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Jun 15, 2005

Under the Wire


I know Cheney promised to string up the next Administration official who dared suggest bailing on Guantanamo.  This cover, though, demonstrates the boldness (or perhaps, the foolishness) of such a stance.

TIME doesn't do these dramatic black covers very often.  When they do, they typically signify a defining moment involving the elevation of some person, event or issue to the status of an icon.

After the tsunami hit South Asia last December, the magnitude of the humanitarian response led TIME to give it similar treatment (The Events of December 26th, 2004 - link).  Coincident with that cover, the standing of "the tsunami" literally become "THE TSUNAMI." 

Although the newsmagazines certainly don't have the impact or the authority they once did, I do think this type of cover has a singular impact.  Just watch.  The significance of the moment (whether partly defined by TIME, or just affirmed), is that it is no longer "Guantanamo" or " just" Guantanamo.  It's now "GITMO"  -- like a permanent monument (or an official stain).

I'd like your interpretations and associations to this cover.  In the meantime, here are a few of mine:

I get such a base feeling when I hear and think about these detentions. Although it doesn't map perfectly, I thought the "barb" strongly evokes a human hand. The piece sticking up on the left looks like a "little finger." The coils in the center could be wrapped fingers or a hand encircling the wire. And the part sticking up on the right suggests a thumb. The smooth, light saturated twists also have a physical quality to me. In the segment to the right of the barb, I can imagine the shape of a shoulder.

...And if it doesn't accurately map to a hand, maybe that works too. It says, all who have hands involved in this have been damaged, misshapen.

The other thought about the barb was that it reminded me of a manacle. Clearly, the story of Dilawar, the taxi driver who was tortured to death at Bagram (Your Turn: Exhibit Q - link), is still fresh in my mind.

Finally, even without the phrase "INSIDE THE WIRE" in the headline, the layout emphasizes the black void below or underneath the wire. Below the wire is where the prisoners are supposed to be -- except we are unable to see anything. Like the prisoners in legal limbo, the suggestion is that we -- the public -- are also relegated to the dark.

(image: David Moore/Photonica. June 20, 2005. Time Magazine cover)


Surely the fundamental dishonesty here is not using the far nastier looking US-gulag-favoured razorwire rather than a friendly blunt looking piece of old ranchstead barb. Is there a single strand of such traditional barbed wire at Gitmo?

I don't see hands, but see a knot with loose ends, unraveling.

I hate to be so literal, but those were my thoughts exactly Ian. I don't think there are even any domestic prisons that use plain old barb wire.

I like how last week Bush was "exploring all alternatives" for detaining the prisoners. This exploration seemed to involve asking Cheney.

Hey, look, Martinez in a halo.

Its looks to me like part of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus in most of the pictures/statues I’ve seen, portraying the crucifixion scene. Think Gibson’s movie ads. The two barbs look to me like a lame attempt by someone to give a gang signal. The kind of thing you see on CD covers or in rap videos. In any event I disagree with Bag’s view that this cover is all that “significant”. Or that it will have much of an emotional impact on people. I suspect we’ve just about reached the limit on this kind of thing (giant caveat….new pictures of torture to be released in late June…if they are as bad as I hear, or even NEAR as bad as I hear the impact will be gigantic, world wide, and long, long, lasting).

But that said I think we are to the point where Time et al has come up against Bush’s base. And that 47% or so of the electorate is not going to be influenced by this stuff. Except, that is, to the extent that they will see this as more proof that the “liberal media” is against America and American soldiers. Perhaps you saw Gary Bauer’s latest spin about the reasons the recruiting numbers are down? It’s because of all the coverage on the torture stuff.

IOW…. the soldiers are getting unfair PR so why should an 18 year old want to join the military? This talking point will gain traction. But this even this delusion, fiercely held, will vanish if the new pictures turn out to be what the gossip says they are. If they are the shit will really hit the fan and even Bush’s base will be stunned into initial silence and then begrudging commentary

Wasn't that barbed wire once advertized as the fence that tamed the west (or something like that)? I equate barbed wire with farming/ranching (hence, management). Psychologically, I think of it as keeping things out rather than keeping things in. Using it subdues the wilderness and protects you from cattle rustlers and unruly "Injuns". While it may or may not be used at "Gitmo" these days, it seems to reflect the official mentality that with enough of this stuff, we can just tame them.

