamentally political act. The
by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker: "Torture
at Abu Ghraib," posted April 30, 2004, available viewer ismeant to identify with the proud torturers in the context of the
online at
defense of a political and cultural hierarchy.3
content/articles/040510fa_fact; "Chain of
Command," posted May 9, 2004, available online The sense of sanction was central to American and cre
community lynching
ated the conditions by which white townsmen would attack and drive out black
articles/040517fa_fact2; and "The Gray Zone,"
even down the black section of town. a
posted May 15, 2004, available online at residents, burning Following lynching, to protect
they would close ranks around individual perpetrators them from any
cles/040524fa_fact; see also Hersh's book Chain
threat of prosecution state or federal authorities. Those who have acted
of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib by might
(New York: HarperCollins, 2004). For Abu as whistle blowers had nowhere to turn and risked dire retribution. Many who
Ghraib images, seeWeb sites such as http://
and thought they would find a spectacle lynching thrilling instead found it sicken, but lived in silence with these traumatic The effects were
ing, they experiences.
abu-ghraib/. The torture photographs and major of course far more for black members of the
documents and reports have also been collected devastating community.
inMark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu For white supremacists, souvenir became ways of
lynching photos reliving
Ghraib, and theWar on Terror (New York: New the erotic thrills of torture and mutilation under the guise
produced of righteous
York Review of Books, 2004).
3. Inthis regard, Deleuze notes the importance civic actions, as well as a way of a racial and that
reaffirming gendered hierarchy
of the revolution of 1789 for the Marquis de Sade men on at the bottom.
kept white top and blacks In
gendered terms, lynching
and the revolution of 1848 for Leopold von
meant white male control over the desire of white women
Sacher-Masoch, whose writings invite the viewer asserting by punish
to identifywith either the sadistic torturer or the race barrier and a sense of entitlement to
ing transgressions against affirming
masochistic victim respectively. See Gilles
the bodies of black women through unbridled coercion. indulging It also meant
Deleuze, Sacher-Masoch: An Interpretation, trans.
Jean McNeil (London: Faberand Faber, 1971). a covert form of homoerotic gratification through the subjugated bodies of black

89 art journal
men, who would often be humiliated, tortured, and castrated. In addition to the

themselves, the served as a means of

lynchings lynching photographs continuing
social control, extended tools of terror which ultimately justified the deeds they
as whiteness, which was code for America itself.4
represented protecting
After 9/11, "democracy" became code for America, and defending democracy
meant arresting and imprisoning thousands of Middle Easterners in the United
Guant?namo and as well as in sense
States, Bay, Afghanistan, Iraq, where the of

sanction was fundamental to the torture and atrocities. The commu

in question was most the military and more the white,
nity immediately broadly
conservative, Christian culture tjie regime of George W Bush, the
represented by
commander-in-chief, reinforced by his cabinet and their chains of command.

As is now known, the campaign of torture in Iraq was a top-secret

code-named Green, which was of Defense Donald
Copper approved by Secretary

IBlH^Hi^HiflB^BiHi Rumsfeld. Government lawyers turned somersaults in

legal memorandums that

to skirt international treaties and show that the Geneva Conventions,

The lynching of Rubin Staceyjuly 19, 1935,
which govern the treatment of prisoners of war, did not and that President
Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photographs & apply
Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Bush could authorize the torture of prisoners, him a status
effectively assigning
Research in Black Culture,The New York
above the law. As Harold Koh, dean of the Yale Law School, observed in a
Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Hongju
Foundations. scathing rebuke of this unprecedented move, "If the president has commander

in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit to

sanction to promote to license execution."s In
slavery, apartheid, summary
Bush's second term, Alberto Gonzalez, the architect of the memorandum charac

the Geneva Conventions as became the U.S. General

terizing "quaint," Attorney

following the resignation of John Ashcroft. On October 25, 2004, theWhite

House announced that to a new some
according legal opinion, non-Iraqi prison
ers in Iraq were still from the rules of the Geneva Conventions.
Rumsfeld has since admitted to an order to hold an
approving Iraqi prisoner
but keep his name off the prison rolls in order to shield him from Red Cross
a violation of international law. An outside docu
inspectors, investigative panel
mented at least seven more cases, followed the admission that there were
dozens or up to a hundred detainees. At least cases of prison deaths
"ghost" forty
are being investigated as homicides, and this does not include all those who have
died in U.S.-run an unknown number. At least three hundred incidents
of abuse have been at Guant?namo in and
reported Bay, Afghanistan, Iraq. Bush,
meanwhile, demanded that American prisoners of war?a status the United

States refuses to to "detainees"?be treated a moment

apply Iraqi humanely,

captured in the important and provocative film ControlRoomby Jehane Noujaim,

about coverage of the war in its first months by the United States and Al Jazeera.
At least some of the of humiliation and torture, moreover,
explicit photos
were meant as a form of potential blackmail the prisoners,
apparently against

threatening to shame them in front of their families and community if they did
not become for the United States. One consultant said, "I was
spies government
told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants,
4. See my Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White could insert back into
people you the population." Seymour Hersh revealed the
Women, and theMob (New Brunswick, NJ:
facts in the New Yorker, an unnamed CIA official and both current and for
Rutgers University Press, 2004). quoting
5. Quoted inAdam Liptak, "Legal Scholars mer intelligence officials. They trace the problem to a special program set up in
Criticize Torture Memos," New York Times, June
with commandos authorized to use terror and at secret
25, 2004, A14. Afghanistan degradation
6. Hersh, "The Gray Zone."

