Digital photography and the spoils of war

One of the great advantages of digital photography is that no longer do we need to stuff old photos in a plastic bag, store them in a bottom draw, and resolve to put them in albums some time soon.

Another advantage is that we can distribute these photos to family and friends so much more easily via websites and CDs. So, it seems, can the US militia in Iraq.

Having your photograph taken sitting astride a camel or outside a mosque is one thing. A photographic record of your breaches of the Geneva Convention is a different matter altogether. But let’s not kid ourselves here. It is digital photography that is new, not war crimes. In the absence of electronic media, these particular obscenities would likely never have seen the light of day. Like so many similar atrocities that have occurred in war zones all over the world for eons, they would have been covered up and forgotten about.

What is novel about the treatment of the Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib though, is the apparent ‘privatisation’ of the torture process. I am happy to stand corrected, but this is the first time I can recall private contractors being used to interrogate prisoners or war. The Guardian reported last week, US military in torture scandal, that two US companies, CACI International Inc and the Titan Corporation, have been contracted by the US military, and their involvement in the functioning of Abu Ghraib is being touted as one of the reasons for the non-observance of the Geneva Convention. The question is: does outsourcing a ‘business process’ [sic] like this absolve the outsourcer of responsibility?

The pronouncements so far from that standard bearer of Western morality, Donald Rumsfeld, would seem to indicate it does. We have been advised that the culprits (the low ranking soldiers) will be punished. One might also surmise that if the two private contractors have been found wanting in terms of the ‘quality of their service’, they are in danger of not having their contracts renewed. The system itself, it would appear, is not at fault.