Chris Bartlett grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. After graduating with a BA in history from Kenyon College, he came to New York to start a career in photography. Bartlett earns his living as a freelance still life photographer working primarily in the fashion and beauty industries. He has worked for most of the top fashion publications, including Vogue, Teen Vogue, Men’s Vogue, Town & Country, and Outside.
Bartlett’s interest in photographing detainees came from a desire to use his professional skills to create images that have broader implications than current fashion trends. Attorney Susan Burke, with whom he worked on this project, has welcomed a number of writers, artists, and filmmakers to listen to the stories of the detainees to help the world understand the gravity and extent of the detainee abuse in Iraq.
Since the invasion of Iraq, coalition forces have detained tens of thousands of people. The vast majority of Iraqis picked up have been harassed, mistreated, abused, or tortured in some way. How you describe their treatment depends on how you define torture. Is it only torture when the treatment, as one Justice Department official put it, leads to “death, organ failure, or permanent damage”? Is waterboarding torture? If one is stripped naked, chained to a door, locked in a darkened room for 23 hours a day, beaten at regular intervals for weeks or months on end with one bathroom break and one meal a day—is that torture? If your son or daughter happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time while traveling abroad, and he or she was picked up and treated this way, with no charges filed and no notice to family, would you feel that your child had been tortured?
The people shown in these portraits are Iraqis who were detained by the United States military and its surrogates. All were tortured and abused, and all were released without being charged. The portraits were taken in the spring of 2006 in Amman, Jordan, and the summer of 2007 in Istanbul, Turkey. Attorney Susan Burke, of the law firm Burke O’Neil in Philadelphia, filed civil lawsuits on behalf of these detainees against the Titan and CACI corporations, Defense Department subcontractors who supplied the interrogators and interpreters. The lawsuits charge that these interrogators and interpreters, with the blessing and direction of the Defense Department and the OGA (Other Government Agency), a term commonly used for the CIA, committed repeated acts of torture and abuse, for which they should be held to account.
Ironically, most of the coverage of the detainee abuse has relied on images taken by the perpetrators. Their graphic recordings with “point and shoot” digital cameras showed the world the horrors of what was happening, but oddly, while the discovery of the photos brought to light the injustice, they also further dehumanized the victims.
For my portraits, I set up a studio in my room and met with the people before or after their interviews with Susan Burke and her associates. I sat in on some interviews and have included excerpts with the portraits. Several interviews were conducted separately by the author Tara McKelvey for research for her book Monstering.
These individuals were put through unspeakable ordeals, then released without any charges being filed. They all have jobs, friends, and families. They need to be remembered not as “the man on the leash” or “the man on the box” but as people whose dignity and humanity have suffered as a direct result of policies and directives from the government of the United States of America.
NOTE: The captions for each photo contain the vivid reports of abuse provided by each individual, either paraphrased or presented in the person’s own words.
—Chris Bartlett, November 2008