90 SUMMER 2005
CIA tanks, which was then to
holding exported Iraq.6
This would Rumsfeld's first reaction to the was not
explain why photos
shock, horror, or but that had out.7 He
surprise, anger they gotten immediately
banned soldiers' cameras at prisons. Like those from Abu
lynching photos,
Ghraib were meant to stay within a like-minded
community. Spectacle lynchings
were recorded amateurs
by hundreds of with Kodaks, and professional photog
turned out thousands of postcards. But Southern town leaders were as
distressed as Rumsfield when lynching photos found their way into the hands of
Northern and liberal activists, who used them for opposing
left-wing ideological

purposes, although itwould have been difficult to ban the taking of such photos

(and mayors would sometimes take a cut of the of postcard sales).

The tortures in the mistreatment are not
Iraq and of Muslims deeply rooted

Lynndie England and prisoner on a leash, and systematic American phenomena like lynchings, which followed a history of
Abu Ghraib prison, Baghdad, October 25, a
On the other hand, the rhetoric of "oriental
slavery. longstanding demonizing
ism," the old and unresolved Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the effects of the

first Gulf War in 1991 have many Americans to view many Arabs and
Muslims with growing suspicion and distrust, which burst into open and wan

ton violence in the United States 9/11.

Two in have become most associated with the torture at
photos particular
Abu Ghraib. One is the picture of Private First Class R. a twenty
Lynndie England,
reservist, a leash attached to the neck of a naked
one-year-old holding crawling
known to as "Gus." as an administrative clerk
prisoner, guards England's training
did not qualify her to be in the prison. She claims she was told by her superiors
to pose for the infamous photo, which was first published in theWashington Post
on 21, 2004. Her discomfort is as she looks away from the camera
May palpable
toward the human being at the end of the leash she holds. Linked to the prone

figure both by her gaze and by the physical line of connection, we might believe
that the youthful England is trapped in a descending spiral of victimization
the pressure to conform to the demands of prison culture exerted
produced by

by her largely male peers and superiors. By impelling her to comply with an
act of humiliation and her these actions
appalling deep documenting complicity,

Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, prisoner at the way for future and collusion in further acts of torture
paved acquiescence
Abu Ghraib, November 4, 2003. and abuse. For the Arab world, the picture of a naked Arab man held
however, by
the throat as the of a short-haired American woman in can
"pet" military garb

only confirm the worst suspicions of the most perverse anti-Arab contempt
harbored by Americans,
The second first in the New Yorker, represents the most
photo, published
7. On the role of the father of Ivan Frederick, one
emblematic of the torture scandal: the hooded man on a box
of the accused soldiers, ingetting the pictures to image standing
SixtyMinutes II,which broadcast them on April with wires attached to his hands, who was told by Specialist Sabrina Harmon
28, 2004, see "Here's How the Abu Ghraib
that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box. According to the testimony
Photos Got Out," available online at http://talk new_archives/006410.html#006410, of the victim, Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, the wires were not attached to
May 8, 2004. Specialist Joseph M. Darby also his but also his toes and Known as the the res
fingers penis.8 "Vietnam," image
turned over CDs with photographs of the tor
ture. See "In a Soldier's Words, an Account of onates with allusions to the crucifixion, robed monks, the Statue of the
Concerns," New York Times, May 22, 2004, avail the executioner, the mask of death.
able online at
05/22/politics/22WTEX.html?ex=l 113969600& But most of all, like themortified Christ, the image signals abjection and
en=c6dc9c55e8f06b78&ei=5070&fta=y. surrender. The echoes of innocence, sacrifice, and that lend it a tragic
8. See translation of statement provided by
Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, January 16, 2004, in air aremade all themore chilling by the hooding and wires?a decidedly
Danner, Torture and Truth, 230. modern emblem of martyrdom, dubbed Sarah Boxer "the icon of the abuse"

91 art journal
it shows "no no dead, no leash, no face, no nakedness, no
although dogs, pileup,
no Rather, it "unites of torture and sacredness or
thumbs-up."9 figures divinity,"
asW J. T. Mitchell observes. "This is not the crucified or resurrected Christ," he

notes, "but a from the Passion the of the humiliation and

figure plays, staging
torture of Jesus." Indeed, the evocation of the man of sorrows and the sympathy
summoned from the viewer, as Mitchell is produced the stillness and
argues, by

serenity of the under duress, the gesture that is the

figure graceful, open-armed
"natural result of a man's to maintain his balance in a difficult situation."
The U.S. military, although claiming the moral high ground in the name of
freedom and has here assumed the position of Roman
"spreading democracy"
torturers, crucifiers, persecutors of the humble and holy.10
Other of torture also come to mind, such as those of
images lingchi?the
ancient Chinese torture and execution ritual in which the victim is
and parts of the body slowly sliced away. Known as "death by division into a
thousand parts," the practice was first photographed in Beijing in 1905 by
French soldiers. Georges Bataille owned and published three such photographs
in his 1961 book TheTearsof Eros.More recently, a lingchiphotograph became the
basis of a video, of a Historical
twenty-four-minute Lingchi?Echoes Photograph, by
Taiwanese artist Chen Such served colonial interests
Chieh-jen. photographs by
the Christian of China; also represent the first uses of
Chen Chieh-jen. Still from Lingchi?Echoes justifying "saving" they
of a Historical Photograph, 2002. Installation
in China,
making China available as an exotic
with twenty-four-minute video.Taipei Fine
Arts Museum. Courtesy of the artist. especially when lingchiphotographs were made into postcards and widely distrib
uted. Like the lynching postcards and digital snapshots of Abu Ghraib, they
functioned as souvenirs that were meant to demonstrate the political superiority
of one group over another.

