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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Conclusion: No Photos Please!

The upshot of all of this is that everything would have been just fine as long as there were no pictures.

That there is rape, that there is murder, that there is torture, that there is abuse, that there are actions that are totally abhorrent and appalling is not a problem whatsover, as long as no one records it.

The crime in modern society is not that these things happen, but that they are recorded. The premise is what you don't see won't hurt you, what you can't see can be plausibly denied, what happens elsewhere is somewhere else.

Stuff happens to other people!

And we really don't care what.

The crime is not what has been done to the victims-they are clearly expendable-but offending our eyes, our digestion and our standards of good taste-that clearly is intolerable.

We want to pretend "It's a war for freedom. It's a war for democracy. If only there weren't those damn offensive pictures." "Why can't they remember real torture and real death is okay as long as it happens off screen?"

Part 4: No Photos Please!

More from writer/activist Lucinda Marshall
What perhaps horrifies and discomforts us the most however is the blatant connection between pornography and the violence of war, which is so graphically illustrated on Wilson's site. One of the pictures Thompson saw on Wilson's site which illustrates the point shows,
" a woman whose right leg has been torn off by a land mine, and a medical worker is holding the mangled stump up to the camera. The woman's vagina is visible under the hem of her skirt. The caption for this picture reads: "Nice puss -– bad foot." "
This is certainly not the first time that photos depicting violence during the Iraq conflict have been spun as pornographic entertainment. When the photos of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib first surfaced, several photos depicting the rape and sexual assault of Arabic-looking women by non-Arabic looking soldiers circulated on the internet. They were immediately discounted as fakes that were made for pornographic enjoyment simply because they had been posted to pornography sites. But as Wilson's site illustrates, criminal behavior can indeed be considered entertainment. It is also important to remember that the use of prostitutes has long been considered legitimate R&R for male soldiers and as a recent report obtained from the Democratic staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee indicates, sexual abuse is rampant within the military.
If you've seen a movie in the theaters or on television you know the combination of sex and violence is a popular form of entertainment. Eroticized violence is often an aspect of pornography especially the hard-core variety.
The real crime that Lynndie England committed was not that she posed inappropriately but rather that her participation challenged the assumptions of how women are supposed to behave. The military has always been a culture that uses rape as a weapon of war and one that takes a 'boys will be boys' attitude about sexual assault within it's own ranks. That photos of female soldiers posing with their weapons such as the ones on Wilson's site or those of Pvt. England pointing at a prisoner's genitalia are considered morally reprehensible, while photos of rape and torture are trivialized as entertainment rather than seen as violations of human rights and international law, is hardly surprising. They simply represent the continuum of misogyny that is an implicit part of the ethos of militarism.

Next Post: No Photos Please! the conclusion.

Part 3: No Photos Please!

In a piece written by Lucinda Marshall, artist, activist and founder of the Feminist Peace Network,portions of which are excerpted here, the writer suggests the Bush administration was trying to end the Iraqi prison scandal by successfully trying Lynddie England. Here is what she wrote:
The Bush administration's assertion that Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident, and its attempt to atone for it with England's highly publicized show-trial, was further damaged by the magnanimous gesture of entrepreneur Chris Wilson. Wilson generously offered military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan free access to his porn site in exchange for pictures of the action in the war zone.
It is perhaps fitting that the depravity of war should find it's fullest expression on a site that peddles pornography. The pictures on this site show all manner of mutilated bodies and clear evidence of torture being committed by U.S. troops. It is also clear that many of the soldiers sending in these pictures took great pride in these displays of their handiwork.
The military's response to the site was to simply block soldiers in Iraq from accessing the site on military computers because of concern about photos of nude female soldiers posing with weapons that had been posted to the site. The New York Post broke the news last October. Following that Wilson was overwhelmed with news queries about the pornographic portion of the site. It was only lately that any interest was shown in the photos of abuse and torture.
Officials at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida told George Zornick of The Nation that they would not comment on the pictures, claiming that military firewalls prevented them from viewing the site. A Centcom spokesman did say that, "Centcom recognizes DoD regulations and the Geneva Convention prohibit photographing detainees or mutilating and/or degrading dead bodies," and that, "Centcom has no specific policy on taking pictures of the deceased as long as those pictures do not violate the aforementioned prohibitions."
Obviously, this person hasn't received or read the memo that the US no longer adheres to the Geneva Convention. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that agreement is "quaint".
The military has concluded that while some disciplinary action may be taken, at this point there is insufficient evidence for felony charges since the website's postings are anonymous and because it would be difficult to verify the origins and authenticity of the photos (an inexplicable statement since many of the photos show readily identifiable faces of enlisted personnel). The military's position is quite troubling inasmuch as the posting of these photos on a porn site for entertainment purposes would appear to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate that the remains of persons who die for reasons related to occupation or detention as a result of hostilities shall be respected and treated honorably.

