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Chris Bartlett

Chris Bartlett, Detained May 21, 2004. From the series Iraqi Detainees: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Ordeals, 2006-2007
Courtesy of the artist.

Iraqi Detainees: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Ordeals, 2006-2007

During the invasion and occupation of Iraq, coalition forces detained tens of thousands of people. Particularly in the early years, the vast majority of Iraqis who were picked up were harassed, mistreated, and tortured.

 How you define their treatment depends on how you define torture. Is it torture only when, as one Justice Department official put it, the treatment 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 twenty-three hours a day, beaten at regular intervals for weeks or months on end, or imprisoned 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 if he or she were picked up and treated this way, with no charges filed and no notice provided to the family, would you feel that your child had been tortured?

The individuals 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 2006 in Amman, Jordan, and in 2007 in Istanbul.

 Chris Bartlett

* Wording is from the August 1, 2002, memo sent from Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee to Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, interpreting a 1994 statute that ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture; it is now often called the “torture memo.”


Chris Bartlett is a documentary human rights portrait photographer. His portraits of former Iraqi detainees first gained recognition as part of the Moving Walls 15 exhibition at the Open Society Foundation in New York in 2008. Most recently these works were featured at Photoville, one of the largest photography festivals in New York City. Bartlett was interviewed regarding the exhibition of these works by the British Broadcasting Company, National Public Radio, and Canadian Public Radio, among many other media. He recently traveled the country making portraits of military rape survivors and is currently working on a series of portraits of political dissidents and former political prisoners in Burma.

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