Chen's contemporary video, the historical torture of 1905, shows

what appear to be the deeply shamed witnesses to the torture as well as the

grueling ordeal of the victim, allowing the viewer to identify with both and
the experience unbearable. Chen conveys the visual
making virtually ambiguity
between ecstasy and stupefaction in the lolling head and rolling eyes of the vic
tim, which echoes the reading of such photos by Bataille, who saw on the
Chinese victim's face an that confirmed his about the
expression assumptions
close connection between and Bataille to endow the execu
pleasure pain. sought
9. Sarah Boxer, "Torture Incarnate, and Propped
on a Pedestal," New York Times, June 13, 2004. tions of lingchiwith an ambiguously sacred or sacrificial quality; but, as Giorgio
W. J.T. Mitchell, "Echoes of a Christian
10. the of sacrifice and eroticism is not ade
Agamben argues, conceptual apparatus
Symbol," Chicago Tribune, June 27, 2004, Section
quate to grasp the profane and banal violence of modern life.I2 The
2, I, available online at http://humanities. political delirium of the victim combined with the shame of the witnesses in Chen's fic
I I. For the most authoritative information on
tional video is piercingly traumatic; this helps to explain the psychological need
lingchi, see the work of the research group
Turandot, which held a conference on "The for the hood in Iraq,which not only disorients the victim, but also effaces their
Representation of Pain," April 22-23, 2005, at
humanity for the perpetrator and more turns the into an
easily subject object.
University College Cork inCork, Ireland. The
Turandot Web site on Chinese torture is When were transformed into souvenir
lynching photos postcards, they Also see An-yi were sent to friends and with the senders'
family proud boasts of having been
Pan, "Contemporary Taiwanese Art in the Era
of Contention," inContemporary Taiwanese Art in in the mob, blackness an exotic and the "look" of
making spectacle privileging
the Era of Contention, exh. cat. (Ithaca: Johnson over blacks. Spectacle lynchings
Museum of Art, Cornell University; Taipei: Taipei
whites similarly relied on the look of the crowd
to reaffirm notions of white "manliness" over the of the
Fine Arts Museum, 2004), 158, 160-61. superior stereotype
12.Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign sexual black male, even as many white men in the mob acted on
hyper repressed
Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen
homoerotic desires and many white women found vicarious in the
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, pleasure
112-15. mob's exposure and penetrations of the black body. At Abu Ghraib, compact

92 SUMMER 2005
discs, videos, and computer files of digital images performed the role of the
and were meant to circulate
only within the community of American

military personnel, their families, and friends. The pictures established the right
of the soldiers to "look" at the nude and brutalized bodies of their victims, even

to pose with corpses, while effacing the look of the prisoners through hooding
and other forms of degradation.
Likewise, the voices of the tortured, like the voices of victims, were
meant to be silenced outside the circumstances of their ordeal. But testimonies

have been taken. One prisoner tells of being covered with phosphoric liquid
from a chemical light and raped with a stick: "Then they broke the glowing fin
ger and spread it on me until Iwas glowing and they were laughing. They took
me to the room and me to on the floor. And one of the police
they signaled get
he put a part of his stick that he always carries inside my ass and I felt it going
inside me about 2 centimeters, And I started and he
approximately. screaming,

pulled it out.... And they

taking pictures of me during all these instances."I3

The were meant to add to the as well as souvenirs. The

photos shaming provide
thrills of sexualized violence became less veiled and more explicit than in lynch
to the point where and videos of torture and the sexual
ing photos, photographs
abuse of prisoners were interleaved with of American soldiers sex
images having
with each other.

But the pornographic function of the torture scenarios serves a

larger politi
cal function. The in the extreme and of others relies
pleasure pain degradation
on a process of dehumanization that depends in on Arabs
large part constructing
and Muslims as an undifferentiated mass, as black men were
just stereotyped
en masse Back then were all "black beast
by white supremacists. they rapists";
now are all "terrorists," them far easier to humiliate, torture, sexu
they making
and kill. The necessary emotional and dehumanization
ally exploit, distancing
of the Other is also revealed The Nazis referred to Jews as
by language. "pieces";
to an as "it." '4 torture
American soldiers refer the
Iraqi prisoner Although photos
seem to the basic of pornography?the events are
employ structuring principle
real but for the camera in order to deliver proto
staged prurient pleasure?the
cols are different. Porno actors do not mug for the camera;
fundamentally they
maintain a fiction of Here there is no "fiction" of not
authenticity. authenticity,
because the victims are not actors, but because the pleasure is
only willing
not meant to be found in their pruriently deployed bodies but in the exultant
of those who wield over them, a different cultural
mastery power representing
and order.
Thus the influence of pornography did not determine these torture scenar
ios, any more than it did lynchings. The trend in American culture which holds
Arabs and Muslims in contempt, as "blackness" was held in contempt, or
13.Translation of statement [name blacked out], just
earlier colonial must be held for such acts. Hersh
January 21, 2004, inDanner, Torture and Truth, subjects, responsible reports
248. as government authorities were for ways to dominate Muslims
that searching
14.Robin Tolmach Lakoff, "From Ancient Greece
to Iraq, the Power of Words in in the months before the invasion of conservatives
Wartime," New Iraq, pro-war Washington
York Times, May 18, 2004, Section F, 3. The Iraqis latched onto the notion that Arabs are vulnerable to sexual humiliation.
are also derisively called "hajis," the way the
Vietnamese were called "gooks." They used the 1978 book TheArabMind by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist,
15. See, for example, "MuslimsWere Outraged; which became "the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior" and depicted sexual
SoWere Christians," New York Times, May 9,
shame and humiliation as the biggest weakness of Arabs. Although privacy is
2004, Section 4, 5. Edward Said roundly attacked
Patai's book in his landmark 1978 study Orientalism. indeed commentators have noted that Arabs are as shamed and
deeply ingrained,

