Daniel Heyman’s Iraqi Portraits give voice to the former detainees of Abu Ghraib Prison. Between 2006 and 2008, Heyman traveled to Jordan and Turkey with American lawyer Susan Burke to witness the testimony of former prisoners held at Abu Ghraib and later released without charges. Burke was building a case in US federal court against private contractors who provided interrogation and translation services, and were involved in the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons. Heyman accompanied her team on five trips to the Middle East between 2006 and 2008, meeting with forty former detainees of Abu Ghraib’s notorious “hard site,” and later with witnesses to the Blackwater/Nisour Square shooting that left seventeen Iraqi civilians dead and twenty injured.
The detainees met with lawyers, translators, note takers, and Heyman in hotel rooms. While lawyers collected statements for the lawsuit, Heyman sketched the likenesses of the detainees. Moved by the power of each detainee’s words, he began transcribing their testimonies directly onto his images. His portraits capture the humanity of these innocent Iraqis. In contrast to the anonymous figures—hooded and caped, or naked in piles—in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, Heyman presents us with individuals. They are farmers, doctors, shopkeepers, teachers, taxi drivers, husbands and fathers who speak of their fears for their families. They pose naturally, dressed as they were at the time of the interviews, most in western-style clothing, a few in keffiyeh and thwab (the traditional Middle Eastern headdress and robe). The texts surrounding the portraits are heartbreaking. They detail the trauma, overwhelming fear, and humiliation that detainees experienced at the hands of Americans. They document the changing attitude of some Iraqi’s toward Americans, who they first viewed as liberators and later as occupiers. They tell of the horror of being dragged from one’s bed in the middle of the night. And, they make specific and personal the litany of abuses that have come to be associated with Abu Ghraib Prison: rape, threats of rape, and other forms of sexual assault; b