I know most people have collections of this kind of material, even in the fashion industry. You look at the images from Iraq with that 20-year-old girl making prisoners masturbate for the camera. It comes from porn. I think it will become the norm for people to have cameras in their homes documenting their sexual activity. It’s there; why not bring it out into a mainstream context?
Have you seen this man? Caucasian, well-built, buzz-cut, with big buggy glasses and a brushy blond mustache. Tattooed like a sailor. Landlocked, fond of nakedness and interior spaces, framed by obedient women. Photogenic, with a say-cheese smile.
In the spring of 2008, an aggressive advertising campaign appeared in the Broadway – Lafayette subway station in Lower Manhattan. This station, which at the time connected the B, D, F, V, and downtown 6 trains, marks the end of my morning commute. Its long upper corridor, like an M. C. Escher bathroom with its tessellated tiles and hairpin sets of stairs, is permanently colonized by advertising toward which the commuter grows inured. But these particular images, part of a campaign for Belvedere vodka called “Luxury Reborn,” were transfixing. That I passed them twice daily only deepened their appeal.
The ads showed fashionable people partaking of New York City nightlife: cuddling in a lounge banquette, huddling under a piano during an indoor rainstorm, eating a club sandwich with grim sophistication. The indie actor Vincent Gallo, hung with the pyramidal pendant of the Masons, offered his denim-clad crotch to a woman in need (she uses his belt buckle as a compact mirror, applying to parted lips the pink protuberant tip of a lipstick). Fellow commuters shared my interest in the last photograph. Their defacements ranged from the literal-minded (“BJ —Touch Up”) to the epistolary (“Dear MTA: This ad is insulting to women, please take it down”) to the existential (“This is what we choose”).
The belt buckle picture was certainly salacious. It was also formally astute. The vivid saturation, classical posture (adoring Madonna), and crystalline finish exaggerated the point-blank crudity of its snapshot style. The model had the clear skin of a real-life lucky person. Sweat gave her an attractive cheekbone sheen. Like National Geographic cover girl Afghan Girl (1985), she had torqued shoulders and powerful green eyes; unlike Afghan Girl, she was hijab-free (she wore a sparkly halter-top). Her face, enlarged to poster scale, was enormous. Flash-burned, she looked either brazen or stunned.
I wasn’t interested in the photograph for its obscenity, which felt passé. (Tom Ford pruned pubic topiary into the Gucci lettermark in 2003!) Nor did I think I was experiencing (or repressing) some kind of private titillation, for the photograph made me feel neither good nor guilty. Rather, I felt obscurely uneasy.
This unease persisted until the picture, along with the rest of the campaign, came down. On my short walk up Broadway, I was free to contemplate new commercial developments, such as the sad liquidation of National Wholesale Liquidators, a discount chain that had sold boy-shorts, mops, and brand-name breakfast cereal each for less than $3. A short-lived storefront for Sprint’s new wireless subsidiary, helio (don’t call it a phone), preceded a pop-up store for VitaminWater. Humannequins behind plate glass burned ten calories at a go by blowing gum bubbles and pretending to take a shower.
A month later, Luxury Reborn was inexplicably reborn, having redoubled its reach as if to taunt me. Vinyl banners of the images now fell like fascist set dressing from the iron beams of the station’s cavernous central chamber. I called up the ad agency, Berlin Cameron, to inquire about the resurrection. The public’s “huge response” to the campaign, said account manager Steve Panariello, had inspired Berlin Cameron to reinstate it. “People were interacting with it, drawing on it,” he said, merrily. “Not, like, tacky thought bubbles — just having fun with it. Putting Terry’s glasses on the other models or taking pictures and putting them on their Facebook. That’s the only image we added,” he said. “The one of Terry Richardson, the photographer of the campaign.”
You couldn’t miss the addition: a man beaming like a jack-o’-lantern, bigger than the blow-jobber, big as a billboard Turkmenbashi, atop every path to the tracks. In his left hand, he held up a Yashica T4, which I recognized as the very same point-and-shoot I had received on my tenth birthday. It made a mystery of the credit: photographed by terry richardson. What was the trick? Terry has assistants, said Steve, who take the pictures that feature Terry.
