Week 8 Day 2 Discussion Question 2

Consider the following, highly disturbing photographs documenting U.S. soldiers’ sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2003-04:

PFC Lynndie England and Specialist Charles Graner give thumbs up as they stand behind a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners. Photo released 2004.

PFC Lynndie England holds leash of naked Iraqi prisoner.


Now consider Mary Ann Tetreault’s commentary on the Abu Ghraib photographs, as exemplified by the following passages:

I would call these photographs pornographic, if we define pornography as a record of the violation of a subject’s physical and psychic integrity. However, many Abu Ghraib images also are pornographic in the conventional sense. Their subjects are naked and lewdly posed, some with clothed American women playing dominatrix roles. These photos . . . are like stills from snuff films, statements of the utter worthlessness of the prisoners and the life-and-death power over them exercised by their captors. And, like conventional pornography, these images convey complex messages about the persons who produced them. (Tetreault, 34)

Sexuality, coded according to complex cultural norms of feminine subjection to masculine power, infuses the language and acts of members of dominant groups against those they seek to subjugate. The pornography of Abu Ghraib constitutes a field report on the production and reproduction of US global dominance. (Tetreault, 34-35)

While a woman, PFC Lynndie England, performs the role of dominatrix in one of the photographs, Tetreault maintains that the images reflect “feminine subjection to masculine power.”  Do you agree?  What is your reaction to the photographs as they relate to the use of sexual violence as a nation-building tool?

2 thoughts on “Week 8 Day 2 Discussion Question 2

  • April 6, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    Similarly to Catie, I agree with Tetreault’s opinion that the images reflect “feminine subjection to masculine power.” The hierarchy of men putting their subjects into such positions to be photographed shows that masculine power still reigns over anything else. Tetreault also writes that “Both the Abu Ghraib photographs and narratives and the orientalist high and popular art of the nineteenth century are examples of ‘the politics of the gaze’. To be ‘looked at’ in this way is to be put in a feminine position as an object of the masculine gaze” (38). This sort of humiliation as a nation-building tool has been going on for many years and is rooted in American history. My reaction to the photographs as they relate to the use of sexual violence as a way to unite our nation is one of shock and disgust; publicly humiliating prisoners in this manner does not have anything to do with “justice”, etc. It is purely about power and control.

  • April 6, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with Tetreault’s claim that the collection of photographs communicates a clear hierarchy of power. The photo in which a woman leans over a pile of naked prisoners while Charles Graner stands over them all is especially telling. As asserted by Tetreault on page 38, “the ethnic/gender hierarchy could not be clearer” in this picture. Additionally, after looking at the rest of the photos, I think that these power structures are being communicated even when Graner is not pictured; his presence behind the camera is palpable. The photos are representative of the male gaze. Although the pair are equally culpable, one does get the sense that Graner has orchestrated the photoshoot, directing his female colleague into various poses. While England asserts power over the prisoners in front of the camera, Graner asserts power over all of them from behind it.

Leave a Reply

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.