93 art journal
humiliated as any of us would be in the same

Cambone, Rumsfeld's official, was the point man

Stephen top intelligence
for implementing the secret program in Iraq and deciding that no rules applied.
Cambone s assistant, William G. Boykin, in a in an church,
military speech Oregon
the Muslim world with Satan. This to explain in
equated helps why prisoners,
addition to being raped and ridden like dogs, were also forced to eat pork and
drink alcohol in contravention of their These are crimes of national,
ethnic, race, and hatred, as well as a colonialist
religious mentality by military

occupiers. It is no surprise that this is the perception of much of the Arab world,

expressed by Abdelbari Atwan in A? Quds alAiabi, a London-based Arabic daily:

"The torture is not the work of a few American soldiers. It is the result of an

official American culture that deliberately insults and humiliates Muslims."I7

Cultural theorist Zizek suggests that the issue of abuse is more perva
sive and fundamental to American culture. "Far too often," he writes, "we are

treated to images of soldiers and students forced to assume humiliating poses,

and suffer sadistic The torture at Abu
perform debasing gestures, punishments.
Ghraib was thus not a case of American toward a Third World
simply arrogance
In submitted to the tortures, the were
people. being humiliating Iraqi prisoners
initiated into American culture."l8 Zizek s assertion stereotypes American
culture as awhole, while diminishing the specific political culpability of the
Bush for the crimes of Abu Ghraib. My argument is not that there is some
essential American to torture, but that torture and its
impulse representations
are conscious acts which follow of power and
political recognizable protocols
subordination, of which lynching and Abu Ghraib are two examples.
There is also an difference between American ritu
important college hazing
als and the torture of prisoners, in that those who are in the
former have a choice, while do not.
activity ultimately Iraqi prisoners decidedly
The of frat boys, however and sadistic, do not yet the
pranks dangerous equal
16.Andrew Buncombe, Justin Huggler, and
crimes of torture, and murder at Abu Ghraib, as Rush has
Leonard Doyle, "Abu Ghraib: Inmates Raped, rape, Limbaugh pub
Ridden Like Animals, and Forced to Eat Pork," licly suggested.19 Such behavior was tolerated for months with full knowledge
available online at
the chain of command and would not have occurred as an
up ongoing practice
17.Quoted inAlan Cowell, "Bush'sWords Do without the conviction that it was sanctioned. It was not surprising, then, when
Little to Ease Horror at Prison Deeds," New York an R. the former defense secre
panel headed by James Schlesinger,
Times, May 7, 2004, A12.
18. Slavoj Zizek, "What Rumsfeld Doesn't Know for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, and
tary, assigned responsibility Afghanistan,
that He Knows about Abu Ghraib," InThese Guant?namo to senior that
Bay Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld, stating
Times, May 21, 2004, available online at
officials were aware of the problems and failed to address them.20 Indeed, they
19. Rush Limbaugh dismissed the Abu Ghraib authorized them.
photos saying, "It is no different than what hap F. Graner,
The abusive behavior of American prison guards?and
Charles for
pens at the Skull and Bones initiation." Quoted in
"Abu Ghraib Timeline," in Inconvenient Evidence: one of the most sadistic abusers in the Abu Ghraib scandal, was one?
IraqiPrison Photographs from Abu Ghraib, exh. cat. serves as a better than rituals. This is especially evident in relation
analogy hazing
(New York: International Center of Photography:
to "detainees" in the United States who are locked the Depart
Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum, 2004). See immigrant up by
also "Commentators Conflate 'Depraved' Art ment to access to and
of Homeland Security prior Without lawyers
and Abu Ghraib Photos," May 14, 2004, available
online at id=6885& soon-to-be-out-of-reach in countries such as and Tunisia, many
Guyana, Egypt,
search=commentators%20Conflate. of these detainees receive brutal treatment all too reminiscent of Abu Ghraib,
20. See "The Schlesinger Report," August 2004,
inDanner, Torture and Truth, 329-99.
as Daniel Zwerdling reports for National Public Radio. Such prisoners have no
21. Daniel Zwerdling, "U.S. Detainee Abuse redress for their complaints.21
Cases Fall through the Cracks," November 18,
Like the lynching photos which were appropriated and transformed into
2004, available online at
plates/story/story.php?storyld=4173701. antilynching images by left-wing and liberal artists and organizations in the 1930s

