Abu Ghraib and the Berg Beheading: To look or not to look

I wonder whether those cable anchors really needed to see the Berg footage in order to comment on it. I suspect they were drawn by the same curiosity that had motivated me. Like most people, journos want to see something transgressive, no matter how horrible. Then they edit the awful images so that other people who want to see them are spared. I believe that's called sensitivity.

Susan Sontag holds that photos of death before our eyes numb us to the suffering of others. I get what she means. I can look with considerable aplomb at such extreme images, but not when they move and scream. I suppose even that acuity could erode with repeated exposure, but not as long as the pictures show me something I don't already know.

That's why the beheading footage didn't enrage me. I expect that sort of thing from a ruthless enemy like Al Qaeda. As a gay American Jew, I know exactly what they have in mind for me. But the images from Abu Ghraib revealed something I hadn't wanted to confront. It was the real-world manifestation of the snarl-behind-the-smile that Rummy wears so well. Thanks to those leaked photos, we're closer to understanding why most of the world reads this leer as the look on America's face.

Pictures of the unfathomable force us to see. That's why all the evidence of prisoner torture must be released.

Research assistance: Matthew Phillp

Deconstructions: rgoldstein@villagevoice.com

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