Next Post: No Photos Please, Part 4.

Part 2: No Photos Please!

Military officials said Saturday that they are investigating whether U.S. soldiers have posted grisly pictures of war dead on Christopher Wilson's site.

Viewing or downloading pornography on military computer systems is against regulations and could result in non-judicial charges against any soldiers involved, said Lt. Col. John Robinson, a public-affairs officer at the Pentagon. Robinson says non-judicial charges do not involve courts-martial. Instead, commanding officers can dispense discipline, such as garnishing wages, reducing rank, ordering extra duty or even handing out jail time.

"It's much more serious that individuals would find benefit in exchanging pictures of gore from the field of battle," Robinson said. "It causes concern. . . . We don't want to lose the mind-set of the severity of what's happening there [Iraq]."

Lt. Col Robinson should respectfully remind Commander in Chief, George Bush and his administration of that fact. "...We don't want to lose the mind-set of the severity of what's happening there [Iraq]."

Next Post: No Photos Please-Part 3

No Photos Please!

We can thank Christopher M. Wilson for this latest controversy which also revisits the abuses at Abu Ghraib. No doubt you've read or heard about the former Florida police officer. His story has received coverage from nearly two dozen newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Orlando Sentinel. Wilson's porno web site was offered to American fighting men in Iraq at no charge if they could prove they were actually deployed in the Middle East conflict. As proof of their assigned tour of duty some soldiers allegedly posted explicit pictures of corpses.

On Saturday authorities arrested Wilson of Lakeland, Florida on obscenity charges after investigating his adult Web site, which has gained international attention for allegedly allowing U.S. soldiers to post pictures of war dead on the Internet.

The charges lodged against Wilson are likely to reopen the debate about obscene material on the Internet. The questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution are raised along with whether or not US soldiers actually posted some of the photos on the site. Army officials say they can not confirm if photographs on Wilson's site, some of mutilated corpses, were actually posted by U.S. military personnel. Police investigators obtained a search warrant and removed computers from Wilson's home. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said late Friday that the 300 obscenity-related charges against Wilson -- which include counts of distribution of obscene material, offering to distribute obscene material and possession of obscene material with intent to distribute -- involve sexual content posted on his Web site, and not graphic war-scene images posted by soldiers.

Larry Walters of Altamonte Springs, a First Amendment specialist, who is Wilson's attorney said Wilson was merely operating a site where people could send revealing pictures of wives and girlfriends. "He wanted to do his part to entertain soldiers, so he said if they would send him pictures proving they were in Iraq, he would give them free access to the site," the lawyer said. "They certainly did prove they were in Iraq." Wilson posted a quote on the site which he attributed to Time magazine when it published the first images of wartime casualties in New Guinea during World War II: "Dead men have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them." Wilson separates the "gory" pictures on his site from the casual so that people who don't want to see "that kind of stuff," as he put it, don't have to. Attorney Wison say there is a "reasonable suspicion" his client's arrest is political. "The site existed for a long time. Shortly after he's been catapulted into the limelight, he's in jail."

You may ask the question as does Wilson and his lawyer, Why is he being singled out now? Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, whose agency arrested Wilson and confiscated his computer equipment and tapes says Wilson has come under law-enforcement scrutiny in the past. A recent newspaper story in The Ledger of Lakeland featured Wilson and his Internet site's graphic photos of war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq is what reminded the sherff's department they needed to arrest Wilson for violating Florida and federal porno laws.

"The Supreme Court has said for something to be obscene, it must shock the sensibilities of the community," the sherff said. "I can't imagine a normal person not being shocked" by Wilson's material. Judd said sheriff's investigators who tapped into the site found 20 videos and 80 photos of pornography he termed "horrific."

Wilson' attorney, Walters, is a First Amendment specialist. Walters says the sheriff's office has no business prosecuting material published on web servers overseas. The servers that run the site are in the Netherlands, he said.

"They say community standards are different" in Polk County. "Merely because it is accessible there, they can't apply their standards on what people can see" globally.

Next Post: A Feminist's Take on What is Obscene About This Story.