Comments on: No more photos from Abu Ghraib because of rape scenes? History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sat, 20 Sep 2014 19:32:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: Historiann Tue, 02 Jun 2009 04:42:04 +0000 Shaz, I don’t think it’s so much that rape pushes buttons, it’s that as in the rest of everyday life in the U.S., we work really, really hard to keep it invisible and to ignore it or define it out of existence when it becomes visible. Rendering rape and sexual torture invisible is part of what makes them such powerful tools for humiliating and controlling people, whether those people are 18th C slaves, 19th C free women, 20th C college students, or 21st century wrongly detained prisoners of war. I re-read Trevor Burnard’s 2004 book Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire recently, and this is an idea that this book really drove home.

This is not to suggest that rape and sexual abuse are the same across time and space–but rather to suggest continuities across our culture in its treatment of rape and sexual assault.

By: shaz Tue, 02 Jun 2009 04:35:26 +0000 Ok, here’s a totally sideways thought: why would pictures of rape (perhaps especially rape of men?) be so much worse than other forms of torture? Not to say that all of this doesn’t turn my stomach, and not that I don’t get the symbolic humiliation of sexual assault in these situations, but I do ponder why — if news reports are accurate (and they may not be, further reporting suggests) — rape would be the reason not to release the pictures. What is underlying our sexual belief system that sexual assault is so much more horrific than attacking dogs, electrocution, and all the other utterly horrifying tortures sanctioned by the U.S. government? Why does rape, which we’re happy to implicitly allow in daily life, push so many buttons in this scenario?

By: susurro Sat, 30 May 2009 22:33:25 +0000 one of the things I pointed out when I wrote on this topic last week is that the photos have been in circulation since 2004 as have internal and external Human Rights agencies’ reports on the issue of sexual assault in Abu Ghraib. These images are still archived on the internet from the 2004 blog swarm on the issue. While there are supposedly some 6,000 photos and video, and what is available on the internet is only about 4-5 pictures, the bottom line is everyone (including the “Arab world”) has already seen them. So why the controversy now? Why the suppression as if those 4-5 photos are not damning enough? And why aren’t we discussing why everyone knows and recognizes the images of torture of male prisoners but the images of torture of female prisoners, and the homophobic stories that go along with some of the male prison photos we have all seen, were suppressed or erased even then?

By: Z Fri, 29 May 2009 16:49:20 +0000 What their interest is — same as the interest in covering it up was in other torture states, was my first thought. Then I thought no, we aren’t there yet. The war isn’t over yet, the people who designed this are still in the government.

I hate to think they are planning to continue but one insight I had from starting to write this comment is that they still want to torture US. Because having torture go on and having the public half know about it, half not know, is a way of scaring/horrifying, yet keeping in doubt/ keeping in control that way. It’s weakening the way torture is.

I know a lot of tortured people because of knowing all these South Americans and being old enough to remember the 70s and 80s and so on. I’ve heard of the torturers taking victims out ON BREAK to dinner at fancy restaurants — without making a huge effort to hide the situation of these victims — so that people catch a glimpse of them.

There’s something like that happening here. Now it’s happening, now it’s not, now it’s defined as torture, now it’s not, this much happens, no it doesn’t … etc. … and I haven’t figured it out but it feels like some sort of authoritarian power move.


I appreciate the porn analogy, largely because of the vogue in the U.S. for testimonial novels about the 1980s horrors in Central America and elsewhere, which sometimes looked like a taste for porn masquerading as a defense of human rights.

And these photos are in a porn like situation now, being forbidden, getting leaked out, and so on.

But for it not to be a porn like situation EVERYTHING HAS TO COME OUT and not be a secret.

I also agree with Historiann’s comment above, we’re adults now. When I was very small my mother was very careful about leaving Life Magazine and Newsweek around because they were full of pictures of war wounded, gruesome accidents, things like this which she thought would give us nightmares. You may decide what you want to see or not when you are in junior high! said she. In the meantime, I am deciding, and I prefer to err on the side of caution!

I am sure she was right, and I appreciate it, but I am definitely out of elementary school now.

By: Historiann Thu, 28 May 2009 22:08:30 +0000 Yes, ej–the pessimists among us might be tempted to wonder if the Obama administration is reluctant to expose the Bush admin because they plan to be up to the same old tricks.

I don’t get what they think their interest is in sweeping it under the rug.

By: Digger Thu, 28 May 2009 22:07:19 +0000 Sady posted today on Tiger Beatdown about the same issue.

I do not Not NOT want to see those pictures. I don’t want to see people being tortured, raped, humiliated, dying. I don’t want others looking at them for entertainment. I don’t want to see them on what passes for news, where they will be presented as “solemn witness to history” but will really be “OMG Look At The Torturez!” sensationalism. Followed by commentary that “Eh, that’s not so bad.” I find it dehumanizing and depressing.

But, I do have to agree that a)someone has to face the music for the fact that it happened and b) if the government doesn’t release them, they’ll get leaked.

Yeah, so I’m left with, WTF is wrong with people?

By: ej Thu, 28 May 2009 20:41:31 +0000 I realize that this is a tricky situation politically (and obviously a horrible situation in terms of humanity generally), but it does seem to me like the current administration is going out of their way to cover up the misdeeds of the previous one, and I’m not really sure why. As awful as it all is, I do think transparency should be the goal. Maybe that just means admitting that the photos are horrible and it would endanger American soldiers if they were released, but even that level of honesty does seem to be lacking in their current approach.

By: Historiann Thu, 28 May 2009 17:34:14 +0000 Emma, thanks for your fact-filled reply on the Geneva Conventions argument. John S., I think the government can obscure or blur the faces of the victims–it would seem inhumane not to. (You’re right that the black bar over the eyes doesn’t quite do it, but they can digitally pixelate faces, etc.)

By: Emma Thu, 28 May 2009 17:25:50 +0000 Hi John S.,

The government already made the Geneva Conventions argument, which was rejected by the 2nd Circuit when it ordered the photos released. From the ACLU website:

What is not surprising is the 2nd Circuit’s rejection of the government’s attempt to seek refuge in the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions were designed to prevent the abuse of prisoners, not to derail efforts to hold the government accountable for those abuses. In fact, as the court recognized, the government’s argument based upon the Geneva Conventions—that releasing photos of abuse violates the Geneva Conventions even when identifying features are redacted—is quite novel. Previous administrations have taken the opposite view. Most notably, after World War II, it was the U.S. government that widely released photos of prisoners in Japanese and German prison and concentration camps. Those pictures showed emaciated prisoners, subjugated detainees, and even corpses. But the United States championed the use of the photos as a means of holding the perpetrators accountable.

Link to the ACLU page:

By: Emma Thu, 28 May 2009 16:50:23 +0000 Profane –

I was thinking Starship Troopers but, alas, the movie and not the book. :)