The large red headline sort of reminds me of the sensationalism of a tabloid or one of those pseudo news stories on CNN or Fox. I wonder if we'll learn what 063 thinks about the Jackson verdict...... The "momemt by moment" stuff is a little weird--were the reporters sitting in the room watching the interrogation? Were they watching a video? Did they interview 063? Anyway, this delivery seems a little bizarre and prurient to me. Considering the lack of access (press/Red Cross) to places like Guantanamo and the daily spin on the torture subject, I have to say that I am suspicious. Is this article a release valve calculated (by Pentagon, administration, etc.?) to provide enough information to be plausible, but not enough to actually tell us something important?

Hmmn? jon st, what's the scoop about new photos at the end of the month?


I do not find the Time's cover too forward and critical of the US Gitmo.
Great there is the barb, (with imagination you could see horns too, yet that is not in my eyes the point of the Time).
What you read beneath it is an attempt to justify US government indefinite detentions and tortures of all the unnamed, unknown and disappeared persons held there in the dark. The only correct image is the darkness, the barb makes it too neat and surgical so readers' conscience can stay in dark too.

I know this site seeks to interpret images, but in this case I think looking at the text is important. For me, the phrase "20th hijacker" moves the image away from anything critical of Gitmo and toward something more like dark justice or victory. Overall, the barb wire looks very necessary over "20th hijacker."

I, too, first saw a hand – forming the symbol associated with the Longhorns of Texas, "hook 'em horns." That same hand gesture symbolizes "devil worship" and "bullshit."

If Americans were polled on what "Gitmo" is, what percentage would be able to respond correctly?

Most of them would think "I go to the the store to gitmo food."

Is it appropriate to change the name of a subject in the the press just for type space? It has always concerned me that Republicans benefit from also being called the GOP. What percentage of Americans know what GOP means or whom it refers to? It's confusing and seems to deflect attention from reality.

On the composition, reading left to right in accordance with the text, the wire slopes upwards. The "finger" barbs both point upwards. This actively counters assocations between GITMO and a "moral descent". Red indicates danger of course, black the dark unknown, with the white wire providing a measure of certainty and relief clearl;y seperate from both. If you want to make barbed wire look on balance positive and unthreatening, this is how to do it.

The text "The U.S. believes he was the 20th hijacker. A moment-by-moment account of how they got him to talk." is slightly surreal. Who /exactly/ is this "believing" U.S.? Is there a big brain in a tank in Nevada somewhere that holds official "U.S. beliefs"? Why is it /still/ only a "beleif" now "they" have "got him to talk"?

Detainee (like he's been kept in after school
or something) comes from one of those irregular verbs: I detain; you encarcerate; he kidnaps.


Pursuant to a law suit filed by the ACLU a federal court has ordered the Pentagon to release photos of prisoner abuse. I believe the release date is June 29th or there about. Three weeks ago on the Chris Matthews Sunday show Andrew Sullivan said “his sources” had told him the pictures would include prisoners being raped. A professional acquaintance of mine who is connected to the ACLU confirmed he had heard the same rumor that Sullivan was spreading. Who knows what the truth is? All we know for sure is there are more pictures coming unless an appeal is filed by the Pentagon.

This verse came to me when I saw the picture:

"He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
-The Mending Wall by Robert Frost

Visually, what I see is a knot, but it does not look to me like it's unravelling. The visual effect of the barb being in focus with the rest of the wire blurred makes it look taut, like it's been pulled tight.

The Light reveals that which would have otherwise have been obscured by darkness.

Is this article about Zacarias Moussaoui? No, it's about Mohammed al-Qahtani.

Wasn't Moussaoui previously labeled "The 20th Hijacker" ? I wish I had access to Lexis-Nexis to see if Time had ever called Moussaoui by that name.

I wonder if that phrase "The 20th Hijacker" will enter the lexicon as a way to describe anyone who is suspected by the US to have been directly involved in 9/11.

jon st,

Thanks for the heads up.