For the remaining weeks of the campaign’s second run, I studied Richardson’s close-cropped hair, tawny mustache, crooked elbow, inked forearms, and factory-foreman-style eyeglasses. Cropped from another poster’s party scene, the headshot emphasized the weird ecstasy of his expression, incongruous with the campaign’s eau de humorless cool. His smile was a rictus with a wink. It suggested that he knew the joke. What was the joke? Where had I seen him before?
Upon selecting your country of residence on www.belvedere vodka.com, you are extraordinarily rendered to Poland: deposited on a lonely avenue of birches, the Ulica Belwederska of Warsaw, where snowflakes are falling from a purple sky. To the accompaniment of a martial-industrial hip-hop beat, you move swiftly toward a bottle-shaped fortress looming priapic on the horizon line. Cross the drawbridge, and the structure transforms into the pale and lovely edifice of the Belweder Palace, then into an anonymous five-star hotel (you enter the “lobby” and find the filigreed numerals of suite 308 – 309 reflected in your standard-issue gilt-framed mirror). The catchy staccato hook of the overture, work of Wu-Tang frontman RZA, gives way to strains of song performed by Vincent Gallo. He is a natural tenor but an undistinguished librettist (“My love my love my love my love is for real/ Love me touch me love me for real/ I just need you to be for me for real!”). The tune, entitled “Something I Want (For Real),” is downloadable for free, with the artist’s name spelled “Gallow.”
Explore the Distillery (herein the secrets of reverse osmosis and Dańkowskie gold rye), the Bar Room (make your own prickly pear martini), and Jade’s Room (home of the “Jagger Dagger,” a limited-edition ice pick, smithed by Mick-progeny Jade, which bristles with forty-two pale sapphires, retails for $250,000, and exists to hack free, from Excalibur-like encasement, bottles of Belvedere imprisoned in high-end nightclubs the world over). In the Campaign Room, a thirty-second television spot dramatizes some of the stills from the subway station. Gallo, Richardson, and posse crash a townhouse soirée on the Upper East Side (ancient grudge, new mutiny — downtown “is where all the great ideas happen,” clarifies Berlin Cameron creative director Ewen Cameron, in an online interview about the campaign). Seizing by its slender neck a proffered bottle of Belvedere, the hip youth commence with French kissing. Two strumpets slowly chew toward each other on the same piece of marzipan. Gallo, the Duchampion, defaces an oil painting. He kills the electricity, setting off the sprinkler system. The blue-rinsed hosts emit ravished geriatric squeals. Richardson winks and snaps a photo, the strobe of his flash illuminating the skeletal birch of the Belvedere logo. Out in the cold again, you press your nose to the computer pane, press play again.
Vincent Gallo was born in Buffalo in 1961, to Sicilian immigrants, and moved to New York City as a teenager. He formed a band with Jean-Michel Basquiat, worked as a hustler and go-go dancer, and modeled for Calvin Klein (shot by Richard Avedon). He is a versatile musician, a lapsed painter, and a saturnine actor, playing the crippled hero of Francis Ford Coppola’s recent Tetro. A frequent subject of Terry Richardson’s portraiture, he looks like Caravaggio’s Jesus.
Despite his physical beauty and range of successes, Gallo is not a gracious man. On his website, he baits our socialist media, suggests that redheads have a special smell, shares samples of his creative writing, and, under “merchandise,” offers his sperm for $1 million a pop.
Mr. Gallo maintains the right to refuse sale of his sperm to those of extremely dark complexions. Though a fan of Franco Harris, Derek Jeter, Lenny Kravitz, and Lena Horne, Mr. Gallo does not want to be part of that type of integration. In fact, for the next 30 days, he is offering a $50,000 discount to any potential female purchaser who can prove she has naturally blonde hair and blue eyes. Anyone who can prove a direct family link to any of the German soldiers of the mid-century will also receive this discount. Under the laws of the Jewish faith, a Jewish mother would qualify a baby to be deemed a member of the Jewish religion. This would be added incentive for Mr. Gallo to sell his sperm to a Jew mother, his reasoning being with the slim chance that his child moved into the profession of motion picture acting or became a musical performer, this connection to the Jewish faith would guarantee his offspring a better chance at good reviews and maybe even a prize at the Sundance Film Festival or an Oscar.
He recounts how he came to participate in the Luxury Reborn campaign:
The legend Vincent Gallo was asked to be the face of Belvedere Vodka for 2008. Gallo who has never had a drink of alcohol in his life was confused by the offer since most people know he doesn’t drink. Belvedere explained, “It doesn’t matter if you are drug and alcohol free, we want our product to be associated with greatness, talent, intelligence, with good looks and those who are well hung, with people who are rich and famous, with someone sweet and shy and very sensitive, someone romantic sexy and tender. We want you, Vincent Gallo to be the face of Belvedere.” And so, for a couple hundred grand Gallo gave them a half a day of his time.
Despite these jeux d’esprit, Gallo’s artistry relies on an essential sincerity. His 2003 film The Brown Bunny, which he wrote, directed, starred in, and produced, traces the heartsick peregrinations of a motorcycle racer named Bud Clay. At the end of the film (no one ever mentions the beginning or middle), the pale-skinned childlike actress Chloë Sevigny fellates Gallo for two nonsimulated minutes. This brief bit of cinema verité elevated Gallo’s anatomy to unforeseen celebrity. Asked by an interviewer what he thought of the film, Terry Richardson noted “some great heart-breaking moments; and the blowjob is awesome.”
Beau monde, bespectacled, and heterosexual, Richardson is famous for abrading the glossiness of glossy magazines. His photography is raucous and kinetic, with an autobiographical focus on the sex act. He has brawny forearms and a tapestry of tattoos across his torso: bald eagle and American flag (these colors don’t run); finely wrought women (natural tits, no mermaids); t-bone above his groin; a solid blue ♥ where the real one beats beneath. He is collectible in the form of an action-hero figurine.
The titles of Richardson’s books give a sense of the contours of his career: the Hysteric Glamour of his fashion photography, his status as the Son of Bob, his attitude of FTW that emerges from his being a Manimal on whom they must put the Kibosh, the alternate Valhalla of Terryworld that hosts all manner of manly pastime, for instance Wives Wheels Weapons (with text by James Frey). Born in New York City in 1965, Richardson had a sceney and chaotic childhood. His father, the fashion photographer Bob Richardson, shot for French Vogue and left Terry’s mother for a 17-year-old Anjelica Huston while Mom, née Norma Kessler, restyled herself Annie Lomax and romanced Kris Kristofferson, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix. Parts of his biography have become totemic in the retelling. Early years in Woodstock, where his mother, in a free-love daze, neglected him. Her car accident, en route to fetch Terry from an appointment with a child psychiatrist, in which she was rear-ended by a telephone truck and reduced to babyhood during her recovery, wearing diapers, needing food stamps for government cheese. Youthful experimentations with punk bands and junk. The Oedipal slaying: when Terry, in his twenties and working for his father, did a Vibe photo shoot by himself and without Bob’s blessing. His father’s recurrent bouts of drug- and schizophrenia-induced homelessness. His legendary irresistibility to women, which inverts the cliché of the lensman’s conquest: in lieu of a big, swinging 300mm lens suffice Richardson’s stubby Yashica and disinhibiting charisma. Arcadian cover girls cavort nude for his camera at their own libidinous whim.
His commercial work, called “raw,” is in fact exceptionally disciplined — as produced, in its way, as the burnished pietàs of Leibovitz or the chiaroscuro of Irving Penn. A disciple of Nan Goldin, Richardson was among the first to see the advertising potential in humbling couture. Famous people got the same treatment in naturalistic portraits for GQ: Richardson made them jump around so they’d forget to make their mirror face. The strategic imperfections of his style — unflattering angles, flattening flash, a resistance to retouching that plays up a weird wrinkle or ripe pimple — serve to humanize his subjects and also to offset their essential otherworldliness.
This distressed finish and faux-amateur feel have since become ubiquitous — from the suburban dungeon tropes of Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs to American Apparel’s Polaroid pinups to the invasive portraiture of Rankin — but Richardson rules. His compressed palette favors the taupe and gold of Caucasian skin and falls off at both poles, with blown highlights and pure blacks. His campaigns for the clothing lines of Katharine Hamnett (1995) and Sisley (2001) are structured but lush, nearly but not quite camp. For the latter campaign, Josie Maran, formerly of Maybelline, jets milk straight from the udder in the direction of her absurdly pretty open mouth, while snowy droplets gather pendulous at her chin.
For his fine-art photography, Richardson gravitates toward kitsch (lawn ornaments, a night-light Jesus) and penises at play (stretched like a rubber band, sandwiched in a hot-dog bun, anchoring a heart-shaped balloon). Steve-O from MTV’s Jackass vomits something tomato-based. Teddy bears as sex toys. A vagina pickled in a jar. A close-up of two young men with Down syndrome, dressed in blingy streetwear, one laughing while the other seems to grimace, both sets of their lips cracked and reddened and revealing broken teeth.
Richardson’s sex life is legendary, and his little black book has color illustrations. His paramours are “total fucking knockouts,” attests Richardson champion Gavin McInnes, the former publisher of Vice. Even mussed and makeup-free, they remain, reassuringly, “the same supermodels that are on every other page of Vogue” rather than members of “some lesbian anarchist collective.” Meanwhile “the critics that hate him” are not supermodels but “sexless, lonely, thirtysomething women in sandals.”
Envy is the emotion Richardson expertly cultivates (it is, after all, the emotion that moves product) and then deflects with the tone of his photographs (offhand and humorous, un-imperious). Sex is goofy! Richardson flosses his teeth with someone’s in situ tampon. He makes a mustache from someone else’s pubic hair; someone (a Terry assistant?) takes a photo. “A lot of it starts with me saying to a girl, ‘Do you want to do nudes?’” Richardson told an interviewer in 2004.
And they’re like, “I don’t want to be naked.” So I say, “I’ll be naked and you take the pictures. You can have the camera. You can have the phallus.” And since I’m in so many of the pictures, aren’t I objectifying myself a bit?
Have you seen this man? Born in 1968 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Charles Graner was a solid Little Leaguer, a mathlete, and a member of the Drama Club. He had good manners: he called you Mister. His mother, Irma, was a homemaker. His father, Charles Sr., went by Red. Graner joined the Marine Corps and fought in Desert Storm, worked for a time as a school custodian, became a prison guard. He had a temper and a bad sense of humor: he once spiked a colleague’s coffee with Mace. Another colleague said he had “an overpowering aura about him. People just like him. But . . . he’s not someone you want to get too close to. He’s manipulative. He has multiple personalities.” His lover said, “He’s really charming. If you didn’t know him and you just met him, you’d be drawn into him. In a crowded room, he’d be the one to look at. He would draw the attention. If the attention is not on him, he’ll get it there. That’s what he does. He thrives on that.” You’d recognize his self-portraits, shot by assistants, in which he gives the thumbs-up; rolls up his sleeves to reveal a USMC tattoo; sports a keffiyeh of black and white check, the skull and bones on his sweatshirt, and blood on the vamp of his boot.
It is worth remembering how strange the informal snapshots first appeared to us, before they had been variously interpreted. Those powerful clothed American bodies, well-fed but for runty Lynndie
England, bestriding a tangle of Arab flesh — brown limbs, bare buttocks, limp penises, dusty feet — desert camos fading out against the nakedness, mustard corridors, unfinished floors. The cold dim lighting and peculiar Army-issued accessories: dunce-cap sandbags, pink granny panties, aquamarine rubber gloves.
As leaked pictures made by amateurs (My Lai and Andersonville were by Signal Corps photographers) they were unprecedented, the digital medium facilitating the self-incrimination. As iconography they were compared to soldiers’ trophy photos from Vietnam and Okinawa, to propaganda photos from the Philippines, to the postcard pictures of lynchings.
The imagery going in was abstract — the buildings of Baghdad in bottle, night-goggle green; satellite maps of sand — and relied on anachronistic images recent enough to work as replacements: the first Gulf War’s yellow ribbons and troops reunited with their toddlers, the South Tower sprouting a cauliflower ball of flame. The Mission Accomplished photo op came too soon and was too obviously staged. And so the prison pictures immediately occupied the empty space in our imagining of the war.
