17 August 2008

Torture and a photograph

Lest we forget, in the fall of 2003, prisoners were systematically tortured at Abu Ghraib. In the summer of 2004, a certain photo acquired worldwide infamy as the symbol of those ugly goings-on.

The photo I have in mind showed a man standing on a cardboard box, wearing a hood. Wires were attached to his outstretched arms.

In the late winter days of 2006, a dispute broke out in certain circles over the question: who was that man? That dispute is in some respects an evasion: torture is torture, whatever the name of its victim.

Still, there is a natural impulse to want to give a specific name and history to the victims of such an event. And a fellow named Ali Shalal Qaissi stepped into the breach, going on speaking tours on the basis of his claim to be that man. The New York Times did a profile on him that ran March 11, 2006, taking that claim at face value.

The politics/commentary site Salon did an expose three days later here indicating that the real man in that photo was Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, known to the American GIs at the prison by the rather jocular nickname "Gilligan."

So: what happened to Mr. Faleh? He was released from custody in January 2004. He seems to have remained silent about his experiences (surely an understandable choice!), and that silence created the vacuum into which Mr. Qaissi stepped.

All of this is too old to be journalism now, and too new to be history yet. I bring it up here simply to add a brick to the bridge between the former and the latter,in hopes that the incident of the wrong-man-on-box shall make the passage safely.

It has its own philosophical lessons, about perception, the need for ocular evidence, etc.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.