02/25/2006 12:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading The Pictures: Abu Ghraib In A Box


To confess, I didn't spend a lot of time looking at the original set of Abu Ghraib images. I couldn't really stand it. I have been studying the latest set, though, especially in comparison to the first. Specifically, I've been thinking about the image above which, curiously, is not obviously grotesque ...or obvious at all.

The first thing to understand about the photo is that it elaborates one of the most famous pictures from the initial set. That image showed a prisoner standing, Christ-like, on top of box, hooked up to the electrodes we see hanging from the wall in this background. Although lacking the drama of the more famous picture, what this image does is provide more context to the electrode ritual. For example, the prisoner had to be led into the room; the door needed to be secured (perversely accomplished here with something resembling an American flag); he needed to be hooded and hooked up to the wires, and a box had to be placed to stand on.

The key to why this picture was included with the torturous others is the box.

In considering the Abu Ghraib photos, the main thing to realize is that they are all trophy shots. Every one boastfully depicts or re-stages an act of extreme sadism. When you examine other images taken in the main cell corridor (example 1, example 2), what you discover is that the boxes used for the electrode procedure were routinely visible. Because we know from released prisoners that the electrode procedure was administered regularly, just the sight of these boxes had to be traumatizing.

Given those factors, it had to have been profoundly humiliating for a prisoner -- standing hooded in the "electrode room" -- to have to physically support, handle and pose with this hated perch.

For more of the visual, visit