One of the most shocking things about the Abu Ghraib torture photos was not that they were taken, but that they did not sway U.S. public opinion. The shocking images of ruthless dehumanization came out in late April 2004: George W. Bush was reelected a few months later, and it took another couple years before Donald Rumseld was to resign. Despite the fact that torture doesn’t work, elicits wrongful confessions and goes against fundamentally recognized principles of human rights, there’s nothing like it to make Americans feel safer — check out the New Yorker’s recently published article on pro-torture TV juggernaut “24.”
But do Americans really accept torture as a means of fighting the “war on terror”? In a 2004 poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post, 63% said torture is never acceptable; while a 2005 AP/Ipsos poll found 61% agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. And yet In a CNN poll this year, a majority of those polled — 56% — said it was never justified.
At least Americans are a lot more conflicted about torture than Cheney, Rumsfeld, and producer Joel Surnow, et. al. would lead you to believe. And Rory Kennedy’s powerfully straightforward doc “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” which premieres tonight on HBO, should help further that confusion. (And not a moment too soon, as reports continue to show that torture is still a widespread and systematic practice by U.S. officials.)
In my review of the documentary from Sundance, I tried to say how important the movie is relative to written accounts about the the Abu Ghraib scandal:
“The visual experience of the film is an entirely new and vital one. To witness the military personnel and the Iraqi victims testify about their experiences, to once again see the images of torture and humiliation (both in still images and cellphone video) brings the incidents at Abu Ghraib more harrowingly vivid than reading about them could ever convey.
“What’s more effective? Examining a photograph of naked men stacked up in a pyramid with a young female soldier in the background, smiling and giving a thumbs up? Or watching Military Police officer Sabrina Harman, the woman in the photograph, talking about how the photograph came to be? Or seeing a picture of a hooded man chained naked to prison bars, or a flesh-and-blood human describe life at Abu Ghraib: ‘We listened as his soul cracked,’ reads the subtitles of one testimony of torture.”