Abu Ghraib

New & Noteworthy

Carolina Chocolate Drops front woman Rhiannon Giddens’ new album Tomorrow Is My Turn is sometimes folk, sometimes gospel, and occasionally haunting. But whether Giddens is singing of the beauty of black skin, the presence of God, or the love of a partner, she sounds like pure talent and soaring power. Nonesuch
In settings from Abu Ghraib prison to a Quaker meeting to memory, where his father says “My son, you are Arab, be proud of it,” Philip Metres’ newest poetry collection, Sand Opera, expresses elegant sorrow and rage at torture, war, the military-industrial complex, and bigotry. Alice James Books
Tricked, Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson’s 2013 documentary about the U.S. sex industry is now available on DVD. It shows us exploitive pimps, the cops who battle them, impenitent johns, and prostituted women and girls who are younger, more vulnerable, and more abused than we might imagine. First Run Features
In Tailings: A Memoir, Kaethe Schwehn skillfully describes life in intentional Christian community by narrating her year at Holden Village, a remote Lutheran retreat center. This is a sincere, at times irreverent, chronicle of one woman’s time in between places, careers, relationships, and faith ideologies. Cascade Books

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VIDEO: A Soldier of Conscience

As Mary Margaret Alvarado writes in The Beginning of the End of War in the January 2014 issue of Sojourners, Joshua Casteel was deployed to Iraq in 2004 to serve as an interrogator in Abu Grahib. While there, Joshua came to the strong understanding that his role as a soldier did not align with his beliefs as a Christian. Before dying of lung cancer in 2011, Joshua wrote and spoke out as a conscientious objector.

“Soldiers of Conscience,” a 2007 documentary, follows eight Iraq War soldiers as they face the moral decision to kill an enemy combatant. In this clip, Joshua describes his “crystallization of consciousness,” or the moment he realized the call to peacemaking requires one to truly love one’s enemies.

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The Beginning of the End of War

LATELY I’VE been reading my dead friend’s files. That’s how I know that he often typed in Cambria. That’s how I know that he drafted beginning-to-end, reworking early paragraphs before he set down the next—which is why so much of his writing just stops. That’s how I know that as a child he held press conferences in a White House made of cardboard boxes, wearing a clip-on tie, and that the night before he began school at West Point (a school he’d soon leave), he and his father smoked cigars on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, though his father did not like cigars. That’s how I know how much he thought about pain, which to Heidegger is “the rift,” a “separating that gathers,” and to Wittgenstein is “a having, not a knowing,” and to Elaine Scarry is an “objectless experience” that “destroys language.”

This thinking was for classes at the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago, and this thinking was for other people, namely prisoners and fellow soldiers in the War on Terror, which was also the Global War on Terrorism, and was the Iraq War and is still the War in Northwest Pakistan and the War in Afghanistan, a subset of which is “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and is also and continues to be World War III or World War IV, depending on how you count, and was once The War Against Al-Qaeda and is now the Overseas Contingency Operation, which has been tidily renamed CVE (Countering Violent Extremism).

Joshua Casteel was sent to the Long War after first enlisting in the Army Reserves as a high school junior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Seven years later he was stationed at Abu Ghraib prison as an interrogator and linguist. This is where he became convicted that he could no longer be an “American war fighter,” which he saw as treason against his “real kingdom and home.”

In Letters from Abu Ghraib, a book of correspondence from this time, Joshua wrote to his parents:

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Choosing Royal Babies Over Abu Ghraib

A selection of British newspapers in London showing the new royal baby. WILL OLIVER/AFP/Getty Images

By now most of the world knows the royal family in England is celebrating the birth of little baby George Alexander Louis. The commentators panted as they caught the first glimpses of the magic baby, about everything from the infant's apparent ability to withstand a media onslaught to the ever-so-newsworthy fact that his father drove the family home with his own two hands.

Meanwhile in Iraq, several hundred prisoners of the infamous Abu Ghraib facility escaped, many of whom were known or suspected members of Al Qaeda. Considering the attention given to the few dozen detainees still held in Guantánamo Bay, it seems reasonable to think that such a breakout would arrest the headlines around the globe.

But instead, we stayed focused for the most part on baby George. I remarked about this to my friend, sharing my concern about the apparent distortion of priorities. He suggested that it simply is a sign of cultural fatigue, or even resignation. Sometimes, after all, these stories that have international importance seem so big, so abstract, and so far away that it is hard to wrap our minds around them. It’s easier instead to set our attention on something more hopeful — albeit remarkably more superficial — that won’t keep us awake at night.

Abu Ghraib, Unrepentance, and the Way of the Cross

Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images
Lynndie England in 2005 during her courts-martial. Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images

You remember Abu Ghraib: the correctional facility in Baghdad where such atrocities took place that the prison’s very name is now synonymous with and shorthand for torture, degradation, military scandal, and unchecked American hubris.

A young army reservist named Lynndie England came to represent the horror of that dark chapter (one of several, as it turned out) of the war in Iraq. Photographs of England posing with abused Iraqi detainees led to a dishonorable discharge, a felony conviction, and a two-year prison sentence. Also revealed during and after the shame of Abu Ghraib was England’s own status as both a co-conspirator and an unwitting casualty. She was not a victim in the same way that the Iraqi prisoners were but, given her rank, gender, background, and the weird sexual dynamics she shared with the scandal’s ringleader (and father of the baby she would give birth to a few months later), England’s culpability, like that of many who commit heinous acts, was not separable from her own troubled life.

In the tidy way we like these narratives to play out, England was supposed to pay her dues for the evil she had done and, with time for reflection and introspection, own her guilt and express her sorrow. Or at least, for public consumption, she was supposed to voice regret for the tragic choices she made back in 2003 and offer an apology to those whom she had wronged. But in a recent interview, England was unrepentant. Her only regret, it turns out, is that her actions at Abu Ghraib may have directly caused American casualties.