Sunday, May 09, 2004

Pictures from an Inquisition

Despite occasional appearances to the contrary, I don’t currently have the capacity to post pictures on this journal. This is because I’ve never gotten around to claiming website space from Earthlink (and now Comcast) to store the stuff. When you do see a photo, it is from somewhere else on the web, and may or may not be there tomorrow. So bear with me as I move through this, because I’m NOT posting the pictures, but rather describing them. Most of them you’ve probably seen, but not the last.

Let’s start out with one from about two weeks back – flag-covered containers lined up in the cargo bay of a transport. War dead. It’s a somber, serious picture, taken by one of the cargo handlers. It’s sent to a friend, and run in the Seattle Times. Then the cargo handler who took it and her husband are both fired because the picture got out, and the picture is repeated EVERYWHERE. The conservapundits bluster about how this is a horrible thing at the time, but I’m not sure – we need to know that yes, this war has consequences, and we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by being in denial.

Then about a week back Nightline ran the photos and names of those that had died in the past year. Again, it was serious and somber. The pictures came from a variety of sources, from grainy shots blown up too far to family pictures to what looked like high school mugshots to military uniform pictures. I was struck by the fact that no one looks good in Marine Corps full dress. I was also struck by the diversity of the men and women we have lost, and that all but a handful were younger than I. And again, the pro-war forces huffed about how horrible it was, and one media chain in particular refused to run the show. I think of standing in military cemetary above the Normandy beaches, and thanking those that sacrificed then, and thanking those that sacrifice now.

And now there is this week and the horrific photos that come out of Abu Gharib prison. Odd twisted photos of threats and humiliation. Stuff that evoked Maplethorpe’s photo works, made more obscene by the fact these were not models, but prisoners. When I first saw them, I passed through that denial stage of the thinking process – was this staged? Who would be stupid enough to commit these acts, when we were trying to show the world that we were here to make things better? Who would be stupid enough to take pictures? And in the one case I expect a government denial, instead I get “Yep, they’re real. It happened. There’s more. And it’s much, much worse.”

And the naked human pyramids and hooded prisoners went out into the media, and this time there was less talk about protecting the American people, which made me wince again. In fact, the right-wing, which was previously harsh on anyone admitting that bad things happen in wars, seems to be positively enthusiastic about this. Drudge oozes There are videos with the breathless excitement of a pornographer. Rush compares the shots to a Britney Spears video (I think he’s being sarcastic) and saying that humiliating foreigners is an OK way for Americans to blow off steam (OK, I’m taking him off the list for the next garden party). This really creeps me out.

The perpetrators of these took the pictures. They got into the press because those involved didn’t want to be holding left holding the bag (or the hood, or the leash) alone, to show that this was condoned and encouraged by higher-ups. In fact, these shots were SHOPPED AROUND the media and government before CBS picked them up, and CBS waited to show them at the request of the military. These shots are from abuses in January, which begs a slew of new questions – How extensive was this? Who knew and when? Is this typical for other US Military Prisons? And most important, IS THIS STILL HAPPENING?

Answers are wrapped up in a fog of war (note here – the first court martial has been ordered regarding this particular case yesterday). It leaves me shaken in a way that the bunted coffins and somber call of names did not. It is the sad realization that we have blown it, have we have shown that we are not the paladins we claim to be, that we are as vulnerable to human abuse as anyone else. What kind of people do you think we are, we asked the world. That’s been decided, replies the world, now we’re just haggling about the price.

One last picture. This is one you haven’t seen, unless my friend sent it to you. It shows a gangly, short-haired young woman in desert fatigues, cutting a cake. Behind her are a number of other soldiers, also in fatigues. Some are clapping, she’s smiling and looking at how she slices the cake. Her name is Allison, and it is her 22nd birthday. She’s on the far side of the world, in Qatar, doing her boots on the ground.

This last photo is a reminder. All of the craziness is not done, and it is up to all of us to help resolve it. I’d like Allison’s 23rd birthday photo to be with her family, back in Wisconsin. I’d like to see an end of abuse of other people by Americans acting in my name. I’d like to see the loss of American military to go back to be news, not status quo. I’d like us to bring the democracy we claim for Iraq to Iraq, even if that means that they may not agree with us. And I’d like to know why we’re there, but in that I’m like a lot of other people.

I’d like a lot of things. Now I just have to figure out how to get them.

More later,