Abu Ghraib: the limits of a language game
DOI link for Abu Ghraib: the limits of a language game
Abu Ghraib: the limits of a language game book
Introduction Thus far, the construction and reconstruction of the Bush administration’s language game of security has been outlined. This chapter turns to a focus on the breakdown of the rules of engagement and play of this particular game. While the President and his team continued to speak security, their responses to the Abu Ghraib abuses illustrates that they were no longer able to put a language game into use in a meaningful way. What is interesting from a language game perspective is that the Abu Ghraib images were given a meaning which fell outside, and actually contradicted, their securitized response. Investigating this type of transformation is crucial to exposing the limits of the Bush administration’s language game of security and the spheres of action constituted by and connected to it. This chapter diverges from the large and still growing literature documenting the coercive interrogation techniques and torture that occurred in this prison (Barrett 2004; Cohen 2005; Danner 2004a, 2004b, 2004c; Eisenman 2007; Greenberg 2005; Lang and Beattie 2009; Rajiva 2003; Sontag 2004a). Instead, it explores the Bush administration’s response as a second defining moment in their justifications for the Iraq War. Once again we find that the President and his team were forced to reconstitute the way in which they spoke security. Examining their response during the Abu Ghraib episode illustrates that the way in which the Bush administration had reconstituted their justifications for the Iraq War at the first defining moment was extremely important. Since democracy was part of the “grammar” of their language game of security, it became part and parcel of the framework within which the abuses were judged, as well as a framework of further debate. The structure of this chapter is slightly different to the preceding chapters because it reflects that the core theoretical debates have now been firmly established. As such, the discussion focuses immediately on the empirical case, drawing new insights about how the Bush administration’s language game evolved as it was put into use. The first section provides a brief recontextualization of the Abu Ghraib prison since this seems key to understanding what exactly was at a stake in terms of the Bush administration’s language of
security. From there, the next section engages with the linguistic frames used by the Bush administration in response to the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs. This episode is worthy of deep exegesis as it provides a way to uncover the meanings the Bush administration tried to ascribe to the Abu Ghraib images. When we “look and see” how they responded to the photographs, the multiple and overlapping language games that were in operation become extremely apparent. Taking these considerations on board provides an avenue to critically examine two further issues. The third part of the chapter explicates the acts of interpretation that were revealed to have been undertaken by the Bush administration with regards to established international laws surrounding the treatment of prisoners in war. Their interpretation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are especially notable. Hence, in many respects the Bush administration’s response to the Abu Ghraib affair can be seen as a contest over security and its relationship to rules. Apart from showing how the President and his team attempted to redefine international law, Wittgenstein’s concept of an act of interpretation highlights how disputes over the legitimacy and legality of their “enhanced interrogation techniques” eroded the rules constituted in and by the Bush administration’s language game of security. When we “look and see,” we find that they did not convince enough people to act according to their new set of rules. On a related yet separate point, the next section explicates the internal inconsistencies that appeared in the Bush administration’s language game of security. Unpacking the different structures of meaning embedded in their language games illustrates that two arguments in particular clash. Overall, the administration’s written and oral statements about these photographs categorize the brutal behavior conducted at the prison as unacceptable sadism and brutality of a few individuals or what James R. Schlesinger called “Animal House on the night shift” (Carter 2004). However, a supporting argument was also made that the pictures depicted the work of a few un-American soldiers. This enabled the Bush administration to suggest that their “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legitimate and lawful. When invoked by the Bush administration to give meaning to what happened in Abu Ghraib, the alternative structures of meaning woven into their language game conflicted in an irreconcilable way. Neither argument was able to justify the photographed actions in their own right. The Bush administration’s attempt to join them together was even less convincing. Developing this line of argument highlights an interrelated struggle over meanings. The last section argues that Abu Ghraib exposed many hidden dangers of speaking security both in the Copenhagen School framework and in reality. Overcoming these dangers requires taking securitized speech acts and environments much more seriously than had been done. Focusing on the rules of engagement is not enough in coming to grips with what happened in Abu Ghraib. In moving away from the Copenhagen School’s notion of a speech act to a Wittgensteinian language game, it becomes apparent that putting the language
of security into practice often involves a more serious undertaking than those speaking security anticipate. The chapter ends by questioning what is legitimated by the language of security. This gives rise to larger questions about the kind of order and rules that we want to create and safeguard. The events that took place at Abu Ghraib make such reflections imperative.