1. Judith Butler, “Torture and the Ethics of Photography,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25 (2007): 966; reprinted in Frames of War: When Life Is Grievable (London: Verso, 2009). [return to text]

2. See especially the images that have been collected by Salon.com, (accessed 31 March 2006)

3. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press, 1974). Goffman writes that when individuals attend to any current situation, they ask the question, “what is it that’s goin on here?” The answer, even if one only glances, is determined by the application of a “primary framework” (38).

4. Claude Lanzmann’s example in Shoah (US, 1985) has tended to be the most positive example of this role as participant observer. Michael Moore in his many documentaries has been more negatively assessed. Either way, cinema verité lends itself to more participatory and self-reflexive forms of documentation. See Bill Nichols, “What Types of Documentaries Are There?” in Introduction to Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001): 115-30.

5. The film does not interview Graner, who is still in prison (he received the longest sentence, ten years). England is bitter that she became the poster girl for the actions she did not herself plan or execute. Both she and Davis are angry that they caught the punishment for actions well in place and “standard operating procedure” by the time they joined in.

6. Gourevitch comments that Graner’s posing of England implicates the U.S. viewer of the photo especially. “A picture of Gus [the nickname of the prisoner] alone, with the leash dropped on the floor, would allow us to feel like witnesses; with England there, we were put in the position of voyeurs” (Gourevitch and Morris, Standard Operating Procedure, 149). With the word voyeur Gourevitch wants to capture the illicit sexuality of the scene created by the injection of England into it. I am not so sure voyeur is the best term, however, since England’s look at the camera is too exhibitionistic, too aware of the camera, a quality that works against the “unauthorized” nature of voyeuristic viewing. I hope, rather, in the following section to suggest that illicit sexuality does not fully explain the effect of these images.

7. Paul Wiseman, “Cluster Bombs Kill in Iraq, Even after Shooting Ends,” USA Today,(accessed 18 December 2003)
On Friday, 30 May 2008, 111 nations adopted a treaty to eliminate stockpiles of cluster arms. The US did not sign this treaty, though other NATO allies did. See “Cluster Bombs, Made in America,” New York Times, 1 June 2008.

8. Hersh, Chain of Command, 38. See also Jasbir K. Puar, “On Torture: Abu Ghraib,” Radical History Review, no. 93 (2005): 17-23.

9. Gourevitch and Morris, Standard Operating Procedure, 187-201.

10. Harman claims to have read the paperwork on the seven detainees and to have determined that this particular prisoner was guilty of this act.

11. Captured in one of these videos is also the night’s only ethical act: Specialist Jeremy Sivitz, standing with his back mostly to the camera, undoes the too-tight plastic cuffs of a prisoner whose hands had turned purple, possibly saving his hands.

12. The question of whether or not these acts simulate gay sex has been discussed by Jasbir Puar, who opens of the question of how the United States can be perceived as imposing homosexuality on otherwise virile Arab bodies. Puar writes that the key quality of the acts performed on the Iraqi male bodies at Abu Ghraib is not so much homosexualization as feminization and that the photos represent “the fortification of the unenforceable boundaries between masculine and feminine… that is the real face of torture.” Puar, “On Torture,” 28. Judith Butler, who is reluctant to see the sexualized humiliation of the detainees as a kind of pornography, does see the coercion of prisoners into acts of sodomy as an equation of homosexuality “with the decimation of personhood.” She calls these acts a “frenzy of the visible. A sadistic frenzy of the visible.” Butler, “Torture and the Ethics of Photography,” 963. I agree that it is unhelpful to equate the photos with pornography, to blame them on pornography, or even, as Butler adds, to blame the practice of eroticized seeing as enacted by the camera. Nevertheless, I believe that Morris’s film, in its close examination of the specific framing of a number of individual pictures, shows us exactly what Butler wants to understand: how the photos did not alarm anyone who took them, or who posed in them, or to whom they were widely circulated in the war-time context—that the photos, as photos, had no  “magical moral agency” (963). A photo could thus be “instrumentalized in radically different directions, depending on how it is discursively framed” (964).

13. Perhaps he thought that the men he placed on the bottom of the pyramid were punished the most because they were portrayed as the most sexually vulnerable; they were in a position that could only be “fucked.” Perhaps he thought the ones on top were, according to the “American (heterosexual male) mind” — which certainly deserves its own pathology — being comparatively rewarded by being placed in the position of active fucker.

14. According to Gourevitch, Graner placed a photo of the pyramid on his screen saver. Long before it reached 60 Minutes, this picture was Graner’s trophy, his ornament.

15. Laughter is often generated, Henri Bergson explains, when we observe “something mechanical encrusted upon something living” — the moment in which a “person gives us the impression of being a thing.” Bergson, Laughter in Wylie Sypher’s Comedy: An Essay on Comedy, George Meredith, Laughter, Henri Bergson (New York: Anchor Books), 97.

16. Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 76.

17. Gertrud Koch in her book on Kracauer points out that the word mass possibly stems from the Hebrew mazza as in matzoh and entered Greek and Latin as the word denoting lumps of dough. For Kracauer the question was the possible redeemability of the lethargic mass that he did not want to relegate to mere inertia. Kracauer gives importance to the surface level of things, not the unconscious meaning but the dream society dreams of itself. The massdream, Koch notes, “in the forms of its ornaments.” Siegfried Kracauer, an Introduction (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 29-30.

18. Kracauer, Mass Ornament, 77.

19. Susan Sontag, “Regarding the Torture of Others,” New York Times Magazine, 23 May 2004, 29.

20. At the San Francisco Film Festival Morris himself said the photos represent a picture of American foreign policy in total.

21. Kracauer, Mass Ornament, 236.

22. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2003), 29.

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