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Forter, G. (2006). Abu Ghraib, the Torture Memos, and the Psychosocial Dynamics of Torture: A Dossier. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 3(2):168-176.

(2006). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 3(2):168-176

Abu Ghraib, the Torture Memos, and the Psychosocial Dynamics of Torture: A Dossier

Greg Forter

What follows is a series of images and texts that served as the basis for discussion at one of the symposium's “open sessions” — sessions with no formal papers, whose aim was to enable relatively unstructured yet focused and sustained conversation about some aspect of the war. This particular session focused on the tortures at Abu Ghraib prison. As its facilitator, I juxtaposed some of the digital photographs of humiliated and violated Iraqi prisoners with excerpts from related texts and documents. Many of the latter were written or read by members of the Bush administration, and they thus contributed crucially to the discursive climate that made the tortures both possible and (for the administration) justifiable. Other texts included a passage from Philip Caputo's (1996) memoir of Vietnam, Rumor of War, and, in a section of the session on critiques of Abu Ghraib, a piece of political satire by Rod Corddry (2004) of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - the comedy program that offered some of the most consistently incisive criticisms of the war.

The session elicited especially intense affective responses from participants and the “audience” (the distinction was particularly porous in open sessions). These reactions emerged, first, in response to an initial viewing of the images. Some described their response to this viewing as a “dissociation” that suggested how much the photos continue to have the power to traumatize their viewers. Others spoke of intense anxiety, of a nameless dread that seemed to result from their empathic identification with the victims. Still others expressed anger, guilt, and shame at belonging to a nation that could do such things “in our name.”

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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