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March 2, 2008

With More Abu Ghraib Images Come More Dimensions


I don’t remember which Senator, upon previewing the larger body of Abu Ghraib photos, insisted they never be released.  Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, however, was not so inclined.  This shots was obtained while serving as an expert witness for one of the AG defendants.  Zimbardo, who is famous for his study revealing cruel behavior by students posing as prison guards, included the new material in a slide show for the TED conference.

Wired has published these additional images.  Several are similar to those that have already circulated, but a few others are new and truly horrific.

Given our thorough familiarity with the hooded and wired figure, I was struck by this new variant, capturing the soldier either clipping or picking his nails, the picture of nonchalance.  What is also troubling, by the way, is what looks like blood stains on his pants, especially in the genital area.

What makes this photo particularly disturbing is how it expands on the singular image in my head of the hooded figure.  That shot was more strictly about sadism.  This photo, with the paunchy preoccupied soldier, suddenly ties in the theme of indifference.  And, on that score, it starts to reference how we all look away.

(Update 8:30 AM:  Credit to BAGreaders for the clarifications.  Given the other images in the series, with all the blood and sexual abuse, I see how I read the “cammo” spot as a stain, especially given its location.  And, the soldier previewing on his point-and-shoot does, in fact, add a new dimension.  In this case, our exposure to this image perversely and unwittingly enlists us in the production (or, should I say “execution?”) of what ultimately became the iconic and indelible symbol of Abu Ghraib, if not, the war itself.  This — in a still frame — is like of a behind-the-scenes, bizarro-Discovery Channel  version of “The Making Of The Abu Ghraib ‘Victim On The Box’.” )

Disturbing New Photos From Abu Ghraib (Wired)

TED 2008: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib (Includes Zimbardo slide show – Wired)

The Most Obscene Pictures Taken At Abu Ghraib (BNN)

(image: Philip Zimbardo via U.S. military)

  • Von Zeppelin

    It is a disturbing image of indifference in the face of cruelty. I think, however, that the “bloodstains” on the soldier’s pants are part of the camouflage pattern of the fabric.

  • jtfromBC

    ~ and it looks like he’s text messaging ?

  • TJB

    While I condemn this event in every way, it seems pretty clear that the soldier has a point and shoot camera in his hands and is wearing camouflage pants. Still a disgusting photo.

  • Sion Touhig

    It very much looks to me that the soldier is checking a picture on the back of a digital compact camera to see what he’s got. It’s a practice photographers call ‘chimping’, except in this case, that would be an insult to our primate cousins.

  • jtfromBC

    it wasn’t Zimbardo who stopped his experiment !
    I was sick to my stomach. When it’s happening to you, it doesn’t feel heroic; it feels real scary. It feels like you are a deviant. (Maslach)
    ‘On that fateful Thursday night a quarter-century ago, Maslach would take actions that made her a heroine in some circles as “the one who stopped the Stanford Prison Experiment.” Even her now-husband, Stanford psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo, referred to the UC-Berkeley psychologist as a hero when he spoke to a group of undergraduates in his introductory psychology class last spring.”

  • Stan B.

    Taxi to the Darkside, a compelling documentary on the current state of American morality, notes that out of more than 100 enemy combatant deaths in U.S. custody, 37 have been officially declared homicides- by the U.S. military itself.

  • different clue

    Wait a minute. If that’s a cammo-spot, how come it is the only cammo-spot on the pants? Shouldn’t cammo pants have all kinds of spots and blotches?

  • lytom

    The war on Iraq started with deliberate lies, but that cannot be used as a justification of such a terrible action.
    The Abu Graib pictures show torture and that word cannot be substituted by other more palatable words! There were attempts to do that with words like indifference, bad apples, weird american sense of fun, sadism, ignorace, abuse,… None of these in addition to the “famous study” can excuse what has occured. The government has conspired and has soiled the entire US reputation in the world.
    What is surprising that the candidates for the next president of the US are not much bothering to pick on this issue. War is the most damaging to the people, economy, to all the aspects of life, yet nothing is said that would give one a hope that things would be different. Just fool them is the motto and support the troops there! seems to work wonders!

  • paulo

    The original abu graib photos (and a subsequent story about the whistleblower taking shit from his hometown) caused me to write my first ever letter to the editor. It was specifically on the question of what have we become – a nation that tortures and abuses the one who calls it out for what it is.
    I don’t know if it is good or bad that then I did not get to see this photo. It is the epitomy of the banality of evil. This single photo puts the lie to the official story of rogue elements. This shows that this sort of horror is just another day at the office. What sort of detritus do you suppose he was cleaning from his nails?
    How can anyone see this and not know that torture then as now was condoned at the highest levels of the command chain?

  • MonsieurGonzo

    What we’ve learned so far is that The biggest difference between, say “Abu Ghraib” or “Gitmo“, and many domestic U.S. prisons is that: in The States, pervasive torture and sexual abuse is carried out by the inmates themselves, with the passive complicity of the prisoners’ keepers; Whereas in these military prisons, prisoners are isolated from one another, and it is we, the supposed law-abiding doing the evil deed. In that regard, fwiw I find America’s outrage over ‘prisoner abuse’, and systemic torture apparent in P.O.W. camps, to be spectacular naiveté.
    . . .the irony is that injustice and lawlessness characterize the iron bars of American justice.

  • gasho

    I think Sion Touhig is right – this guy is looking at digital pictures on his camera.. and what this means to me is that there are at least TWO cameras in the room during this particularly famous torture session. There is no chance in hell that these guys are amateur photographers with nothing better to shoot looking for images to send home to mom. The photographs are almost certainly PART OF the torture – to distribute or threaten to distribute the images in order to belittle the individuals or threaten others with our methods. This is a planned strategy to degrade prisoners of war.
    ILLEGAL. War crimes should be investigated and prosecuted. No excuses.

  • Darofraso


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