Ann Messner | USA

The Disasters of War, 2005-2007

Offset tabloid
26x46 cm each magazine. Two editions of 1,000

Courtesy of the artist

At the end of 2002 four photographs were sent by email to newspaper editors, appearing shortly after on the web and showing prisoners kept in the trunk compartment of a U.S. military transport vehicle.

The detainees, most likely captured in Afghanistan, are handcuffed and tied up, their heads covered with hoods and their ears covered with sound insulation headphones placed over the hoods. In this manner, with all sensory organs completely blocked off, they were sent off from Afghanistan to Turkey, from there flown to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, or some other far away country.

The details of the journey are just as unknown as the author of those images or the identity of the prisoners. The circumstances are questionable. But even more so is the entire scandalous procedure of the United States in dealing with such prisoners — completely incompatible with the international regulations.

We know that prisoners were shipped to countries in which they were sealed off from any supervision, with crude interrogation methods and exposed to torture.

The four pictures are confronted with different passages from press conferences with the – at the time – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

On issues such as the reward offered for leading terrorists or for the malefic Osama bin Laden, Rumsfeld responded with a chuckle. The Vice President reacted also with a suppressed laugh at questions regarding interrogation techniques and torture of prisoners in other countries.

In contrast to this, Messner quotes from reports by former prisoners describing their trauma. This juxtaposition of the images – the amused expressions of the political leaders and the quotes of the victims of torture – allows space for our own associations letting us imagine the abyss of illegal and deathly practice that took place.

Text: Matthias Reichelt