As per the point that traditional barbed wire is probably nowhere to be seen at "Gitmo": Razor wire and a chain-link fence don't really make good symbols.

I see this as a symbol that links our camp with concentration camps and gulags, and hence to what Amnesty International has been saying all along.


Yes, several articles from Time Magazine have referred to Moussaoui as the 20th hijacker. Couple of examples below.

Time Magazine
August 25, 2003
Article about Riduan Isamuddin -
"The U.S. believes that he helped Zacarias Moussaoui, the Moroccan-French operative charged with being the intended "20th hijacker," enroll in flight school in the U.S. And intelligence officials think Hambali was the al-Qaeda leader who set up a 2000 meeting in Malaysia attended by several operatives, including two 9/11 hijackers. "

and another

Time Magazine

October 27, 2003

"Three months to the day after the attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft proudly announced a showstopping list of conspiracy charges against Moussaoui--who the government strongly hinted was the missing 20th hijacker--calling the indictment "a chronicle of evil." He was--and remains--the only person in the U.S. charged in connection with 9/11."

Regarding Kitty's point about the impact of the text and the role of the barbed wire in "containing" the "20th hijacker" (as well as cj's comment about the text color/size/style):

Of course, in any layout, the text is also image. In this case, the dynamics involving the position of the wire relative to the the text, the text color, size and even typestyle, as well as the specific location of different textual elements all carry significance. Thanks for the observation. Because I'm almost single-minded about presenting images with the highest collective quotient of appeal, currency, controversy and connotation, it's often hard -- especially at blog speed -- to do these images greater justice. As a result, I am becoming more reliant and appreciative of the BAG readership, its sharper collective eye, and its larger wisdom.

Re: CJ's point on the release of additional images. I'm sure they will be accessible, as they will likely be released by the ACLU. I will be dumbstruck, however, if either the public or the (larger) press will have anything to do with them.

Intially I saw clasped hands when I looked at the cover and I had to look and look before I figured out that I was actually looking at a barb.

'Gitmo' almost sounds like a nickname for a fun-n-friendly kinda place. The stark black background indeed elevating the significance -- or what we are expected to deem significant about the '20th hijacker'. I think the wire is just a bit of window dressing.

This cover reeks of a public relations stunt to detract from the calls for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

I'm not certain how effective the hint of a relation between anyone currently held, and 9/11 can be at this time.

The image is not the point; the point is what happens inside the image. We the people are represented by a government that we the people (51%) selected. That government is to be held to the highest of standards, which do not include torture. If the United States is engaged in detention without trial, torture, and abuse, we the people are responsible.

The very first Solzinitzin book I ever read "A day in the life of..." had a cover with a white background and a single strand of barbed wire. The story was haunting real and made me great full that I enjoyed freedom and democracy. That is the image comes to mind hear.

We the people have abrogated our responsibilities, have chosen to hide behind a strand of wire rather than face the truth. Torture is never effective for obtaining confessions, of course they admit guilt what other choice is there? As for obtaining valuable information, how much reliance can be placed on that gained under duress?

If we wish to avoid the comparisons with Stalin’s Gulags and Hitler’s Extermination camps then it is we the people who must reign in those elected officials who claim to be doing this in our name.

I am surprised that no one has pointed out two things. 1) The "corkscrew" twisting of the wire is much tighter to the left of the barb or "hand" than it is to the right. This implies a dynamic that the "hand" is actually twisting the wire. This would logically cause a "snap" at some point in time. 2.)The wire itself is not straight. It has a slight overall curvature implying that it is not stretched taught between two fixed points. Both of these aspects of the image (in addition to the "hand/horn" barb) would seem to be intentional and would not be part of some stock image of barbed wire.

20th hijacker, al-Qaeda's third in command... there have been several of each.

I haven't received my paper copy in the mail yet, just skimmed the article online. But reading it, they certainly make it sound like al-Qahtani is probably the real deal. That would account for the rare dramatic black cover and the feature story.

The choice of 'wire' for the headline and photo seems very deliberate and I think that's the core issue of this cover that merits some thought. Why barbed wire, anyway? I don't know. It seems strongly associated with frontier imagery and defining/defending your borders. Looks like we're not done with that fear theme yet.

