Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture
Edited By Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel
12 Visions of Punishment: On Susan Crile’s Abu Ghraib Drawings
A decade after their publication, why should we keep looking at the infamous torture images from the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad? One reason to keep looking, analysing and discussing these images is that they may help us grasp central aspects of contemporary American penal culture, insofar as they provide insights into conditions not only for prisoners in American war prisons abroad, but for the more than two million people who are incarcerated in the US as well. The Abu Ghraib prison certainly differed significantly from state and federal prison systems within the US, not least because of an entirely different and complex jurisdiction, and its specificity should therefore not be ignored. Yet, as has been discussed by several commentators and socio-legal scholars in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the torture conveyed in the digital snapshots that became public seemed conditioned by a wider penal discourse developed in concurrence with correctional contexts within the United States.1 Torture is evidently central to these images in terms of what they depict as well as in terms of ← 241 | 242 → their very production and distribution. As journalist Mark Danner has suggested, even the act of taking the pictures served as a kind of torture, in the sense that the snapshots were visual vehicles for a multiplication in time and space of the shame and humiliation involved in the acts of torture themselves.2 But central to the Abu Ghraib photos is, at the same time, a certain non-exceptional, non-covert, and...
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