Something insidiously evil is at work in the world today and we’ve got pictures to prove it. The eyes of a nation, once again, turn toward images of suffering and torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Nearly two years after pictures of torture and abuse were made public, we are once again reminded of our capacity to inflict pain on others.
We see the pictures and our insatiable appetite for viewing unimaginable atrocities and brutalities is piqued anew.
Susie Linfield, in an essay after the release of the first abuse pictures, observes what can only be described as an increasing pathology of shame associated with this scandal.
"The casual brutality of American pop culture-embodied in Internet pornography, video games, rap music, movies, and television shows-has created a generation of moral cretins immune to, or perhaps even delighting in, the horrors of real violence."
Has anything changed in the time since the release of the first set of prison abuse pictures?
Has justice been served?
A few people are now in jail and forgotten in the eyes of the media. A few people have been demoted in rank and have returned to obscurity.
Through the lens of a camera, the central narrative of the early part of 21st Century is being recorded for prosperity, and it is not a pretty picture.
Can we not take the time to look at these images and see human beings? Do we not see that in some way we are all victims?
Those who dare to understand the implications of such images are singed with grief.
These images – a naked truth revealing how human beings are strapped, bloodied, humiliated, and stripped of dignity – signify a larger tragedy in the cultural pathology of a society saturated with visual messages. We may look at these pictures and remain unmoved. We may see them but still be blinded by apathy and what can only be called the propaganda of mass distraction.
Does a relentless bombardment of visually mediated messages depicting suffering and deprivation reduce our capacity to feel?
"What's powerful, and infinitely sad, about this bloody floor is the silence. Whatever happened in this room, it almost certainly was accompanied by a cacophony of pain. That's gone now. As is anyone involved with what happened there. The garbage on the floor, the opening of a toilet, suggest human beings reduced to refuse. The anonymity of those who may have suffered is absolute."
Susan Sontag understood the power of pictures of deprivation, humilitation and suffering. In her book "Regarding the Pain of Others", she notes, “In a modern life – a life in which there is a superfluity of things to which we are invited to pay attention – it seems normal to turn away from images that simply make us feel bad."
We must make a study of these images of horror and disgust and carefully place ourselves in the skins of the "other".
We must analyze and evaluate what these images come to signify in a culture that promulgates a value for the sancity of human life and the integrity of self.
We must talk about these pictures with friends over dinner.
We must take these images of suffering into
our hearts and minds so that we may contemplate our capacity for the brutality and hatred we inflict upon each other. This is what pictures can do. Pictures can make us feel, but only if we have the capacity for feeling.