Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

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The fogginess of war photographs and sunny days

After a slightly stressful and depressed week - no point in whinging about things now they have improved and when they were operative, I was too down - life has been distinctly improved by a very good lentil soup eaten over several days, and a beef and asparagus stirfry eaten this evening. And by the prospect of blueberries and yoghurt at some point in the next hour or so. Also, 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', the best film ever made with a title from Alexander Pope, and a long walk in Regents Park in the sunshine with culture_eater during which we discussed the state of the world, the price of housing and various artistic and critical projects.

- Oh, and the blueberries'n yoghurt were just as nice as I expected.-

Oh, and by a wonderful birthday dinner for Anna the other night, in the course of which I talked at length - ok, I monopolised, but he didn't mind - Anna's friend Kier who is just back from Papua New Guinea with the ability to discuss in fluent pidgin the bits of films that the villagers just did not automatically get. Things like lesbianism and non-sequential narrative. 'The Hours' did not go down at all well, though they love Xena - oh, and subtext not big in PNG either.

Lots of that in 'The Girl Next Door', which is not a very good movie, but probably deserves better than the automatic dismissal it got from most of the UK press. It is certainly interesting enough to get discussed in 'Teen Dreams', when I start to write it in a week or so.

The real point of posting though is the atrocity photographs and specifically the British ones. About which some thoughts.

It will be so much easier if they are definitively proved genuine and names can be attached to the people responsible for the vicious beating of an Iraqi thief. We can demand that it be treated as a war crime - a minor one, but definitely a war crime - and that the whole sorry episode become the occasion for a thorough examination of all war crimes that the British Army in Iraq may have committed. If we cannot practice high standards in the execution of this illegal war, we can at least investigate thoroughly and hand the people responsible over to the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague rather than merely court-martialling them.

However, we must not rush to judgement and assume that the British photographs are necessarily as advertised.

(My impression is that the American ones are clearly souvenir snapshots and the sort of thing you would expect thuggish squaddies to pass around among their mates. I don't think that there is any question but that the obscene things of which American soldiers stand accused actually happened and will have consequences that will haunt us for a long time.)

The British photos though are another matter.

First there is the question of provenance. According to Piers Morgan, some of the soldiers responsible handed them over to the Mirror a week ago. They had been part of a group that collectively beat the victim up and don't seem to have informed the authorities, just the press. Do I have to point out how odd this is? They have set in motion a process which will lead to their own prosecution, without seeking any immunity for themselves and have also laid an information against their mates.

I don't for a second dispute that the British army commits atrocities from time to time - what worries me is that it in general does not get caught quite this easily. Bloody Sunday was a clear and public atrocity, but we are still engaged in due process decades later. About the only atrocities that got properly dealt with more or less at the time were the ones at that internment camp in Kenya in the 50s. The British army is quite good at hushing this sort of thing up.

There is also a problem with the photos. They are too good - it is not just that they are all quite static - nothing is in motion from the rifle butts to the writhing victim to the drops of urine in a perfectly curved arc. It is that several of them are perfect compositions - look at them and bear in mind the idea of the golden ratio and see how many times it dictates the extent of the truck wall above the victim's head or the placing of the automatic rifle against his head. This is supposed to have happened in the back of a moving truck - again, there is no movement blur- and the light source is constant.

I can't speak about the military details that don't check out - army sources have claimed that it is the wrong sort of truck and the wrong knapsacks and uniform caps - but it is odd that a victim in the course of a savage beating should have so perfectly white a shirt and that the uniforms of men who are dishing out the beating should have kit that is so very neat and groomed. And then there is the urine - which is individual beads which would mean a very wide aperture exposure, which is a bit fancy for a snapshot in the back of a truck, or could, of course, have been photo- shopped in afterwards, since we don't actually see the penis from which they are coming.

It is not clear whether the Mirror cropped the photos to remove recognizable faces, or whether the photos leave faces out. Again, this is distinctly odd.

Clearly the whole thing has got to be investigated thoroughly - but the anti-war movement should not assume that it has to tie itself to the view that the photos must be genuine. There is at times on the Left a knee-jerk anti-militarism which in this context is counter-productive.

You see, it is my view that revelation that these photos were staged fakes would serve the anti- war movement just as well as putting a few squaddies and their officers on charges at the Hague. Because the next question is whose interests would it serve to produce and promote such fakes?

I can imagine the Mirror getting itself fooled - it has happened before - but not actually faking evidence that if exposed would discredit its anti-war position and strengthen rather than weaken Tony Blair's hand.

We know, though, that the Mirror had these photos before we knew about the American photos, so they were not produced in a hurry to tar the British army with the same brush. They were, if faked, faked weeks or months ago for some other reason..

The General Staff has, as is well known, been opposing the idea of putting more British troops into Iraq. The effect of photographs demonstrating atrocity is to weaken their hand as against Tony Blair - they cannot control their men and so have to do what they are told.

Blair's status is in doubt and he might at some point be replaced by politicians like Brown, who was never keen on the war, or Straw, who has been steadily distancing himself in recent weeks from something he originally supported. However, a Britain convicted of atrocity before the bar of Arab and European opinion is far more tied into the coalition with the US, simply because of shared pariah-hood. If you want to ensure a post-Blair Britain keeps on side, this serves that purpose.

If you were an Arab or other Islamic patriot determined to smear the British, you would probaly go for something more serious than the beating up of a sneak thief - something at least as bad as the stuff the Americans have done. This is about as bad a dirty trick as you would inflict on a hitherto reliable ally just to nudge them.

In other words, my view is that either the photos are genuine, and just improbably good for squaddie snapshots, or that they are fakes and instruments of US policy in general, and specifically that they are the sort of thing Dick Cheney sets in motion. Which would be a whole can of worms if true and a chance to make even Tony Blair tell Bush and Cheney to sod off.

Investigation is the way to go, and is potentially win-win for the anti-war forces in general, if not for the Mirror, if it's got it wrong.

And if I am entirely wrong about all of this, it is still a good thriller plot for me or Adi to use.
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