94 SUMMER 2005
(such as the John Reed Club and International Labor Defense, both affiliated
with the Communist Party, and the NAACP), the torture photos of Abu Ghraib
also have become the basis for antiwar images and artworks.22 The of the
man on a leash and the hooded man are now side side as murals on
painted by
a wall in Tehran, once that the meaning of
demonstrating again images depends
on the arena inwhich they circulate. Like their distribution in the world media,
this public transforms them from private souvenirs of American

supremacy into anti-American

blistering pictures.
The was in the New York Times, where Sarah Boxer com
photograph reprinted
mented on the hooded man as the veiled woman who walks the
echoing by
murals a male the two.23 But there is
(with companion), effectively conflating
a difference between and there is clearly an attempt
hooding veiling. Though
to "feminize" Arabs and Muslims as a whole their subordination to
American dominance, the hooded never becomes a veiled Rather,
figure figure.
a continuum is between the two murals that transforms the
produced abjection
of the crawling prisoner, his body truncated by the edge of the mural, into the
man of sorrows. The hooded man the masculinized of
upright parallels figure
at about the same size, the diffident
Lynndie England, produced counterpoising
American soldier in a action with the figure who seems to
engaged debasing
to the world his the appearance
appeal through open-armed gesture, creating
of noble sacrifice, if for a nonexistent
redemptive purpose.

Just as the rituals threatened men with castration, at Abu Ghraib,

terror also took the form of the masculinity of the prisoners,
threatening using
to menace and attack naked and women soldiers to sex
dogs prisoners allowing
humiliate them and even to handle and mock their and
ually genitals, pointing

laughing while taking photographs. Here, as Lynndie England mocks the genitals
of one in a row of naked prisoners, her jauntiness and the casualness of her dan

gling cigarette differ markedly from the stiffness of her pose with the prisoner
on a leash. is The man to whom she points, who
England's cooptation complete.
mmmv*wt. ^mxr-vr' m has since been released, has come forward to identify himself as Saddam Saleh.
Lynndie England and prisoners at Abu He says he only knows that he is the third from the right because American sol
Ghraib. to his cell and pointed him out, in an obvious
diers brought the photograph
effort to humiliate him further. He was tortured for another before
eighteen days
the interrogations began.24
Other also have testified about their sexual humiliation: "The two
American girls that were there when they
were me, they
were me
beating hitting
with a ball made of sponge on my dick. And when Iwas tied up inmy room,
one of the girls, with blonde hair, she iswhite, she was playing with my dick."
22. See my Imagery of Lynching.
23. Boxer, "Torture Incarnate, and Propped on a This was also urinated on a and made to bark
prisoner by military policeman
like a dog, hit on the side of the head so forcefully that he lost consciousness,
24. Buncombe, Huggler, and Doyle, "Abu
Ghraib." forced to wear women's red underwear on his head, and tied to a window in his
25. See translations of statements: [name blacked
cell with his hands behind his back until he again lost consciousness. Another
out], January 21, 2004; Shalan Said Al-Sharoni,
saw a beaten with Others remembered how soldiers
January 17, 2004; Nori Samir Gunbar Al-Yasseri, prisoner's genitals gloves.
January 17, 2004; Hussein Mohssein Mata Al ordered them to masturbate, sometimes in front of female soldiers, and to simu
Zayiadi, January 4, 2004; Hiadar Sabar Abed
late homosexual acts.25 Jonathan Raban characterizes the infantilization
Miktub Al-Aboodi, January 20, 2004; all in effectively
Danner, Torture and Truth, 247-48, 234, 236-37, and feminization of Arabs the Americans: "Here is Arabia nude, faceless under
240, 245.
a hood, or feminised in women's forced into infantile mas
26. Jonathan Raban, "Emasculating Arabia," The ridiculously panties,
Guardian (London), May 13, 2004, Features, 6.

95 art journal
sex and
turbatory sodomy."26
A photograph of a human pyramid pictures a grinning Sabrina Harman and
Charles Graner posing with their handiwork, Graner offering a thumbs-up. The
word "RAPEIST" [sic], written on the leg of one of the prisoners, echoes the
charges against black lynching victims and becomes a bitter parody of blaming
the victim for the crime of the perpetrator. "We thought it looked funny, so pic
tures were taken," told She confessed that piling
England investigators.27 prison
ers naked or forcing them tomasturbate had nothing to do with interrogations;
but it has everything to do with the arrogance that seeks global domination and
is insensitive to the of "others," as a to
subjugation functioning corollary
American nationalist pride.
Hussein Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi was among the Iraqis in the pyramid
who later sworn in which he described his ordeal and its after
gave testimony
math: "After that they brought my friends, Haidar, Ahmed, Nouri, Ahzem,
Hashiem, Mustafa, and I and they put us 2 on the bottom, 2 on top of them, and
Sabrina Harman and Charles Graner
2 on those and one on took of us and we were naked.
behind human pyramid of hooded Iraqi top of top. They pictures
prisoners at Abu Ghraib, November 7 or 8, After the end of the beating, they took us to our separate cells and they opened
the water in the cell and told us to lay face down in the water and we stayed like
that until the morning, in the water, naked, without clothes." When asked how

he felt about this treatment, he replied, "Iwas trying to kill myself but I didn't
have any way of doing it."28

Some antiwar of the hooded man a conflation of the two

images produce
most iconic images. A photograph of a figure at a London protest depicts a black
hooded figure with a noose or a leash around his neck, holding a sign with a
picture of the hooded man, and the the troops home now." In
slogan, "Bring
another protest painting, the hooded man is painted next to the Statue of Liberty
on awall in the crowded Shiite section of Baghdad known as Sadr City. The
mural is the work of the artist Salaheddin Sallat. The wires
attached to the hooded man are connected to an electric as are in the
Salaheddin Sallat. "That Freedom for Bush," grid, they
2004. Mural in Sadr City, Baghdad. real photo, with the Statue of Liberty pulling the switch. Sallat, who lives in a
AP Wide World Photos.
Photograph: small house with eighteen members of his family, observed, "In fact, when I saw
the photo ofthat man, itmade me think of the Statue of Liberty," further noting,
"I chose this area because everyone can see it."29 Such recontextualizations of the

Abu Ghraib may be seen as to the resistance the acts

images contributing against

they represent. Here Sallat makes clear his that the mere act of

rendering the images visible to the public begins their undoing.

