Abu Ghraib Reading

2023 UPDATE: when I read my old posts from this period I’m surprised and sometimes apalled at how apparently forgiving I was of the solecisms and straightforward lies of those who supported the various hideous adventures of the Americans and their ‘coalition of the willing’ in the middle east and Afghanistan (and elsewhere). Of both the hardcore, unreconstructed neo-cons and the ‘liberal intervention’ merchants who found their leader in Tony Blair. What’s changed? Did it just need enough distance to see how these actions fitted into the whole story of European colonialism and theft? Or did I actually learn something in the meantime?

The Sontag article has gone from the Guardian web site but I think this is the same essay. The other links still work, which is encouraging, after 19 years. 2004 post follows:

A photograph from the collection of pictures taken in the Abu Ghraib prison during the American iinvastion of Iraq - the photo shows the hand of a torture victim with a label to provide scale
One of the Abu Ghraib photographs

Susan Sontag on the Abu Ghraib torture pictures: “The torture of prisoners is not an aberration. It is a direct consequence of the with-us-or-against-us ideology of world struggle with which the Bush administration has sought to change, change radically, the international stance of the United States and to recast many domestic institutions and prerogatives.” Mark Danner on reports from the Red Cross and the American military: “dispatches from the scene of a political disaster“. The man who built Abu Ghraib (and was subsequently gaoled there) thinks it shouldn’t be demolished. Update: I missed David Aaronovitch’s reply to Sontag’s piece (thanks to Stephen Newton).

A quiet city

Ticket for the 19 March 2003 performance of Tosca at the English National Opera in London

2023 UPDATE: I’d forgotten that the invasion of Iraq, which, when it began, had been so well-telegraphed, filled us all with such dread. I mean we all knew the exact day and time it would happen, weeks in advance. And London – other cities too – was in a state of alert (maybe not so weird, we were all still basically hysterical about 9/11). The bleak irony of the fact that we Londoners were all freaking out about the risk to our own lives as the invasion that produced almost two decades of chaos and suffering in Iraq was about to begin is, well, bleak. Anyway, what did I do that night? The night the coalition forces were gathering at the Iraqi border and getting ready to deliver what we would learn was called ‘shock and awe’ on the people of that other city? I went to the fucking opera. Original post follows:

Yesterday was my 40th birthday. Juliet and I went to the Coliseum to sob through the ENO‘s Tosca (a City in turmoil, gripped by fear – torture, love, war and betrayal). We stayed at a hotel practically next door in St Martin’s Lane. The hotel was half empty and there were plenty of empty seats at the Opera (Americans staying at home, apparently).

Our cab driver this morning made a cheeky u-turn by Trafalgar Square and jumpy, armed police practically arrested him (British police don’t usually carry guns). The streets of the West End are Sunday Morning quiet (and it’s not just the congestion charging).

No panic, no bulk buying, no drama at all really – just the barely tangible signs of a City’s building anxiety. It’s this kind of tiny shift in mood that slows an economy, trips up a recovery. Watching the rolling news in our hotel room, the empty streets of Baghdad echo and amplify London’s barely noticable slow-down.

(here’s an excellent Ten things you never knew about Tosca from the University of Chicago Press, by the way).