May 26, 2005

Marked Men


I don’t even know where to start with this image. 

Should we begin with the military signaling that the U.S has a two-dimensional view of the Arab world by turning detainees into human writing surfaces?

Could we talk about how shockingly primitive and ill equipped our troops look for the lack of a more professional, systematic and unassuming way of accounting for prisoners?  (By the way, this photo was shot as part of the second large U.S. assault on Haditha in two weeks,  so you can’t say the military didn’t have a chance to consider a better way to keep track of captives.)

If you’re going to mark, could we talk about the psychology (and humiliation factor) of marking the forehead instead of say, the more unobtrusive shoulder or ankle.  (Of course, I could understand them ruling out the inside forearm.  That would be too reminiscent of Auschwitz.)

And then, there is the writing instrument.  If I’m not mistaken, that looks a lot like a Sharpie.  Do you have any idea how hard that ink is to wash off? 

Frankly, I had almost given up hope of finding another example of tagging by our folks in Iraq.  I guess buildings aren’t good enough anymore?


(In spite of my rant, it’s actually hard to believe this isn’t a standard military technique.  In all the news photos I’ve looked at of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, however, I have never seen this procedure before.  I can’t say it was comprehensive, but I also couldn’t find references to this method in a web search. 

…However, I did discover that civil war deserters were often branded on their foreheads with indelible ink, and that branding was also a favorite method of punishment used by Saddam Hussein.  Somehow, you would think that just this latter fact would argue for a different method of prisoner control.)

If any of you are familiar with this method, could you leave a comment as to why this identification technique is used and what alternative methods are available?  Also, the USA Today story suggests that the U.S. Military was not well prepared for this assault.  Does the fact this method was used suggest something about our military situation in the field?  For example, are we collecting more prisoners than we can handle?

(Yahoo caption: A U.S. Marine writes an identification number on the forehead of an Iraqi man detained during a search in Haditha, 220 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Wednesday, May 25, 2005. About 1,000 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers encircled Haditha, in the troubled Anbar province, launching the second major operation in this vast western region in less than a month.)

(image: Jacob Silberberg/AP.  May 25, 2005 in YahooNews and USA Today.)

(Thanks to BAG reader Robert)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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