The Statue of Liberty sports awhite hood below the spikes of her crown and
wears a medallion with a small red cross at her neck, the Eastern Orthodox cross

more familiar to Iraqis. The words painted on the wall indicate themockery of
"freedom" that the war on Iraq has produced, doubling the hooded man with
the preeminent of America. The Statue of once the icon of wel
symbol Liberty,
come to stands above all for American But the rhetoric of
27. "U.S. Rules on Prisoners Seen as a Back and refugees, democracy.
Forth of Mixed Messages to G.I.'s," New York is exposed for its extreme The images that illustrate the
democracy hypocrisy.
Times, June 22, 2004, A7. words "That Freedom for Bush" what this rhetoric has set in motion
28. Translation of statement provided by Hussein
and come to mean; since the rationale for war was the export of freedom and
Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi, January 18, 2004, in
Danner, Torture and Truth, 240.
democracy, it is Liberty and no other symbol, such as Uncle Sam, which best
29. Virginie Locussol, "U.S. Prison Abuse Painted
America. But her torch now becomes a lethal electric current. Effec
onWall," June 2, 2004, available online at represents tively conflating Liberty and the executioner into a single image, the figures

96 SUMMER 2005
become doppelgangers; the mask of degradation becomes the face of America,
the hooded man its innocent victim. Commenting on the power of the hooded
man and the leashed man Mark Danner calls such the
images, representations

"perfect masterpieces of propaganda" which have "the considerable of

true." "Had bin Laden to create a trademark for his
being sought powerful image
international product of global jihad," he writes, "he could scarcely have done
better the cleverest firm on Madison Avenue."30
hiring advertising
The Statue of Liberty transformed into the standard bearer of racial oppres
sion evokes an antilynching image from the 1930s produced in protest of the
Scottsboro trials, the notorious case of nine black men accused
young falsely
of raping two white girls on a freight train headed toward Alabama. In Scottsboro:
A StoryTold in Prints,first produced in 1933, a linocut depicts the attempt by the
courts to carry out a A hooded Klansman assumes his
Linocut, 1935, from Lin Shin Khan and "legal lynching." position
Tony Perez, Scottsboro, Alabama: A Story on the pedestal, holding a lynch rope in one hand and a small electric chair in
in Linoleum Cuts, published 2002. Courtesy
the other. Marked a swastika, cross, and backwards dollar the Klansman
of New York University Press. by sign,

replaces Liberty with race hatred, intolerance, and greed while Liberty runs for
her life.
Another protest image, produced by the L.A. graphic design group Forkscrew
was in the and streets of New York and Los
Graphics, placed subways City Angeles

following the revelations of Abu Ghraib.31 Produced in silhouette, the hooded

man in his stands on what now becomes a like the Statue
ragged cape pedestal,
of his balance even as it the iconic
Liberty, emphasizing precarious strengthens
status of the image. The hooded man has become a logo for the war itself, codi
fied in the symbol of a time bomb next to the stylized word "iRaq," an echo of
the iPod logo, just as the fake hot-pink or chartreuse backgrounds evoke the iPod
ads. Alluding to the Pop artmultiples associated with Andy Warhol, the slick and
colorful posters suggest the commercialization of the war, Halliburton
and the it has made on contracts. The
staggering profits noncompetitive posters
further the commodification of torture itself as central to the occupation
of as a its crassest
Iraq. Torture commodity takes form in the
phenomenon of

common and of the task of interro

"outsourcing"?the employment delegation
Forkscrew 2004. to mercenaries called "civilian contractors" four men
Graphics. iRaq posters, gation euphemistically (the
Four offset posters, each approx. 24 x 36 in. who were notoriously murdered and mutilated in Falluj ah in April 2004 were
(61 x 91.5 cm). Published online at
civilian contractors). Inserted among actual iPod ads in stations and on subway
the streets of New York and Los Angeles, the of torture as a war
selling product
30. Danner, Torture and Truth, 29. is
ironically complete.
31. The hooded man is one of four poster paro Richard Serra also appropriated the hooded man for StopBush, a color litho
dies; the other three depict American soldiers in
done as a free downloadable for, and, in another
silhouette handling guns, shoulder-fired missiles, graph poster
or grenades. See version, for an Artists Coming Together benefit print, StopB S.32 Serra distributed
32. See for
these prints in art venues, mainstream and on the Internet
another widely publications,
image designed by Serra
that superimposes Bush's face on Goya's painting in support of the Democratic for the 2004 election. The
campaigns haunting
Saturn Devouring His Children; the image was fea
image becomes emblematic of American as well as the
tured as an ad on the back cover of The Nation. imperial arrogance signal
33., crime of the Bush the for his defeat. In
September 7, 2004, available administration, encapsulating argument
online at an interview with the German Die Zeit, Serra
newspaper condemned the Bush
34. Geoffrey Sire, "Undecided, but Leaning administration for its denial of Western values and law.33 Sire has
Geoffrey argued
toward Skull: Political Art in the Age of Spin," that can still unnerve us, it is much harder now to penetrate our
although images
October 28, 2004, available online at http://
"overmediated consciousness."34The that still have such power are those;jsessionid=EEA59F images
7168038D64A9417438CA880F4A?rid=51507. that allude to the real.

