Monday, October 20, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure

...just ripped my guts out.

(Caution: the photo-links in this post are extremely disturbing. Click at your own risk.)

Errol Morris' incredible documentary about Abu Ghraib seared my consciousness. After viewing it, I dreamed about a dead body on ice, which is what soldiers did to one prisoner who died during interrogation. They knew if they took him out of the prison in a body bag, this might result in a riot, or a bombing of the prison (which was already a common occurrence). So, they packed the body in a cell, on ice. The ice melted, and the body began to smell and rot.

In my dream, I could see and smell the dead prisoner. Open the door, let him out, I kept repeating. In my dream, I started plotting a way to open the door and let him out, so that he could run away. It was as if he would come to life, if I could just get that door open.

The subject of my dream had a name. His name was Manadel al-Jamadi. He was beaten to death during interrogation. And they finally opened the cell door, but he remained dead.

They put a fake IV in the corpse's arm, and took the dead prisoner out of the prison. Where to? Soldiers didn't know. In fact, they didn't know who interrogated the prisoner in the first place. These guys would come in, unregistered. "This prisoner isn't here, he doesn't officially exist," they would tell the soldiers. These strange fellas with the unnamed prisoners were entered into the log as OGAs, Other Government Agencies. CIA, et. al. Nobody knew what that was about, and knew better than to ask.

Spc. Sabrina Harmon gives the thumbs-up over the body of al-Jamadi. Photo from

Mark Rothschild of Antiwar. com writes:

Seymour M. Hersh reported in The New Yorker that in November, a prisoner was beaten to death while undergoing interrogation. His body was packed in ice overnight. The next day Army medics placed an IV on one arm, and the body was walked out of the interrogation area on a stretcher.

The man on the stretcher was a "ghost prisoner"; he had no prisoner number. So-called ghost prisoners are not entered into the prison’s inmate tracking system -- they are non-persons whose disappearance or burial is not to be recorded.
We don't know anything about this person. He haunts me, since his blood is on the hands of every citizen of the United States of America, which does include me.


It's a helluva movie. I highly recommend it for everyone, and particularly every American.

It seems very weird, at first, all the photos. What in the hell were they doing, partying? Well, yes, in a sense, they were. We all try to make our work more fun, don't we? They were doing the same.

US soldiers were given various orders regarding certain prisoners, including some who were children, thought to be the offspring of terrorists. Soldiers were instructed to keep prisoners awake, one hour of sleep, one hour awake (for days at a time) and while prisoners were awake, soldiers were ordered to "fuck with them": put women's panties on their heads; rearrange their bodies in what they called "stress positions"; play deafening music to keep them awake (one of the songs blasted over and over was Metallica's "Enter Sandman"--irony, anyone?) and on and on. Eventually, they brought in the dogs. (Yes, the dogs attacked, but the aforementioned Sabrina Harmon was good enough to stitch up the guys' leg, offering another of her trademark thumbs-up grins.)

Although Lynndie England has been cast as the main villainess of the piece (mostly for her appearance in these now-famous photos), for my money, Sabrina Harmon has her beat hands down for sheer sociopathic detachment. England is obviously angry, cynical, misanthropic, feels set-up, etc. and in short, acts just like someone who took the fall for many other people. Sabrina just quietly abdicates responsibility, sounds almost dreamlike and even reflexively smiles while cataloging the horrors. (Why didn't somebody tell her NOT TO SMILE? Or does anyone care about her enough to counsel her about the filmed interview with Morris?) Sabrina Harmon is the one who will give you the nightmares. Her letters to her wife Kelly (the term Sabrina uses in the film, also signing her letters this way), provide much of the film's narration. Sometimes she is upset by what she sees, but often, it's just (yep) standard operating procedure.

She is the one taking many of the most famous photos.


On a feminist note, watching white American women, one lesbian, torture and sexually humiliate non-American men of color... was disorienting. For those radical lesbian-feminists who insist that uniquely-patriarchal oppression automatically and always trumps all others, have a good long look at this movie, and get back to me.

