One of the most serious blows to American society and reputation was the highly publicized scandal of maltreatment and abuse of prisoners in Iraq. These incidents, which were uncovered in 2004, happened in the Abu Ghraib prison complex and perpetrated by American personnel under the 372nd Military Police Company.
The abuses came to public notice from the media, which was able to acquire extremely graphic images of the tortures taken by the soldiers involved in the incidents themselves. (Hersh, 2004) Following the incident, the United States Military charged those responsible for the crimes and demoted the officer in-charge of the U.S. prison system in Iraq.
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Until now, however, the American public and the world are still reeling from disappointment over the irrationality and immorality of such systematic acts of violence against the Iraqui prisoners which included various forms of physical, psychological, and sexual abuses. More disconcerting than the acts of the abuses, however, is the fact that the soldiers even took photographs of their crimes.
The photographs show the prisoners in shameful conditions, either naked or forced to assume positions suggesting sexual acts with fellow prisoners. Undoubtedly, the photographs show not only violations of basic human rights according to the International Humanitarian Law but also disrespect to the Muslim culture and Islamic beliefs by the American soldiers involved.
Among the most disturbing aspects of the photographs taken in the Abu Ghraib prison is the presence of a woman, Private Lynndie England, posing with her thumbs up while the prisoners are being subjected to inhuman treatment.
In one photo she is shown posing with a fellow soldier while naked prisoners are made to form a human pyramid at the foreground. In another, she poses with the ubiquitous thumbs up sign while at the same time pointing to the genitals of hooded male prisoners lined up. Indeed, the gloating and happy image of Private England is a stark contrast to the cruelty and torment seen from the prisoners who are reduced to the state of animals.
Thus, the pictures should provoke not only outrage from the public but should also lead to a reexamination of the kind of morality and basic sense of decency of military personnel such as England who could derive enjoyment from the clear suffering of her fellow human beings. It is an unfortunate incident that a woman, whom the public expects to be more sensitive to the feelings and emotions of her fellow human being, would be part of the ritual of dehumanization of the prisoners from the physical, emotional, and the psychological aspects of the torture.
It is a disappointing fact that Private England, despite her gender, was able to tolerate highly sexualized abuses that were usually committed by men to show their dominance upon women: rape, brutality, and sodomy.
Aside from being devoid of any sense of morality, the pictures violate public sensitivity and ethics. The purpose of the pictures and the intent of the people who took them therefore become questionable. These images where clearly not meant for an audience, but then, why take them in the first place? Did Private England and her cohorts need a remembrance of how they were once part of the violation and abuse of the Iraqui prisoners?
Upon analysis, the pictures are not only proof of the lack of ethics and sensitivity of the soldiers but also signify a deeper perversion. The abuse of the prisoners, supposedly meant to prime them for interrogation by intelligence personnel, show the ugly characteristic of power play wherein the abusers took freedom upon their prisoners because of their perceived dominant position.
Their main intent is to degrade the prisoners, to strip away their dignity as human beings, and to show them that they are powerless beneath the abusers’ hands. The pictures, then, are part of the ritual of abuse. By exposing the private parts of the prisoner and capturing the moment forever on film or on video, the perpetrators are breaking the person’s will, reducing him or her into an object.
Unfortunately, the acts of the American soldiers reflect the corruption of the entire U.S. military. Hersh (2004) observes that the Abu Ghraib incidents occurred not only because of poor leadership from the direct commanding officer but because of the lack of accountability in the military’s chain of command.
Moreover, the incidents are an indication not only of the failure of the United States Army but also of American ideals and society to instill respect for human rights and human dignity among its members. It is a great shame and a devastating blow for the world’s superpower and the supposed protector of Democracy, to be associated with blatant acts of human rights violations.
It is in this aspect that the world will continue to be haunted by the images of prisoners from Abu Ghraib. For the people will always remember how Private England smiled and gave a thumbs up sign for the camera while other human beings were being treated as animals in the foreground. Indeed, the torture and abuse of Iraqui prisoners are symptoms of the breakdown of humanity; the images of the grinning the soldiers will therefore serve as a haunting reminder of the capacity of humans for boundless inhumanity.
Hersh, Simon R. Torture at Abu Ghraib. 10 May 2004. The New Yorker. 31 March 2008. http:// www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/05/10/040510fa_fact
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