97 art journal
Richard Serra. Stop Bush, 2004. Offset
printing on paper. Installation view.
Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Photograph ? 2004 Robert Polidori.

35. See George H. Roeder, Jr., The Censored War:

American Visual Experience duringWorld War Two
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). For
the Nick Ut and Eddie Adams photos, see I=en&lr=&q
36. "The Taguba Report," inDanner, Torture and
Truth, 279-328.
37. Images included forced sodomy, Lynndie
England having sex with other U.S. soldiers in
front of prisoners, prisoners cowering in front of
attack dogs, Iraqiwomen being forced to expose
their breasts, naked prisoners tied up together,
prisoners forced to masturbate, and a prisoner
repeatedly smashing his head against a wall. On
May 21, 2004, on the Washington PostWeb site,
executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., described
the newspaper's decision not to publish many of
the abuse images because they were "so shocking
and in such bad taste, especially the extensive
nudity." See "Abu Ghraib Timeline," in Incon
venient Evidence. Also see Seymour Hersh's pre
sentation at Hampden-Sydney College inVirginia,
"Terrorism: A Report fromWashington," a video

presented on C-Span, September 9, 2004, in

which he attests to having seen "many worse"
photographs than the ones published by the New
Yorker, available online at
search/basic.asp?ResultStart= I
&ResultCount= 10
&BasicQueryText=Seymour+Hersh). The New
Yorker decided not to publish those photos, a
decision that Hersh defended.
38. Quoted in "Theweleit et al. on the Iconography
of War," International News Digest, May 17, 2004, The hooded man to a genealogy of iconic images,
is the latest addition
available online at www.artforum. com/news/ which includes the photos of the planes crashing into theWorld Trade Center
towers on ii and, from the Vietnam War, Nick Ut's of a naked
39. Nicholas Blanford, "IraqiArtists Depict Anger 9/ photograph
over Abu Ghraib," June 15, 2004, available online Vietnamese burned down a road in another sacri
girl by napalm fleeing Saigon,
ficial or Eddie Adams's of a communist executed in
and Samir Haddad and Mazen figure, photo guerrilla being
Ghazi, "Iraqi Plastic Art Documents Abu Ghraib a street. After the U.S. of photographs from World
Saigon government censorship
Abuse," June 6, 2004, available online at http:// War II and such had a effect on the American
Korea, pictures shocking public.35
06/06/article02.shtml. Similarly, the Abu Ghraib photos stand in stark contrast to the officially approved
40. See "Abu Ghraib's Women Prisoners," May in are consis
and sanitized representations of the American presence Iraq, which
26, 2004, available online at http://www.thinking
tent with the refusal to report on civilian casualties and its; Francine government's Iraqi
D'Amico, "TheWomen of Abu Ghraib," The Post
censorship of photos of returning coffins with the American dead.
Standard, May 23, 2004, CI ;and Annia Ciezadlo,
The issues of and also have been addressed in protest art.
"For IraqiWomen, Abu Ghraib's Taint," May 28, gender sexuality
2004, available online at http://www.csmonitor. The and an unreleased video both show that at least one woman
Taguba Report
com/2004/0528/pO Is02-woiq.html.
was while others were forced to Further evidence of
41. Sculptor Taher Wahib produced a Statue of prisoner raped, strip.36
soldiers in various sex acts with and themselves was
Liberty with her head replaced by chained hands, engaging prisoners among
her feet lashed together, and her robe set on fire on
the three-hour, closed-door session May 12, 2004,
reported following during
by her own torch, which stands on a Baghdad
street behind barbed wire and barriers with a flag which members of Congress were shown over eighteen hundred photographs
that reads, "Abu Gulag Freedom Park"; another and videos.37 In another three Army soldiers were accused of a
case, assaulting
statue ismade entirely of chains and wears a
T-shirt distributed to Iraqis by coalition troops, female Iraqi prisoner. While publications such as the New Yorkerand theWashington

98 SUMMER 2005
Postmade decisions not to publish many of themore disturbing photographs,
Klaus Theweleit, author of Male Fantasies, in an interview with the S?ddeutsche Zeitung,
such restraint: "I have these kinds of scenes in my head, from
argued against
concentration camps, from splatter, snuff, and porn films. We could repress these

