Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Painted in Blood, an Abstract Expression of Horror

Expect a furor over the release of additional pictures of Abu Ghraib atrocities.

Some will question whether the release of these pictures provides anything new to the debate, to my mind these new pictures serve as a reminder that the administration and military policy makers truly responsible for these atrocities are still walking around free, and in many cases, with promotions or awards to boot.

One of the most interesting perspectives I've read to date is by Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott, referring to the above image. The essay should be read in full, but here's a taste:

What's powerful, and infinitely sad, about this bloody floor is the silence. Whatever happened in this room, it almost certainly was accompanied by a cacophony of pain. That's gone now. As is anyone involved with what happened there. The garbage on the floor, the opening of a toilet, suggest human beings reduced to refuse. The anonymity of those who may have suffered is absolute. Other photographs have appeared with faces decorously blacked out, a nod by those publishing the images to the dignity of the victims. Here, everything has been blotted out, and strangely enough, the dignity is now complete.

The victim is now just blood, there is no face to put on him or her, nothing we can say about what or where the wounds were, and how they happened. And in this abstraction from anything identifiable, the victim becomes completely, finally Human, not a particular man or woman, with a certain color of skin, or cut of hair, or any clothing to place him or her in the categories that we use to make sense of the faraway, the foreign or the frightening. The abstraction of blood leaves an open space for anyone looking at this picture to imagine himself or herself in its midst, to imagine, say, that the blood pooling on the floor like wax before it drains to the opening of a rank toilet is our own. And that these dull industrial tiles, with their insidious repetition of a pattern, are the last things we remembered before the lights went out.

Those who deplore the release of these images are right in that they may add no specific new evidence to a forensic or political or journalistic argument. And they draw us -- no, wrench us -- further from what Americans like to think of as "closure," the end of the shame, the end of the argument. But this one image, just a pattern of darkness on a canvas of cement and tile, opens up everything, because who can look at it without going there? If the original Abu Ghraib photographs compelled us to realize our connection to the perpetrators -- our soldiers, fighting our war -- this sad, silent image begs us to at least imagine that we are connected, in a deeper, human way, to the victims. [Emphasis mine-SK]

Indeed, here's a suggestion to all those who believe that people's responses to these images are overwroght.
Imagine this view to be your last of the world, as it may well have been for some other human soul.

Then imagine that those who made this happen are still happily ensconced behind their desks in the Justice Department, or the Pentagon, or the White House.

How do you feel now?

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