Liberal Second-wave feminists have always demanded that women have a societal role equal to men in all things, without allowing any accompanying radical critiques of said institutions. In the US and many other nations, this meant active participation in the military and domestic police forces, which radical feminism tacitly approved by disdaining any radical analysis of these institutions as "focusing on men." The only sustained feminist-based critiques of the military that endured were by peaceniks like Barbara Deming and non-Americans such as Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp.

And so, we see that feminism did not prevent what we see on the sceen--women stripping men and sexually abusing them FOR A CAMERA. The proof is right in front of us: Women can do it, too.

And I don't want to hear they were "put up to it by guys." Because the guys, in fact, were put up to it by STILL OTHER guys, and that doesn't abdicate them, either, now does it?

I am haunted by the movie, but even more, by these women who come from my class, who could have been in my own family. They come from Kentucky and Virginia. Well, of course they do. They are hard-bitten and unafraid; they have learned to take responsibility for what they have done.

I hope certain radical feminists, the ones who claim sexism is the root of all evil, will observe these women, these photos, and understand that their ideology, alone, is simply not enough.

PS: Don't forget to vote.


Renegade Evolution said...

excellent post daisy, i may have to see this movie...i'm not sleeping anyway.

Natalia said...

Oh Daisy, that was terrific. Will link.

John Powers said...

I love Barbara Deming! Your blog is so important for me to as a way of learning. How could I have not known about Barbara Deming? Well, how isn't such a mystery, but I'm so grateful you've introduced me.

Daisy said...

John, I heartily recommend her book titled We are all part of each other, which unfortunately I think is out of print.

I did find the essay here

JoJo said...

Oh god Daisy, my stomach is churning and I am completely HORRIFIED by this. I knew Abu Ghraib was bad but I had NO idea...

LarryE said...

those radical lesbian-feminists who insist that uniquely-patriarchal oppression trumps all others, have a good long look at this movie, and get back to me

Won't do any good. They'll just say that "tragically, these women are such victims of oppression that they have internalized the values of the oppressors."

LarryE said...

Re Barbara Deming, Powells has some of her books, including my favorite, We Cannot Live Without Our Lives.

The link is

John Powers said...

Thanks Daisy for the link to Donna Marie Eyestone's pages,I'd already found them ;-) Thanks also larrye, I do want to read more.

Daisy I'm pretty squeamish, still I couldn't agree more when you write: "He haunts me, since his blood is on the hands of every citizen of the United States of America, which does include me." That's why the link to Barbara Deming meant so much to me. The question is how make peace when as Demming says: "We need every one of us. We are all part of one another."

Kim said...

Oh good God.
But wonderfully written, Daisy and I agree with you completely.

mikeb302000 said...

Wow, what a post. That's all I can say.

Lisa Harney said...

I'm going to link this shortly.

Sabrina Harmon's freaking me out just from the two photos I've seen. I can't understand a person who'd mug for the camera like that over a corpse. I just can't.

nia said...

Okay, so obviously I'm not excusing in any way the actions of these soldiers, but my partner once served at Abu Ghraib in 2003. She does not excuse their behaviour either, but she does understand how soldiers can be pushed to this.

In some ways, the Army works like a cult. It has to, otherwise many soldiers would never be able to get through the horrible things they see happen every day to their friends, and the horrible things they have to do every day with their own hands.

Immersed every day in a certain institutional mindset, under constant threat of attack, these soldiers get pushed to a place where, were they to look upon themselves from the perspective of their pre-Army selves, they could not recognize who they have become. When the institution that controls who you see, when you eat, where you go, when you shit, has so thoroughly demonized someone or something, it's hard to have the perspective to see around that.

Brainwashing isn't just for science fiction.

Meredith said...

I think this article by Errol Morris has a very interesting analysis of the reactions to Harman's smile: