Andrew is understandably upset that many of the Abu Ghraib photos are still unreleased. When the pictures first came to light, Bush and Rumsfeld fought their release, supposedly out of the fear that they would hurt America’s image abroad. Even though the administration fought the release of the photographs for political reasons, there were good arguments for only releasing a broad, representative sample of the images as selected by the courts and press. Releasing all of the Abu Ghraib pictures would make available a numbing flood of sadistic images, with the same inhuman acts, the same cruel poses, staged over and over. Making more of these available would bring nothing new to light. There were also photos whose release would serve no public purpose — like the pictures of Abu Ghraib torturers Lynndie England and James Charles Graner engaged in sex acts. So while I’m very sympathetic to Andrew’s frustration about the fact that many of these pictures are still witheld from public view, I’m more reassured by the fact that they have been reviewed by the courts and the press and that a representative sample has been released.
That said, it is essential that we realize that the few photos we do have barely begin to express how common torture was at Abu Ghraib. Even if the current photos allow us to understand the nature of the acts committed, we have yet to encounter the deadening reality of their frequency. For the men and women at Abu Ghraib, violence was cheap and cavalier. Trying to understand this presents us with the same mental problem we encounter in trying to comprehend what it would mean to actually be waterboarded 183 times, or, for that matter, to waterboard someone 183 times. While I don’t think it would be helpful to release all of the Abu Ghraib photos, in discussing these crimes we need to realize how frequent and commonplace the violence was.