Torturing Detainees Off of U.S. Soil Since December 2001
Digital Print, 2005
The nation is currently shocked by the grisly revelations contained in a Senate report released this week of the torture carried out by the CIA. Yet CSPG's Poster of the Week was made nearly a decade ago. The awareness that the U.S. has long been torturing people is known to the world. To be outraged now is not due to historical amnesia, but due to purposeful obfuscation by politicians and the corporate media.
The Guardian (London) commented, "While parts of the programme had been known - and much more will never be revealed - the catalogue of abuse is nightmarish and reads like something invented by the Marquis de Sade or Hieronymous Bosch." Although the report is highly redacted, the tortures it lists include waterboarding, rectal feeding, sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, mock executions and Russian roulette, sexual abuse, threatening detainees' parents and children, and more. The report also describes how the CIA gave inaccurate information to Congress, to journalists, and that White House wanted to ensure that Secretary of State Colin Powell be "kept in the dark."
In spite of escalating calls to punish the perpetrators, the Obama administration continues to wage what journalist Glenn Greenwald called, "aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the war on terror crimes committed by Bush officials."
When will we demand justice!
CSPG's Poster of the Week was made by Mike Gavayan, at the time a student in Fereshteh Toosi's Introduction to Graphic Design class at Frostburg State University, Maryland. Gavayan places the horrific photo of the hooded man, the most iconic of the photos of U.S. torture victims from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in front of red, white, and blue, to refer to torture as an American tradition. The only thing missing are the electric wires dangling from the victims fingers, featured in the original photo.
To read more about how this poster came about, read Fereshteh Toosi's letter below, in which she describes the assignment and the students' reactions.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer [Glenn Greenwald]
Fereshteh Toosi is an interdisciplinary, Chicago-based artist. In 2005/6 she taught a Graphic Design class in Maryland. Her students were asked to create posters for CSPG's Prison Nation exhibition.
Asking my students to create posters for the Center for the Study of Political Graphics' "Prison Nation" exhibit was one of the most valuable teaching moments from my first semester as instructor of ART 207: Introduction to Graphic Design at Frostburg State University. Located in a small rural town in western Maryland, students in the 2 sections of this class were a mix of art and communications majors at different stages in their academic careers. In terms of my pedagogical goals, it was important to provide them with a real-world design problem that was not directed towards a commercial end. The CSPG's call for entries seemed an ideal opportunity to direct the students in the importance of developing process, research methods, and techniques for idea-generation.
My own awareness about the prison industrial complex came about during my time as a student at Oberlin College, but it happened outside of the classroom. In the mid 1990s the Mumia Abu Jamal case was a popular cause on college campuses and I learned about the larger problems of prisons and prisoners' rights through friends who were well-informed and passionate about activism around this issue. I was lucky in this regard. Most young people in this country do not gain knowledge about the severity of prison issues through formal college education or mass media. It continues to be something many Americans choose to ignore. As an educator I was excited by the prospect of asking students to develop their design skills while addressing such a topic.
When I initially announced the premise for the project, many students were disappointed and annoyed. Several dismissed it quickly, joking about the need to "lock criminals up and throw away the key". "Just kill 'em all!" or "I don't give a damn about these people" were common remarks. I had left the topic open to interpretation, but I was concerned that too many students had already made up their minds that it was not worth further investigation. I knew I needed something that would make an impact. In our small university video library I found only two videos with any mention of prison issues. The Eyes on the Prize documentary series addresses the 1971 rebellion in New York's Attica prison, which I chose to screen along with footage from the Stanford prison psychology experiment of that same year. My lessons included information on the parallels between then and now, as well examples of political posters from the last century. To this end we were very fortunate to have access to the art in the CSPG's on-line collection.
Students became more motivated to investigate the topic further, and this is when the real discoveries began. Comments changed in tone: "This is too depressing" was the new complaint. I'm not sure if anyone radically changed their viewpoint on any particular issue, but I was pleased to see them embrace the challenge to find compelling creative solutions to expose a very complex social cause. Also important was the way in which creating a poster for the CSPG expanded students' notions of the purpose of design. I am grateful for the teaching opportunity that this exhibit provided, and my students are proud to be involved. Thank you for including us.