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The portrait of a man detained by the US Government from Oct. 13, 2003 to Oct. 13, 2004. He was abused at Abu Ghraib and released without charges. He is best known as the “Man Behind the Hood” from a infamous photo where he was standing on a cardboard box and holding electrical wires. “There is not one person in prison in Iraq who has not been subjected to some kind of abuse,” he stated in a testimony.

At the height of the Iraq War in 2006, attorney Susan Burke invited fashion photographer Chris Bartlett to focus his lens on a new subject. The human rights lawyer had filed civil lawsuits on behalf of a number of Iraqis who claimed to have been arrested, tortured, and released without charges by Defense Department subcontractors. She was in the process of collecting testimonies from the detainees in Jordan and Turkey, and she wanted Bartlett to photograph them.

“One of the instruments of degradation — of torture — towards the detainees was a camera,” Bartlett recently said in an interview with Proof, recalling the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib, which had far-reaching implications for America’s moral standing in the world. “So, the idea was to take these beautiful portraits of these people and try to bring humanity back to them through the portraiture, and then pair that with the testimony they were giving in the other room.”

The resulting medium format images, on display at Photoville this month, reveal people still struggling to recover their dignity and comprehend what happened to them. Their eyes confront the viewer who, as part of a democratic society, is implicated in the dark spiral of poor decision-making that led to such abuses of power.

This woman was detained by the U.S. government from January to July of 2004. She was freed without charges.

It’s difficult to read the stories behind Bartlett’s portraits. The only woman photographed in the series, an accountant and mother of seven from Baghdad, said she was put in a room with her son locked in a cage before her. Interrogators told her if she didn’t confess she knew terrorists, she’d be sent to a place where she’d be raped. “They will do things to you that you could never imagine,” they said. The woman was eventually freed without charges.

Another of Bartlett’s portraits features a detainee whose silver hair is lit by a soft, northern light. He was also photographed at Abu Ghraib. In that more famous picture, he stood on a cardboard box while holding an electric wire. “There is not one person in prison in Iraq who has not been subjected to some kind of abuse,” he stated in his testimony.

“Hearing the stories was very difficult, and as an American really made me feel ashamed,” Bartlett told Hyperallergic. “Some of [the subjects] really projected a feeling of being damaged by the experience. Others seemed more resilient. I was surprised that they did not feel animosity or anger. It was more of a feeling of why. Why if you were coming to liberate us did you torture us? One man said that they were better off under Saddam.”

Take a look at some images from the series below.

This man was a farmer and former police officer. He had a wife and five children. He was detained from January 20 to May 28 2004, after soldiers wielding machine guns stormed his house in the middle of the night. During his detention, he was put into a steel cage about three feet high by three feet wide. In 2006, he was gunned down by an unknown assailant.

In the middle of a December night in 2003, this cattle rancher was awakened after soldiers knocked on his door. When his mother went to answer the door, holding his 6-year-old sister, a bomb “with nails in it” killed them both. The man was put in a vehicle, his head covered with clothing stained by his family’s blood, and released three months later from Abu Ghraib. He was never accused or charged with any wrongdoing.

This man was too afraid to be photographed. A carsalesman, he was detained from Aug. 1, 2003 to Nov. 2004. After being forced to lie down in urine and feces, he says, “they brought a rope and put it around my neck. It was a rope for dogs, made from leather. They hit me on my left side and then in the groin and after that I fainted. When someone was pissing on me, they stopped kicking. After that, another one kicked me, and I fainted again.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...