Sabrina Harman, Abu Ghraib Photographer

In some ways, it feels fun to me to talk about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton because, all inter-party jabbing aside, they are both about hope and both about a better future. It’s fundamentally a question of what flavor of hope suits your particular fancy, and that fancy can be liberal or conservative, as indicated by the recent endorsement of Barack Obama from young Rhode Island conservative Don Roach. (Yay, Don! Yay, Obama!) The bottom line is, it just can’t get much worse than what has happened under the leadership of George W. Bush.

Which brings us to the subject of today’s post: an excruciating but fascinating and important article in this week’s New Yorker called Exposure. The article, a collaboration of Philip Gourevitch and filmmaker Errol Morris, is mainly about the experiences of Sabrina Harman, a soldier in Iraq in 2003 who took pictures at Abu Ghraib.

This is the stuff about our nation and our future that is not so easy for me (or a lot of people) to talk about. It’s about how badly we failed our own standards, and how much we can be corrupted. It’s about how some of our young people went over to Iraq and participated in organized torture.

But there is good news, and part of that good news is Sabrina Harman, who had the guts and the will and the sheer hope about how the world would react to do something very important: document. She took over a hundred pictures of the occurrences at Abu Ghraib, and, despite that she was court-martialled, despite that she is smiling and giving a thumbs-up in some of the pictures taken next to tortured corpses, despite all this, Sabrina Harman is, in my opinion, a commendable American.

From the article:

All that the soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit out of Cresaptown, Maryland, knew about America’s biggest military prison in Iraq, when they arrived there in early October of 2003, was that it was on the front lines. Its official name was Forward Operating Base Abu Ghraib. Never mind that military doctrine and the Geneva Conventions forbid holding prisoners in a combat zone, and require that they be sped to the rear; you had to make the opposite sort of journey to get to Abu Ghraib. You had to travel along some of the deadliest roads in the country, constantly bombed and frequently ambushed, into the Sunni Triangle. The prison squatted on the desert, a wall of sheer concrete traced with barbed wire, picketed by watchtowers. “Like something from a Mad Max movie,� Sergeant Javal Davis, of the 372nd, said. “Just like that—like, medieval.� There were more than two and a half miles of wall with twenty-four towers, enclosing two hundred and eighty acres of prison ground. And inside, Davis said, “it’s nothing but rubble, blown-up buildings, dogs running all over the place, rabid dogs, burnt remains. The stench was unbearable: urine, feces, body rot.� [full text]

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