Surfing the Spectacle

Behold the Man

Who holds the leash?

Who holds the leash that holds the head of the man?

Who holds the leash that drags the naked, beaten man?


Lynndie England. Lynndie England holds the leash. The news has told us that.

But there is another question, one that no one bothered to ask:

Who is the man on the leash?


This is the man on the leash.

He was beaten, drenched in urine, sodomized with a broom,
and dragged along the ground on a leash.

He is an Iraqi, he is innocent of all crimes, and now he is something else. He is a witness. In 2005 in an Istanbul hotel room, he told his story.

An American artist was also in that room. He captured the man’s likeness and the stream of his words, much as he had with other ill-fated souls of Abu Ghraib.


The artist’s name is Daniel Heyman. His involvement here began with the most infamous photograph from that Baghdad prison: the hooded prisoner.

That stark image became a global symbol of the abuse
committed by Americans in Abu Ghraib.

Heyman used the figure himself in silkscreens and etchings to comment on torture. But eventually he found the anonymity of the image troubling. It seemed to continue the process that the torturer had started – to strip the victim of his humanity,
to annihilate his self-dignity.

He wondered: Who are these people?


Heyman soon found out. He met an attorney involved in a reparations lawsuit on behalf of detainees held unjustly in the notorious Baghdad prison.

It turns out that many of the inmates tortured in Abu Ghraib
were eventually released without any criminal charges.

They were utterly innocent and they were tortured.
They returned to their homes broken, ravaged, devastated.

These inmates were later located and brought to Jordan and Turkey for interviews. There they told their stories for the first time. Heyman was invited to sit in and document the process, which he did in drypoint etchings and watercolors.

The result is his Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project.

Each story is a catastrophe. They began with events of confusion and tragedy. Houses stormed. People beaten. Explosions. Bewilderment. A man taken away moments after holding his dead children in his arms.

The former inmates chronicle their abuse in Abu Ghraib. These taxi-drivers and dentists and teachers and candy shop owners were rarely told why they were captured. When they asked, they always received the same answer:

Brutality. Deprivation. Rape.

And shame. The father forced to dig a grave for his son. The brother forced
to beat brother. All this amid the daily degradation of shit, piss, sexual
humiliation and religious mockery.

These events left them traumatized long after they were released.

Personal accounts of torture in Abu Ghraib rarely surface in the mass media.
Reports that do emerge seem distant, impersonal.

So it is startling to see the victim’s tale offered in his own words, and rendered visually by the expressive hand of a single artist intently observing.

There is an intimacy here that cameras and other mechanical devices cannot
capture. A story passed from person to person.

A story passed to us. If we might consider that Lynndie England
did not hold the leash alone, that we are complicit in the crimes
done in our name, then Heyman’s Abu Ghraib project suggests we can
also be involved in repair, in the transmission of new truths.

Many stories need telling.

[Several places on the Web provide more images from this project, including extended accounts of these prisoners’ tales, as well as descriptions of Daniel Heyman’s techniques and mediums. Check out Heyman’s website here which provides links to articles, reviews and his own journals. Good articles can be found here and here with an audio piece here.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *