Working with the Frames of War

The mood is wrong, the atmosphere stained, and something is odd about the light. These things are not easy to say, and harder to explain, but you can feel them. And now they can be seen.

—Robert Hariman1

In the aftermath of 9/11, the American government launched the war on terror in order to impose the prosecution of its foreign policy. From the onset, the war on terror’s powerful visual and verbal narratives made it almost impossible to oppose its rationale and to suggest alternative framings. Over the years, lawyers, human rights investigators, journalists, and a very few congressmen have challenged its imposition, shedding a crucial and painful light on the elaboration and deployment of the war over time. Due to the rise and salience of the “torture issue” in American politics, the United States military detention and interrogation operation, Joint Task Force (JTF) Guantánamo, which was established in January 2002 to house terrorism suspects of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, has received particular attention by those wanting to document the evolving construction of these interpretative frames of intertwining verbal and visual images.2

Drawing on transcripts of congressional hearings, Jared Del Rosso has recently shown the shifting framing of political discourses on Guantánamo. Along with media reports, in 2004 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) publicly released emails documenting FBI agents’ experiences. This exposure began to force the administration to acknowledge that Abu Ghraib was not an isolated case occurring in some remote fields of war but that the use of torture was also widespread on American soil, transforming Guantánamo “from model prison to a global stain.” Del Rosso highlights how the government began to reframe the situation in order to deny torture.3 Delineating a visual narration of this shift, Rebecca A. Adelman and Elspeth Van Veeren have examined the pictorial shadow of the facility by analyzing successive sets of pictures authorized and released by the Department of Defense. They stress the transition from the selective dissemination of rarefied and secretive images to the construction of a “telegenic” spectacle equipped with media and VIP tours devised to promote the facilities as “safe, humane, legal, and transparent” amid increasing reports of widespread torture and violence unleashed on faceless and nameless detainees.4

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