In “Torture as Pornography” (The Guardian, May 7, 2004), Joanna Bourke wrote of the Abu Ghraib photographs documenting prisoner sexual abuse:
This festival of violence is highly pornographic. The victims have been reduced to exhibitionist objects or anonymous “meat”. They either wear hoods, or are beheaded by the camera. The people taking the photographs exult in the genitals of their victims. There is no moral confusion here: the photographers don’t even seem aware that they are recording a war crime. There is no suggestion that they are documenting anything particularly morally skewed. For the person behind the camera, the aesthetic of pornography protects them from blame.
Here are two images to consider alongside Bourke’s statement:
What do you think of Bourke’s claim that “For the person behind the camera, the aesthetic of pornography protects them from blame”?
One thought on “Week 8 Day 2 Discussion Question 3”
I think that Bourke’s claim that “for the person behind the camera, the aesthetic of pornography protects them from blame” is true. In the wake of 9/11, the American military conscience was violently Orientalist. Taking photos of the naked bodies of Iraqi prisoners, whom U.S. soldiers had determined subhuman, was a sadomasochistic and cathartic method of “letting their inner animal out,” something that wartime brutalization permits, as Bourke writes. By stripping down Iraqi soldiers, the object of their torture fantasies, U.S. soldiers and the people who view these photos are engaging in porn. It’s not like these soldiers torture for any utilitarian purpose like information. Rather, they do it to force dis-identification on prisoners, pulling up any anchors that a human could possibly have to themselves and in their world. These photos rarely elicit anything but horror today but twenty years ago or so, I think the aesthetic of pornography, eroticizing the pain of people you think did you wrong, did protect them from blame in some way. They were probably widely celebrated by a lot of military personnel because of how masturbatory photos like these would be for American Orientalists and jingoists. You cannot even see their faces, an endorsement of the sexual abuse that went on before and after, perpetrated by a woman no less, because of how any facial expression or emotive agency the prisoner might produce is obscured.