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Torture, according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, is "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.


Artistic Projects

100 Cheerleaders

100 Cheerleaders, 2008

Susan Seubert's 100 Cheerleaders (2005) is a series of tinplate photographic prints exploring the iconic image of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Seubert's serial images reference early cinema and print-based animation technologies such as flip books. The images are constructed using toys and fabric, simple materials that act as metaphors for the banality of violence.

According to Froelick Gallery:

The title, “100 Cheerleaders”, is an ironic reference to the defense in the trial of Charles A. Graner, the convicted Abu Ghraib prison ringleader. Graner’s attorney, Mr. Guy Womack, claimed that, “Using naked and hooded detainees to make a human pyramid was much like what cheerleaders all over America do at football games…and putting naked prisoners on leashes was much like what parents do with their toddler.” Mr. Womack is also quoted in The Seattle Times as saying “in Texas we’d lasso them and drag them out of there.” These photographs of the torture victims from Abu Ghraib illustrate many contradictory elements of the War: how the reports have all been very careful to note that the people in the prison were detainees, not prisoners or prisoners of war; how torture, in times of war, becomes easily justifiable for those who engage in it; how, in the absence of finding weapons of mass destruction, the purpose of the War shifted to the rhetoric of the United States as furthering peace and liberation; how responsibility to the Geneva conventions were neatly sidestepped, despite their clear guidelines that expressly prohibit such tactics; and, finally, how, as Mr. Graner was quoted as saying, “The Christian in me knows it was wrong, but the corrections officer in me couldn’t resist making a man [urinate on] himself.” The installation of “100 Cheerleaders” is intended to provide a place and point to contemplate these contradictions and to be faced with the uneasiness of a confrontation by a person who cannot see the viewer, but holds the viewer accountable nonetheless.

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Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib, 2005

Fernando Botero's (2005) Abu Ghraib is a series of over 80 paintings and drawings which depict stylized renditions of the prisoner abuse by American guards at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. After reading news reports of American abuses at the Iraq prison, Botero was compelled to create this series of paintings which he has described as an attempt to create a modern day Guernica.

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Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project

Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project, 2008

Daniel Heyman's Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project is an exhibition that brought the stories of 17 victims of torture to light. Heyman was invited to accompany the special prosecutor for a legal team to Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. The lawyers were initiating a class-action suit on behalf of a group of Abu Ghraib victims who had been released without charges.

Heyman listened, through an interpreter, while the people gave their testimonies. He drew their portraits first on paper and then on copper plates with a stylus, inscribing parts of their stories directly on the plates in reverse lettering. The words weave around the faces as if the individuals are bursting through the text and confronting us directly. When Heyman ran out of copper plates, he made watercolor portraits on paper, hand lettering the testimonies like graffiti on a prison wall.

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America the Gift Shop

Aerosol America the Gift Shop, 2008

Phillip Toledano's America the Gift Shop is an online exhibit that takes on the subjects of torture, special rendition and government secrecy. The pseudo-gift shop offers George W Bush-era memorabilia for sale as a critique of American foreign policy in a post-911 world. Items include a bouncy Gitmo holding cell, an Abu Ghraib bobble-head doll and a Dick Cheney snow globe complete with shredded document confetti.

According to Phillip Toledano:

America the Gift Shop is an insallation project that reflects the current foreign policy in the fun-house mirror of American commerce. My palette is the vernacular of retail. The more familiar it is, the better host it becomes for the ida. Once the sugar coating of the ordinary dissolves, we are left with the hard and uncomfortable truth about where we've been as a nation. We buy souvenirs at the end of a trip, to remind ourselves of the experience. What do we have to remind us of the events of the last eight years?

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The Captives

Jimmy Baker's The Captives examines the relationship between war and technology.


Guantanamera, 2007

Alonso Gil and Francis Gomila’s 2007 Guantanamera literally gives voice to the sounds of torture and hypocrisy resonating from the war of terror. A multimedia sound installation that reflects on the use of music as a torture instrument, Guantamamera challenges the war of terror’s technologies of forgetting by establishing audioconceptual sites of remembrance and reflection.

