Abu Ghraib, the security apparatus, and the performativity of power



The critical discourse on U.S. military detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison has been dominated by Weberian-style arguments (a bureaucracy gone wrong, insufficient or badly applied administrative rules, or individuals acting as cogs in a machine). We argue that Michel Foucault's “security apparatus” provides a more insightful model for understanding the Abu Ghraib phenomenon. According to this model, the prison becomes a nodal point in an information-gathering nexus confronting unforeseen, emergent, and unclear events, a place where power is less disciplinary than improvisational, exercised through practical judgments about uncertain situations. The performance of such power at Abu Ghraib included the use of photography and acts that, we claim, resemble M. M. Bahktin's negative carnivalesque. [Abu Ghraib, security apparatus, improvisational power, photography, carnivalesque]