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Arts and Culture

The Abu Ghraib Photos You Haven’t Seen

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Posted on Apr 22, 2011

By Nick Turse

(Page 2)

And sometimes we’re just left wondering. A large part of the book consists of pictures from one mass-casualty situation. Bloody shots. Gory shots. Shots of medical professionals moving with rapidity. “ ‘Holy shit. Is this really happening?’ So I just snapped pictures,” he writes in the midst of the morbid montage. Picture after picture. Pictures of parts of humans turned into chop meat. Unidentifiable bits of bodies torn open. Why is a nurse taking pictures through all of this? we’re left to wonder. Why, at one point, does Sharbonno even pick up someone else’s camera and start taking pictures with it? Why isn’t he doing something medical? If the emergency room tent is filled to capacity with staff, why is he there potentially getting in the way? And if he isn’t in the way, why isn’t he lending a hand? But then, if we look closely, we notice Sharbonno is apparently in some of the photos. (We can tell by his name tape on the back pocket of his pants.) So he was apparently lending a hand. Then who took these photos? Maybe someday Sharbonno will sort all of this out for us, but in this book he doesn’t. It’s another blank spot, but what we can be sure of is that if he hadn’t documented the mass-casualty event, then it would be one big blank. We’d probably never know what it was like to be inside that tent and see the things Sharbonno saw, so we’re lucky he was playing photographer and not nurse for at least part of the time. We’re luckier still that Haller provided a means to get those pictures into our hands. 

book cover

Riley and His Story

By Riley Sharbonno, Monica Haller

onestar press/Falth & Hassler, 480 pages

Buy the book

In addition to grisly, mundane and inexplicable photos, sometimes there’s a repetitive photo, one that seemingly stands in for missing images. Over and over we see a shot of weapons laid out in precise formation alongside neatly stacked ammunition. Most belonged to Marines killed on an operation not far from Abu Ghraib and their fellow Marines who stood guard over their bodies, while a few weapons were taken from Iraqis who killed those Americans. After we’ve gotten through looking at Iraqi bodies that have been turned inside out —gruesome shots of wounded, dying and dead detainees—we repeatedly see this tasteful photo of weapons that seem to stand in for dead Marines. It wasn’t that Sharbonno didn’t have access and opportunity to take pictures of the dead Marines—he covered their body bags with ice all through the night—but for whatever reason he didn’t. Why not? We can speculate, but in the end we’re left to wonder why their bodies remain out of sight when so many Iraqis’ bodies don’t. These questions lurk throughout the book, and far from being a shortcoming, they are what gives the book its ultimate power. Countless questions about the Iraq War still remain to be asked, let alone answered. Haller and Sharbonno’s book helps to give voice to so many of them.

“These aren’t the photos we’re likely to find in grandma’s photo album 50 years from now. But it would be nice if they could just sit somewhere like that,” Sharbonno writes in the latter part of the book and then repeats it almost verbatim closer to the end. The sentence clicked for me on a lot of levels. In recent years, some Vietnam veterans have gone out to the backyard to burn the photo album or the shoebox of images that they don’t want their kids to find after they die—pictures of mutilated bodies and severed heads and unit members clowning with corpses. The men in these now fading photos look much like the modern-day U.S. soldiers mistreating Afghan corpses in the recently released “Kill Team” images.

Some Vietnam-era snapshots are turning to ash, but that won’t be the case for digital photos sent and shared and copied in ways that were impossible a few decades ago. “Riley and his story” contains very different types of photos than those of the Kill Team or the Abu Ghraib torturers or the more generic war porn that circulates online, but it’s just as integral to understanding “the awful stuff,” as Sharbonno puts it, namely the stuff of war itself. 

Since creating “Riley and his story. Me and my outrage. You and us.,” Monica Haller has gone on to collaborate with many other veterans, survivors, victims and perpetrators of war. The results, many other “objects of deployment,” however, have not yet been published. But one hopes they will be. Soon. And in great quantity. Especially valuable will be projects with noncombatants—the population that knows the most about and suffers the most because of modern war; people who lost friends and family members, people who were physically and psychologically wounded, people who were made homeless and hopeless, people who were made refugees, people who already had hard lives before war arrived on their doorstep. These “objects of deployment” will offer an important means for Americans to begin to understand the true nature of their wars. And we need them now more than ever. 