Located inside one of the air vents of Madrid’s busy subway system, Guantanamera utilized a high-amplification sound system to blast multiple versions of “La guantanamera,” a popular Cuban folk song, out onto the street. Serving as a direct reference to the infamous US military base and detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamera encourages reflection on the American use of pop, rap, and heavy metal music as a mode of sleep deprivation and interrogation of detainees.

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Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture, and Disappearances in the War on Terror

Outlawed, 2008

Witness' Outlawed is a documentary film (27:00) about people who have survived extraordinary rendition and torture in America's War on Terror. Witness is a human rights/video organization founded by Peter Gabriel. The film was created in partnership with more than a dozen other human rights groups including the ACLU.

According to Witness.org:

Human rights groups and several public inquiries in Europe have found the U.S. government, with the complicity of numerous governments worldwide, to be engaged in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture. The U.S. government-sponsored program of renditions is an unlawful practice in which numerous persons have been illegally detained and secretly flown to third countries, where they have suffered additional human rights abuses including torture and enforced disappearance. No one knows the exact number of persons affected, due to the secrecy under which the operations are carried out. Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the 'War on Terror' corroborates these findings through the harrowing stories of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, two men who have suffered as a result of the U.S. government's disregard of the international legal instruments dealing with respect for fundamental rights. The film features commentary from Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Scheuer, the chief architect of the rendition program and former head of the Osama Bin Laden unit at the CIA, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. President George W. Bush.

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State of the Union

Hans Hacke's State of the Union is a reflection on the aftermath of Sept. 11 which focuses on the country’s wounds, the U.S. government’s actions, and a conflicted and divided nation.

Terminal Air

Terminal Air, 2007

Trevor Paglen and the Institute for Applied Autonomy's Terminal Air (2007) is a faux travel agency inspired by the CIA's secret extraordinary rendition flights that are used to transport suspected terrorists out of the United States for interrogation (and torture) in foreign countries.

According to the Institute for Applied Autonomy:

Terminal Air is a project that explores complex interconnections between government agencies and private contractors involved with the United States Central Intelligence Agency's extraordinary rendition program. Since the mid-90’s, the CIA has operated the extraordinary rendition program, in which suspected terrorists captured in Western nations are transported to secret locations for torture and interrogation. A thoroughly modern enterprise, the extraordinary rendition program is largely carried out using leased equipment and private contractors. These private charter planes often use civilian airports for refueling, making their movements subject to public record and visible to anyone who knows which tail numbers to look for. However, while these missions are carried out under the guise of protecting the American people, the nature of the program has thus far remained out of reach to both American and International law. With only the knowledge of what these planes have been used for in the past, human rights activists are left to view their movements as a vast “black box” and can only speculate whether any specific plane is currently carrying human cargo en-route to being tortured in a so-called CIA “dark prison”.

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Clinton Fein's Torture is a series of staged and digitally manipulated photographic images recreate the infamous torture scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, transforming the diffuse, muted and low-resolution images into large-scale, vivid, powerful and frightening reproductions.

Weisse Folter (White Torture)

Gregor Schneider's Weisse Folter (White Torture) examines "white" or "clean" torture that aims to destroy a person's psyche without leaving any demonstrable traces. Going off images from the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Gregor Schnieder created interrogation-room and cell-like spaces and inserted them into existing museum architecture.

Key Terms and Concepts

  • Black Site

A Black Site is a location at which a black project is conducted. Recently the term has gained notoriety in describing secret prisons operated by the CIA, generally outside of the mainland U.S. territory and legal jurisdiction, and with little or no political or public oversight.

  • Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary Rendition is term used to describe the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another, particularly with regard to the alleged transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to torture prisoners or to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture.

  • Waterboarding

Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on their back with the head inclined downward and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passage.

  • White Torture

White torture is a type of psychological torture that includes extreme sensory deprivation and isolation. Carrying out this type of torture makes the detainee lose personal identity and decrease human production through long terms of isolation.

See Also

External Links

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