but then we ourselves over to the illusion the sanitized

images, give spread by
editions of the daily news: thatwe live in a half-civilized world."38
A protest al-Sabti, a artist
image produced by Qassim fifty-one-year-old Iraqi
and owner of the Hewar Gallery in theWazerieh district of central Baghdad,
the crimes the woman. A lifesize female man
poignantly captures against Iraqi
lies prone, her veil a white death shroud marred an red
nequin only by oozing
Al-Sabti was to this work after a copy of a
triangle. inspired produce receiving
letter that a prisoner, who was and a U.S. had sent
raped impregnated by guard,
to her "There was a letter in Fallujah from a woman inside
family. circulating
Abu Ghraib," al-Sabti said. "She was begging the resistance to bomb Abu Ghraib
and bring down the walls on their heads so that their suffering would end.
I felt like screaming when I heard this. Iwanted to draw the attention of the
The letter, out of the prison, was one of the few to reveal what
was to women inside Abu Ghraib. The shame and ostracism attached
to been is so that most women who have been
having raped egregious Iraqi
released will not discuss their even in private. Amal Kadham Swadi,
one of seven women women at Abu Ghraib, has
Iraqi lawyers representing begun
to uncover the extent of atrocities women across the case
against Iraq, including
of one woman who was harnessed and ridden like a at
seventy-year-old donkey
Abu Ghraib. women are the wives or of male suspects, arrested
Many daughters
as a way of pressuring the men.40

Al-Sabti invited artists to contribute works to an exhibition

twenty inspired
the humiliations at Abu Ghraib.4' Abdel-Karim Khalil three works
by produced
Qassim al-Sabti. Sculpture, title unknown. a hooded
for al-Sabti s exhibition, a marble of
Abdel-Karim Khalil. Sculpture, title unknown. including roughly foot-high carving

Installation views, Hewar Gallery, Baghdad,

detainee. Combining themedium of white marble associated with classical Greek
2004. Photographs: Steve Mumford. and rational civilization with the of a barbarian
sculpture symbol oppressor,
Khalil a form used to represent "whiteness" in order to
appropriates traditionally
universalize the He observed, "Some artists used to be neutral, but now
there are artists, and writers who have all reached the decision that the
Americans are It has them a new sense of purpose in art."42
destroyers. given
bearing the words, "Iraq, progress and prosper
It took decades of as well as economic and forces to
ity."See Sammy Ketz, "IraqiArtists Portray Ugly struggle political finally
Wounds of U.S. Occupation," June 7, 2004, subdue the systematic lynching of black people and to transform lynching
available online at http://www.middle-east 10196= 10196&f photography from a support of white supremacy into an antilynching weapon
ormat=0. For more on Baghdad artists, including
through themass publication of lynching photos and especially the pictures of
al-Sabti, see Steve Mumford, "The Artists of
the vicious disfigurement of EmmettTill, which helped galvanize the civil rights
Baghdad," inBaghdad Journal, November 11, 2003,
available online at fea movement. The Abu Ghraib had a more instantaneous effect,
photos unleashing
tures/mumford/mumford I l-l l-03.asp. For an
public horror and outrage around the world through global distribution of the
interview with al-Sabti, see Edward Miller, "In the
First Person," Mennonite Central Committee, via the Internet and television. More seventeen of the
pictures recently, images
September 8, 2003, available online at www.mcc. were on view in the fall 2004 exhibition Inconvenient Evidence: Iraqi Prison Photographs
html. fromAbu Ghraib,curated by BrianWallis for the International Center of Photography
42. Blanford, "IraqiArtists"; Hamza Hendawi, in New York and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Like the photographs
"Images of Iraqi Prisoners Used inArt," May 8,
of lynchings in the exhibitions of Without Sanctuarythat began in New York in
2004, available online at http://www.liberaltopia.
org/archives/2004/05/more_proof_some.php. 2000, Inconvenient Evidence may raise the question for some of whether such exhibi

99 art journal
An Iraqi family in downtown Baghdad
reacts to images of tortured prisoners
broadcast on the Arabic channel AI
Jazeera. Photograph: Sungsu Cho/Polaris.

tions make the photographs available once to a gaze of mastery,

again reinforcing
their humiliating effect. But just as the photos' initial production and forms of
circumscribed circulation were acts, so is their in such
political display public
venues now, American to racial, cultural, and
exposing pretensions political
dominance in Iraq and a and sense of entitlement that is
revealing brutality

firmly rooted in the nationalist ideology of the Bush administration.

Indeed, the lurid atrocities that traveled the globe were branded by one
military official a "moral Chernobyl." But unlike Chernobyl, as Christopher
Hitchens out, the only accident at Abu Ghraib was the release of the
to the world.43 The torture and abuse of prisoners was mandated and
at the and those who gave vent to even the most sadistic
justified top, gratuitous
felt safe in a circumscribed culture of community sanction.
impulses carefully
That to repair the public relations disaster this
community began scrambling
for the United States, not to ameliorate the trauma and loss that con
stitute the human cost in or to reexamine the underlying that have
Iraq policies
led to the and of torture but to their moral
systematic continuing pattern salvage

authority by shirking responsibility and blaming a few "bad apples." And they
succeeded, at least in the United States, another election. How, then,
by winning
do of torture their own When is the power of an
photographs produce undoing?
turned itself, it into a that opposes the very
image against transforming picture

thing the photograph means to uphold? We can affirm that different meanings
are to the arenas in which those circulate, and that
produced according images
the association of photographs and artworks with the status of the real is critical

to both a successful countereffect and an

producing effectively persuasive protest
art. But we must also that torture do not
recognize images inherently produce
their own on us.
undoing?it depends

Dora Apel is associate professor andW. Hawkins Ferry Chair inModern and Contemporary Art at
43. Christopher Hitchens, "AMoral Chernobyl: State University, Detroit. Her books include Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary
Prepare for theWorst of Abu Ghraib," Slate, June Witnessing and Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and theMob.
14, 2004, available online at

100 summer 2005