One humanistic footnote to the long and illegal detention of “enemy combatants” at Gitmo has been a policy allowing photos of detainees to be provided to their families, and vice-versa.
The application of the policy I’m most familiar with comes from a project called Guantanamo: Pictures from Home (project/photos). This project documented the collection and production of photographs of detainee’s families by pro-bono lawyers in order to demonstrate to prisoners that Western lawyers had gained the families trust in representing them. The reason I bring it up is because Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert at West Point and a recognized monitor of on-line jihad activity, discovered the other day that one of the prisoners recently photographed was none other than WTC bomber and 9/11 mastermind Kalid Sheik Muhammed.
In his post about the discovery, which was reported in several major newspapers, Mr. Brachman took great concern in the fact that KSM’s public face has now been revised from that of the scruffy unshaven guy with the unkept hair in the undershirt published umpteen-thousands of times in the Western media into the supposedly pious one above, peering hypnotically into the camera while fingering prayer beads. (Apparently, the creators of the photo, the International Red Cross, shot a pair, the other just below.)
Never mind that KSM’s “revised visage” already circulated widely over the past year by way of courtroom illustrations (even receiving extra media attention last June, if you recall, after KSM protested he thought the artist made his nose look too big). It’s the photographic version that has Mr. Brachman particularly worried, based on a scenario he paints in which young potential Islamic evil-doers the world over — having grown tired of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri and looking for the new, new thing — suddenly light on this supposedly irresistible portrait of the baddest and most successful infidel of all time and start to volunteer like crazy.
So, the jihadists get a hold of this image and have in their hands more than just a photo. They have a symbol. This is the man who dealt the single greatest blow to the ‘infidel’ and look, they might say, he’s not only still alive, but he looks more pious and happier than ever.
For those of you who haven’t spent a lot of time on “KSM,” think somewhere between Hannibal Lecter, Adolf Eichmann and Daniel Plainview. He is an ego-maniacal, fiercely entrepreneurial, deviously minded psychopath who is consummately rational, in his own delusional and banal way. He’s a murderous thug. And a master showman. He’s a workaholic and spottedly insightful. Interpersonally, he seems generally affable with a hint of ‘ready-to-snap-into-crazy-fascist-monster.’ And, what matters most… he wants to prove a point.
Al-Qaida has a new brand, and it came from the bottom-up. This [the publication of this photo on jihadi websites] was, in my read, a grass-roots, self-organizing campaign for al-Qaida to put KSM back on the map, to add him back into the Founding Myth.
I don’t know. With al-Qaeda playing a much weaker hand these days, can a photograph have that kind of power — more so, say, than the power of the neocons to invest that much fear in one?
(images: International Committee of the Red Cross via Jarret Brachman)