Creative cruelty and responsibility: Photos from Iraq

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Sun May 02 2004 - 17:24:21 PDT

Dear David, Victor, Judy, and everybody-


To tell the truth, I did not expect that our discussion about people who
creatively add misery to others will become so practical so quickly...
(thanks David for your posting!)


I want to support Judy's keen observations and reasoning. I think that there
has been "pragmatics" of creative cruelty and humiliation that is evident in
the photos. This cruelty and humiliation of Iraqi POWs can help to get
intelligence information from them, break their will, terrorize other
prisoners and those resistance fighters who are still at large, develop
"discipline" and "order" in the prison (cf. Foucault), and so on. It also
serves the purpose of providing ways for "reducing" sexual tensions in young
US soldiers (including in female soldiers as we now know), entertain
themselves in the context of monotonous as well as very stressful routines,
and build a certain solidarity (please, notice that the photos are addressed
to a sympathetic audience). Judy is right that the photos communicate a
sense of (erotic) pleasure that the US soldiers are getting from humiliation
and torture. There is also humiliation of "maleness" of Iraqi soldiers by
putting them in gay sexual positions (and thus employing homophobia sense in
the expected audience of the photos) especially when the humiliation is done
by a US female soldier. The Iraqi POWs are reduced to alive, but headless,
sex toys. I forced myself to watch photos of lynching black victims by
Whites ( and Nazi's
photos of executions of Jews
( -
I did not see so much perpetrators' having fun as I see in the photos of the
US soldiers. Photos of torture of Iraqi POWs by British soldiers (although
the authenticity of these particular photos is challenged right now by
British military) "fit" more traditional photos that are done by other
perpetrators in past
l) then the photos done by the US soldiers
( .


I think that military creates "grey" area of objectifying, torture, and
humiliation that slowly erodes a sense of humanity and morality in the
coalision soldiers with regard to the enemy side. I suspect that the US
military routinely uses dehumanizing language to refer to Iraqi soldiers,
resistance fighters, and, probably, to whole Iraqi population (you can watch
the movie "Black hawk down" to see how US soldiers refer to Somali
population). I also suspect that US military routinely and "legitimately"
uses hoods to cover face of prisoners (although I do not know that for sure
- does anybody know?). Covering faces (especially eyes and mouth) not only
terrorizes victims who do not know what is going on around them but also
transforms people into faceless, responseless objects (animals) for the
guards. It transforms hooded prisoners into animated bodies that can be
easily exploited and sexualized (as it was done by the US soldiers on the
photos). Bush administration use of fundamentalist language demonizing the
Iraqi resistance facilitates transformation of the "grey" area of
"legitimate" treatment of POWs into a pure dark area of torture and


I expect that these 6 soldiers are pretty much surprised to be charged
because they may not see much difference between what they did and what the
military institution does routinely and "legitimately" (but maybe for a
different purpose). Bush in his speech two days ago rushes to individualize
the responsibility for torture and humiliation to a specific very few
perpetrators that have to be ostracized from US military and from "US
people." However, Amnesty International reports about systematic abuse of
Iraqi (and Afghani) prisoners by the coalision forces
6-4fdf-b7e0-e726c302e894) despite the claim of an American general:


General Myers gave slightly differing answers, however, on whether such
mistreatment might have been systemic, possibly encouraged by military or
intelligence officials demanding that prisoners be emotionally broken
quickly to provide needed information.

In one television appearance, General Myers said that "there is no evidence
of systematic abuse" of prisoners being held by coalition forces.

But in another interview, when asked how he could be certain that prisoner
abuses were not more widespread, General Myers replied: "I'm not sure of


It appears that the coalision forces institutionally create a culture and
practices that promote torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners and
socializes coalision soldiers into torture and humiliation through setting
pragmatic goals (e.g., getting sensitive info from prisoners), using
physical tools (e.g., hoods), and semiotic means (e.g., objectifying labels
and fundamentalist propaganda). An issue that I have is whether the
coalision military institutions become more and more inhumane in response to
the worsened occupation situation (especially in Iraq) or it has been that
bad from the beginning. Although I do not have much evidence, I think that
the both possibilities are at work: they were bad but getting even worse. I
think there would have been a separate institution which only goal has to be
monitoring human rights of the enemy (similar to Amnesty International but
with the official right to punish and investigate the military). There must
be another layer of separation of power. Military has too many conflicts of
their interests - this creates "grey areas" for potential/actual abuse.


Back to the issue of personal responsibility, I think that each case must be
investigated in a full and broad scale. By the "broad scale," I mean
investigation of the entire military institution and broader political
climate that might produce the abuse and crime. Perpetrators and
facilitators (e.g., Bush?) have to be punished and condemned.


What do you think?





> -----Original Message-----

> From: Judy Diamondstone []

> Sent: Sunday, May 02, 2004 5:19 PM

> To:

> Subject: RE: Does no one read [between] Vygotsky's words?


> Victor, I think your explanation is rational, which may be its fault;

> also missing a significant piece of the story reported in the media, which

> is that U.S. intelligence officers were in charge of the prison and they

> instructed (or just 'encouraged'?) the soldiers to "soften up" the

> waiting for interrogation. In other words, those in power encouraged the

> of (that) power in the service of psychological and physical abuse. The

> soldiers were reprieved from any moral responsibility; moreover, someone

> evidently understood sexual mores for Arabic males -- and targeted their

> genitalia. The eroticism associated with this sort of humiliation can't be

> overlooked, even if it evokes extreme disgust from our (more rational)

> perspective. The soldiers were having fun -- joissance. Isn't this

> different from the banality of evil? (just doing our job) and not merely

> exercise of revenge.


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