I think it's very interesting that the overall feel of both cover and article is of something very sanitized. As others pointed out, the wire is plain old barbed wire and not the real thing: razor wire, which looks WAY more vicious. The article focuses on the high-value target and seems to barely touch upon the fact that an unknown number of innocents have had the same treatment -- or worse. Oh, it mentions that, but the subtext seems to be one of "look, the benefits outweigh the problems", which is no doubt exactly why the DoD chose to release this particular logbook.

Maybe I'll get a different impression after reading a little more thoroughly... maybe not.

Okay, turns out I did have the paper copy but it was hiding underneath that stupid outer advertising wrapper they put in.

After reading it the impression of a sanitized image remains. It's a secret ORCON (originator controlled) document. While TIME doesn't say a single word about the document's source other than that they "obtained" it somehow, it seems probable that it was deliberately handed to them by the DoD. But I'm not sure. It sometimes seems to be an attempt to make things look at Gitmo look not so bad, except that if that was its intent I don't really think it worked. They suggest al-Qahtani is a bad guy by saying at one point he gives answers directly out of an al-Qaeda handbook, but then they describe all the stuff that's done to him and even the sanitized descriptions of what are done start piling up and make you start to wish there were another way. And that's only over a period of less than two months.

Still curious about the deliberate choice of "inside the wire" as both headline and picture for the cover. The story has not a single thing to do with wire. The cover could have been the cover of the report, a padlock, a chain link fence, a detainee, a picture of an MP, anything.

After some googling I think it seems likely that it's meant as a reference to, plug for, or perhaps even response to Erik Saar's recent book of the same name, which was co-authored by another TIME mag reporter, Viveca Novak. Plug for the book? Sanitized report meant to compete with the leaked report? TIME reporters helping each other out or squaring off against each other? You tell me.

>>The very first Solzinitzin book I ever read "A day in the life of..." had a cover with a white background and a single strand of barbed wire. The story was haunting real and made me great full that I enjoyed freedom and democracy. That is the image comes to mind hear.<<

If the folks at Time have read Solzinitzin, I'll eat this edition.

I swear, the first thing I saw when I scrolled down and the image first flashed by me was a dove entangled in the wire. I had to go back and look again.

The designer in me really appreciates how the type is so tightly controlled, creating a shape and direction in the overall composition. The type arrangement seems to point our eye to the barb. But then the difference in the twists, left and right, seem to add an element of unease or wrongness.

The curve in the wire does ads some dynamic tension that would not be there if it were straight across the cover space. But after the clean type, the visual imbalance seems jarring. I find myself squirming a little--it's hard to look at, almost too animate.

One extended interpretation might be that the GITMO project is very tightly controlled, but elements go awry. Contrast hard metal and soft flesh. Something feels very wrong.

The barb has been (and still is) used as a symbol by Amnesty International, and I doubt if that can have been absent from the cover creators' minds.(In the current context of conflict between the Bush administration and AI over, precisely, Gitmo, torture, etc).

AI's widest-used symbol is of a candle (representing hope and light) surrounded by a twist of barbed wire. Another is of a barb with two prongs sticking up like the one in the TIME cover.

afew, 4fold, et al., nice observations! I had a chance to finally read the accompanying article. The left/right twist does seem to correspond to the two philosophies of torture/interrogation at "Gitmo" and of 063 in particular. Seems like the "secret" document was designed to reflect the tight/not so tight twisting of the thumbscrews used. The barbed wire connection with the AI logo is right on (maybe AI ought to get out there a little more, their symols are beginning to fade from the collective memory....!) What I am beginning to find a bit strange about the TIME cover/article is that this supposedly secret confidential document seems to have been widely circulated and commented on by military etc.--still can't help feeling that this is more of a release valve than expose.....


The barb reminds me of the M*A*S*H movie poster- the angle of the barb's "horns" is the same as the chick's legs in that amazing "peace-sign-middle-finger-extended-porn-shot" symbol they used.

Not that it means anything... but y'all like these weird matches (and so do I). Mostly, I made the AI connection first and formost, but I couldn't exactly remember what organization it was. Thanks for saying.

It is either a cover that is poorly done (unlikely) or one meant to be disturbing in oddly disturbing ways...

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