The Image and the Imagined: On Why We’re not Allowed to see Detainee Abuse

By Aisha Ghani

Abu Ghraib painting by Fernando BoteroBy Aisha Ghani

 

On Monday, November 30th the Supreme Court overturned a Second Circuit Court of Appeals order to release photographs of U.S. soldier abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to a statement by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, disclosing these photographs “would pose a clear and grave risk of inciting violence and riots against American troops and coalition forces.”

The contestation over the release of these photographs began four years ago, when a trials court judge claimed that the Bush administration was evading obligations imposed on it by the Freedom of Information Act in withholding the images. Although earlier this year the Obama administration argued in favor of releasing the photographs in an effort to encourage ‘transparency’, the decision was later reversed. While the Supreme Court has historically challenged the state’s assertions in cases concerning the rights of detainees, this time they sided with the  Obama Administration, permitting the Pentagon to block the release of these photographs and others like them.

Are we to believe that concern for the safety of U.S. soldiers and civilians lies at the heart of this decision, or can we sense a certain disingenuity when we think about how the state endangers both soldiers and civilians everyday by subjecting them to war?  Insincerity, as George Orwell tells us, is “the gap between one’s real and declared aims.”

What is it about the nature of the image in general and, more specifically, about the ‘possible’ content of these images in particular that is creating a palpable gap between the state and judiciary’s real and declared aims?

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Preachers & ‘Terrorists’

Aisha Ghani on Overlooking ‘Overlooking’

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announcing on Friday that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be prosecuted in federal court in New York.

 

Saturday, Nov 14th – Today I learn that conversations in delis are political. All I ordered that morning was a cup of coffee. The guy at the register, perhaps dedicated to the idea of service, gives me that and something I’m still having trouble digesting. He had been talking to customers about Eric Holder’s 9/11 trials announcement.

Addressing me although talking to the customer in front of me, he announces with palpable disdain, “Terrorists don’t deserve a fair trial.” Unable to respond, I hand him cash and receive, once again, surplus. Seventy-five cents and a question directed at me, but not to me,  “What do you guys think?” Sensing that my response would not be the ‘right’ answer, I leave, saying nothing or perhaps everything.

“Terrorists don’t deserve a fair trial.” Six words, delivered with the kind of alacrity that indicates honesty, compel this question: when we are confronted by such a statement, what kinds of things must we negate or ‘overlook,’ in order to enable their coherence? And, importantly, how and why does this overlooking take place?

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