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By Ronbo, April 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why is it never reported in the US media that these morons stripped and sodomized the boy they killed and proudly displayed? Most of the rest of the world have no problem with reporting this neglected fact. Der Spiegel has 4000 photos many depicting these perverted sexual acts. These photos will eventually appear on the internet anyway. The few photos made available are the tamest among thousands.

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By Clash, April 24, 2011 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

The mad confine the insane, or is it the insane confine the mad. This is the history of the dominant culture for at least 600 years. This same madness infects the politics and social structure of all of the so called industrial societies. It has spread into every facet of the culture, and even reason is not immune.

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By restrep, April 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

truthdig does have an editorial kink. It’s selective; and this is historical.

when the Brits sent the dragoons into war, the officers bought their
commissions and got the glory and the statues. The dragoons were torn
to shreds exactly like Sharbonno’s pictures show us. Literally shredded
meat.

When the doughboys went to Europe to end the war to end all wars, the
generals and the politicians got all the glory, and the statues. The
soldiers were torn to shreds. Meat loaf. Exactly what you see in the
store at $1.48 a pound.

And we have neither caught, nor prosecuted, ONE “terrorist”. Not ONE.

Forget bin Laden!! — a fiction. A total complete lie.

Ground meat, people.
Ground up meat.

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Virginia777's avatar

By Virginia777, April 23, 2011 at 10:08 pm Link to this comment

Whats going on with censorship on this thread? Lol.

Thanks in advance, Truthdig, for your reply.

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By marriea, April 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm Link to this comment

I’m sure many of our military men still don’t know why we were in Iraq. I’m sure that many found themselves in the position of fighting for their lives because they had had to or be killed. I’m sure that many wondered why they had to be the ones killing someone whom they had never met, had not even said hello to even in passing. The women, the kids, everyday folks trying to scrap out a life for themselves, killed at the hands of our soldiers because someone hundreds of miles away said they were our enemy. I’m sure many probably ask themselves, ‘who is our’.
I’ll be willing to bet that many who killed themselves realize they couldn’t live with themselves,the guilt of why we were actually in Iraq was too painful to fathom.
Just to think, we had invaded a country and killed its citizens because they had something we wanted, the oil.
Many joined the military to pay respect and homage to what we stood for. They wanted to join in servicing our great country. But our country was destroying its own. Eating us up worst than the propaganda we have been fed about other countries.
We were supposed to be the good guys. Actually the soldiers were. But our so called leaders…....
I know it’s a conspiracy theory. But could our country needing an excuse to invade a country half way around the world, for its riches, could or would our leader be so cavalier as to be a part of an event that killed many in our own country, on our own turf
....Could it be that that thought ran through the minds of many of our guys in Iraq.
One of these days we might have to look some things squarely in the face and come to terms with who and what we are as Americans. And if we think the pictures taken in Iraq are a nightmare, think what it would be like if we truly find out why we were there.

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By Grady Lee Howard, April 23, 2011 at 7:07 pm Link to this comment

This is not a book: This is evidence: This is in progress; still happening. Still happening in the consciousness of confused witnesses and participants, ongoing in all places of violent conflict.
This is not a documentary, not croppable, panning without edges. This is proof of experiential trauma upon living minds.
Artifacts? Facts? Art? Assemblage. Industry. The profitable business of war with outsized external costs.
Were you a soldier? A nurse? A victim? A reporter? An informant? A viewer?
Can’t talk about it. Want to but I can’t. Can’t pull it together. Can’t go ahead. Can’t let go of the shock. I’m neither here nor there.

(I was especially struck by Fernando Botero’s Abu Graib paintings… another version not being a book. Let’s insist this subject matter be kept open like the death camps. People today have extreme difficulty today determining what is real.)

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By drbhelthi, April 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

Renzo, I share the hopes you presented, and admire your courage
for stating them.

To me it is sad that your blog, a second brief blog afterwards,
and the 3rd, my original response, were published, but later
removed.

Has Truthdig acquired a server virus? Or is Truthdig a relative of “Air America” ?

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By dorndiego, April 23, 2011 at 8:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ahh… but is there an American nightmare?

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