Later investigations (by the Army and by such journalists as Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris) used backstory to undermine and complicate the images’ seeming simplicity. In becoming symbols, these forensic accounts argued, the photographs had been too easily co-opted: Hooded Man, like Molotov Man, saw his silhouette appear on T-shirts and skateboard stickers. This Jesus figure who stood cloaked on a Meals-Ready-to-Eat crate with wires attached to his fingers and genitals may have been told that if he stepped off he would be electrocuted, but the wires weren’t attached to a battery (“Just playing with him,” said reservist Sabrina Harman). A former Ba’ath party member named Ali Shalal Qaissi came forward and declared that he was hooded man. “I wore that blanket, I stood on that box, and I was wired up and electrocuted,” a tearful Qaissi told the New York Times. A local politician, Qaissi became a spokesman for human rights abuses in newly democratic Iraq. He had business cards printed up stamped with the figure of Hooded Man. But although Qaissi had indeed been imprisoned at Abu Ghraib, and was subject to “softening up” tactics, and may very well have been hooded and placed on a box and told he was going to be electrocuted, the Army’s formal annals of the photographs revealed that he was not the man in the picture. He does however appear in other pictures from the prison. The gag was his gammy hand. Soldiers captured it in close-up, limp and plump with two pygmy digits, and drew it in Trapper Keeper caricature on the back of his jumpsuit with the caption “The Claw.” They called Qaissi “Clawman.” The real Hooded Man, Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, nicknamed “Gilligan,” was released in 2004, and promptly disappeared. His name may not even have been Faleh, as Iraqis processed by disorganized American facilities frequently gave their liberators a pseudonym.
Other iconic photographs proved similarly troublesome. Pfc.
England was either dragging a man on a leash in the posture of a dominatrix or else assisting Spc. Graner in the removal of a violent detainee from his beshitted isolation cell by gently taking up one end of a “cargo strap.” The expired “ghost” detainee packed in ice with one eye swollen shut and the other squiffly staring was murdered not by the two soldiers gloating over him but by the wraithlike untraceable employees of OGA (Other Governmental Agencies, an Army euphemism for the CIA). In fact the soldiers’ interest had been academic: Harman wanted to be a forensic photographer. She had dissected a dead cat while posted in Hilla.
Abu ghraib means either “father of the raven” or “place of the raven.” Five months before the American invasion, Saddam announced a “complete, comprehensive, and final” amnesty for Iraq’s hundreds of thousands of prisoners. As many as 15,000 prisoners massed at the gates, torn off their hinges by the mob outside. Ten people died in the ensuing stampede. (As Napoleon approaches Moscow, War and Peace’s Count Rostopchin issues a similar amnesty: “When lunatics command our armies God evidently means these other madmen to be free.”)
The 372nd Military Police Company, of the 320th Military Police Battalion, arrived at Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003. Its thousands of wards included violent offenders and petty vandals, former Ba’athists and assorted fedayeen, suspected insurgents, foreign nationals, women, children, the mentally ill and the criminally insane. The prison overflowed with men and boys picked up in sweeps. “They just know that this is the grid coordinate location. So they arrest everybody there,” said General Janis Karpinski, who was tasked with running the prison and would later take the blame for what happened there.
It’s against the law, but they held them. And the next night, there was a hundred more. And the next night, there were fifty more. And the next there were three hundred more. And it went on and on and on, until we had thousands of them being held out there without any reason or any discussion about why they were being held. And they were all tagged as security detainees. I mean that literally. Each one of them comes in with a tag that’s attached to some part of his clothing, and it says, “security detainee.”
There was more than one chain of command. MPs took orders from three sets of brass: commissioned officers, OGA, and private military contractors. Saddam’s portrait on the main gate had been replaced with a banner — america is a friend of all iraqi people, in Arabic and English. The prison took daily mortar fire.
Liberated, the Iraqi people had become too free, looting their own antiquities, kidnapping their neighbors, improvising explosive devices, flinging shoes. Therefore we had to imprison and interrogate them. This was initially disappointing, and, over time, increasingly tiring and boring.
Graner et al had no part in interrogations: they were custodians, tasked with the earliest stages of softening-up, the time-consuming parts the OGA guys preferred to outsource: “harassing, keeping off-balance, yelling, screaming, stripping out, yeah,” said Graner. (The “off the wall” stuff the OGA guys kept for themselves. “They do whatever they want,” Graner told an Army investigator.)
The second day we had ——— on the three nights of living hell, it was him and I and, basically, just yelling at him the whole night, you know, more or less repeating the first half of, was it Full Metal Jacket, loud as you could to him, and then asking him what his name was.
“It takes a lot of energy to yell and scream at somebody,” explained Graner, “and it gets old real fast,” the more so when it reminds you of your day job: “I didn’t even want to be in a prison after, you know, that’s what I do at home.” He recalled one of his commanders visiting the prison’s Hard Site
usually when all hell was breaking loose. He’d come down. “Hey, are you having more fun here than you would’ve had at home?” or this and that. And I had explained to him that, you know, this — I don’t find this fun.
Asked by the investigator about translator Adel Nakhla, a civilian contractor accused of raping a detainee, Graner compares him to Babu, from Jeannie, “There was a cartoon years ago . . . with a genie and he always, ‘Yapple dapple!’ . . . He helped us out on a lot of our Arabic, and I just think he was bored.”
They checked their email and downloaded contraband pornography (Paris Hilton filmed in the glaucous tint of night vision). They had sex with each other and took pictures.
special agent: There is information out there that apparently there was sex inside the tier. Did you guys have sex inside the tier at all?
spc. charles graner: There was the oral sex picture in the —
sa: Okay. When did that happen?
cg: That was late November, and that was in one storage area we had, Bravo side, top tier, first cell on the right hand side.
sa: Tell me what happened there.
said something about getting a picture like that, and —
sa: So it was ———’s idea?
cg: Pretty much yes. There was that picture and then the one where she is in the office with her breasts exposed to me, and that was ——— also. [ . . . ]
sa: What was her reaction to that? I mean, did she say, “Okay. Yeah”?
cg: Didn’t care. We were all — we all lived together. No big deal. You know, we might die tomorrow three minutes from now if there was . . . it was no big deal.
They took photographs of things they found funny — a man’s bottom pocked with buckshot, Spc. Megan Ambuhl conked out in an office chair, Spc. Harman as He-Man, wearing red polypro outside her uniform and her jacket like a cape. Sometimes, they had to set up the funny thing to photograph, such as a human pyramid or a chorus line of coerced masturbation. A Nerf ball tossed over a detainee dogpile. A “litter sandwich” (more accurately, a panino): Ssg. Ivan Frederick sitting on an inmate layered in insulation foam between two stretchers. They drew a smiley face on a prisoner’s nipple, i’m a rapeist on a prisoner’s thigh. Spc. Graner, captioning seized photos for his special agent, said
And to my knowledge one other time we — him and ——— — had come down just for coffee one evening and that would be the pull-sock-on-the-penis picture.
And M74 is I’m on top of the prisoners — Hulk Hogan pose or something, you would say.
M77 is two big — two prisoners’ genitals.
M78 is a picture of the ——— prisoner, and he has a pile of vomit in front of him.
M97 is a picture of ——— on the 1B tier shoving a banana in his rectum.
Noted the Fay Report, one of three Army-commissioned investigations occasioned by the photographs, “A detainee with a known mental condition should not have been provided the banana.”
In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, Susan Sontag wrote, with appalled wonderment,
What formerly was segregated as pornography, as the exercise of extreme sadomasochistic longings — as in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last, near-unwatchable film, Salo (1975), depicting orgies of torture in the Fascist redoubt in northern Italy at the end of the Mussolini era — is now being normalized, by some, as high-spirited play or venting. To “stack naked men” is like a college fraternity prank, said a caller to Rush Limbaugh and the many millions of Americans who listen to his radio show. Had the caller, one wonders, seen the photographs? No matter. The observation — or is it the fantasy? — was on the mark. What may still be capable of shocking some Americans was Limbaugh’s response: “Exactly!” he exclaimed. “Exactly my point. This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it, and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time.” “They” are the American soldiers, the torturers. And Limbaugh went on: “You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people. You ever heard of emotional release?”
Limbaugh, it turns out, was right. We did ruin their lives over it, though maybe they were already ruined. It was easy enough to justify. Naïve or desensitized enough to take pictures of their good time, they’d done it to themselves.
