Art and the Limits of ‘Awareness’ Politics, M. Neelika Jayawardane, δημοσίευση Artreview Magazine [11/11/2022]Marilena Pateraki
Reflections on Guantánamo, this year’s Berlin Biennale controversy, and the artworld’s tendency for shallow political consciousness
Although the US public has long grown weary of the violent aftermath of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the repercussions of its invasions continue to be felt by the people of those landscapes. Recently, 75-year-old Saifullah Paracha – the oldest prisoner at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp (GTMO) – was released and returned to his home in Pakistan. He had been imprisoned there since 2003 on suspicion of connections to al-Qaida. Like the majority of the roughly 780 men who were held indefinitely at GTMO, he was never formally charged with a crime. Most who were detained at GTMO have now been released; each have been quietly ‘disappeared’ into the countries in which they were born or into a US-allied state. Dedicated journalists, organisations like Amnesty, and a small phalanx of pro bono lawyers were all that kept them from near-total erasure.
Throughout the so-called Global War on Terror, the US and its allies worked hard to make their crimes invisible. But then, in April 2004, CBS News broadcast an image leak revealing footage of US troops abusing detainees held in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. In June 2003, long before these reports shocked a global public, Amnesty International had raised the alarm about widespread allegations of prisoner abuse – the year the United States invaded Iraq and took over Abu Ghraib prison. That year, the American Civil Liberties Union had filed a freedom-of-information request for records relating to the abuse and torture of prisoners in US detention centres overseas. In February 2016, after over a decade of legal battles and stonewalling, the US Department of Defense released 198 photos, each ‘relating to prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan’.
The released caches of low-resolution photographs plainly showed dead bodies of Iraqi prisoners lying on the concrete floors, some with flesh wounds, gunshot marks and blood seeping out. Others showed prisoners being tortured by US troops, who grinned and posed for the camera. Many prisoners were partially or completely naked; hands bound behind their backs with plastic ties; blindfolded with black hoods placed over their heads; filthy, with noticeable bruises and what looked like faeces smeared over their bodies, faces and hair. In many photographs, snarling dogs strained at their leashes, inches from cringing prisoners.
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