They didn’t think it up themselves, Charles Graner’s lawyers argued before the military’s highest appellate court last summer. Graner is the only soldier from his unit still serving time: a ten-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth barracks in Kansas. The defense’s argument relied on the fact that the so-called Torture Memos, the Department of Defense’s spelling out of the sorts of softening-up the US would allow in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, were still embargoed at the time his case had gone to trial. The stacking of naked men, their sexual humiliation, their hooding with sackcloth and lingerie, their odd contortions: all constituted preapproved tactics in this longest of wars — Change of Scenery Down, Fear Up Harsh, Pride and Ego Down, Futility. Graner was just following orders; imaginative variations were the good soldier’s attempt to fill in the blanks. (The appeal was rejected.)
These techniques, along with Sleep Adjustment, Isolation, Repetition Approach, and We Know All, had in fact been dusted off and borrowed by the Army from the CIA’s cold war counterintelligence manuals to inculcate “learned helplessness” — psychologist Martin Seligman’s term for the broken spirits of shocked dogs — in captives of the war on terror. The first CIA training manual drew on research by Ewen Cameron, a Scottish-born psychiatrist who oversaw the agency’s MKULTRA study at McGill University.
The McGill study investigated the efficacy of a therapy Cameron called “psychic driving.” The technique aimed to erase a patient’s personality so that it could be “repatterned,” or rebuilt less dysfunctionally, via the looped repetition of “dynamic material”: short recordings (“optimum length is between 5 and 7 seconds”) clipped from an earlier therapy session and meant to trigger past trauma. Psychic driving was sometimes tested with adjuvants — a seasick mix of stimulants, sedatives (including the “truth serum” sodium amytal), electroconvulsive shocks, sensory deprivation (“the individual was isolated . . . from incoming stimuli by putting him in a dark room, covering his eyes with goggles, reducing auditory intake, and preventing him from touching his body”), scrambled mealtimes, insulin-induced comas, and prolonged isolation — meant to “disinhibit [the patient] so that his defenses might be reduced.” But, wrote Cameron in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1956, psychic driving administered without adjuvants worked well enough, especially when it was “autopsychic”: when the playback came not from the therapist’s commentary but from the patient’s self-description.
Self-inflicted tortures are always more effective. “Only when a person throws his head back and swallows three times does he begin to apprehend what is involved in one hundred and three or three hundred and three swallows,” writes Elaine Scarry in The Body in Pain, “what atrocities one’s own body . . . can inflict on oneself.” The patient’s own language, posited Cameron, held “greater intensity” than another’s. Its “progressive penetration” produced an effect “comparable to the fire blizzard of World War II — when the hotter the conflagration grew under the rain of incendiary bombs, the more air poured in and hence the more intense grew the conflagration.” Mainstream psychiatry has since rejected Cameron; war on terror detainees understand that the US military has not.
The iraq war, said Ewen Cameron, creative director of the Luxury Reborn campaign, is for the American consumer “a low priority.” I had called him to ask why his agency had chosen Richardson to shoot the campaign. Richardson represented the “energy of the downtown arts scene”: “They party, it’s a little wild . . . a little decadent and bohemian — but creative people are decadent!”
I asked Cameron if he thought it was possible that advertisers, whether consciously or subconsciously, might be channeling imagery from the Iraq War. No, he said. In fact he was “shocked at how little it permeates” the American public’s “brim of indifference.” “I went to the Armory Show this weekend, and even there I was looking around for it. I don’t know if you’ve been to the New Museum, but if that’s a reflection of what we’re thinking about, we’re just thinking about sex.”
He observed, incredulously, that the Iraq War has lasted longer than World War II. “In The Hurt Locker, they’re walking down the street and there’s all this garbage and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, that’s what it looks like.’ And under some old black bag there might be a bomb. It really conveyed something I hadn’t even thought about. Which is, what is it like to be there?”
“It was so much fun,” said Steve Panariello, of the photo shoot for the Luxury Reborn campaign. “It was just a party.” Richardson shot the ads at Freemans, a restaurant at the end of a secret alleyway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Its walls are lined with taxidermied animals. In an interview about the Belvedere campaign, Richardson called his aesthetic “an energy people respond to . . . they want to be part of it.”
It’s like being director or cheerleader. Putting on music and getting people amped, making them cry or doing whatever you kind of want to do. . . . Improvise, make it up as you go along . . . feed off a person and see what they’re willing to do or give or what they’re into. . . . When you shoot a movie star and all of a sudden the shirt’s off and they’re doing karate kicks and fucking screaming and yelling, ‘Wow, that was fuckin’ liberating, I’m just free . . . I just wanna fuckin’ bug out and cut loose.’ I think that’s a lot of what I do, just get people to that point where they’re free.
“Terry doesn’t force girls to do anything they don’t want to,” said an Australian model named Abbey Lee. “He puts you in a G-string in a pile of mud because you want to do it. You touch yourself because you want to.” If you don’t want to, you don’t have to, according to another model. “Uncle Terry was feeling frisky that day! I told him I had my period so I wanted to keep my underwear on, and he asked me to take my tampon out for him to play with. ‘I love tampons!’ he said. I politely declined his offer to make tea out of my bloody cunt plug.”
From prison, Lynndie England told an interviewer that she endured a full-body cavity search each time her family brought her a present. “If you have your period, and you have a visitor, they make you take your tampon out afterward and squat and cough. You think those are mirrors? Those aren’t mirrors. There are people on the other side, watching us the whole time.”
A lithe young iraqi woman wearing a Juicy Couture – style sweatsuit pulls up her top in the manner of a Girl Gone Wild.
The females were out — all the females basically were allowed to roam the little area that they had. The cells were basically unlocked the whole time, so they were outside. These girls had been out most of the night. ——— and ——— were flirting with them. And this happened toward the end of the night. Sergeant ——— — she had wanted to give Sergeant ——— a photograph I guess, and I had taken them. And then I took the one, and then she called me back for another one. She pulled her top off. . . . The way I remember it, she had pulled me over. She wanted to get a picture, and we had been taking pictures all night long. I had left and she motioned me back, and she pulled her top up, took the picture.
Of her own volition, notes Graner, befitting the party vibe. There were bachelorette touches: “When they got me naked,” one detainee told the Physicians for Human Rights, “they used to bring all the female soldiers to look at me and say ‘Hello, Imam.’” “The party began,” said another detainee, when “they started to put the [muzzle] of the rifle and [the wood] from the broom into [my anus]. They entered my privates from behind” and there was blood “all over my feet.” As at a disco, there were strobe lights and a powerful amp, the music so loud that detainee “Kamal” bled from his ears and “heard the music after it was turned off.” “Now, we will make you dance,” soldiers told “Amir,” and for three days straight he and other prisoners were PT’d without a break. The dancing got dirty with the kind of grinding banned in middle schools. In the arid language of the PHR report,
Naked men [were] tied by the neck and forced to walk close to one another. As the men cried out “This is sinful” and struggled to shield their genitals from touching the back of the person in front, the soldiers would yank on the rope, thus producing a reflexive motion where the back would arch and the lower-body pelvic area would thrust forward. The soldiers would chant “Fuck him!”
The deranged detainee they called “Shitboy,” who with his wrists shackled behind him still managed to penetrate himself with the banana, features in a lot of photographs from the prison. We see him caked in excrement, wrapped in a makeshift straitjacket, and shaved (they gave him a crosswise mohawk). Like a Jackass, he is videotaped, from a range of angles, butting his head against a steel door. He rocks back and forth like a batter winding up. Ha, he keeps hitting himself, as a blue spot, added postproduction, floats in front of his face to obscure his identity, but not the patch of blood that grows on the door.
There’s a new campaign for Belvedere vodka on Lafayette Street, up since September. Smooth blue bubbles float beneath the blindfolded face of a beautiful woman. The slogan is believe: trust your instincts.
“We are greatly plagued, both in lay thinking and in our scientific work, by the tendency to use dichotomies,” said Ewen Cameron in 1948. “Good and bad, introvert and extrovert, conscious and unconscious.” “The war is — someone else is fighting it,” said Ewen Cameron to me. “My technique is the absence of technique,” said Terry Richardson. “The lens is my eye, my charisma, my ability to capture moments of truth, whatever they may be.”
Richardson, like me, is diverted by city signage. On his Tumblr blog, he posts photographs of found text — bumper-sticker slogans, public service announcements, T-shirts, awnings, bathroom graffiti: chi chi get the yeyo. trip the light fantastic. hey fbi . . . socks still legal! army of one. peace to the world.
want to know the secret? it’s the war, stupid. you don’t have to reveal your identity to help solve a violent crime. two hearts beat as one. double your pleasure double your fun. i believe in the magic!