WASHINGTON -- The first surprise may be that the most damning, enduring images of the prison camps at Guantánamo were taken by a U.S. sailor doing his job.
Second is that Navy Petty Officer Shane McCoy didn't look through a viewfinder to capture the panorama of captives in shackles on their knees as Army guards hovered nearby.
He set a timer, hoisted his Navy-issue digital camera on a stick -- a monopod -- and it clicked.
''I've seen them in magazines, on television, on the Internet,'' said McCoy, 33, now ending a 14-year Navy career. "If I do a search for my name, there's like 16,000 hits on those photos. They're everywhere.''
Six years ago today, McCoy took those now-iconic images of the first detainees to land at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba -- capturing a moment of men on their knees in orange jumpsuits behind barbed wire fences.
Much to the Pentagon's chagrin, the images won't go away.
They have been printed and reprinted across the globe, reenacted in protests expected to continue today from Europe to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, even in a film -- symbols of the United States' war-on-terrorism detention and interrogation policy.
''Iconic photographs cut through ambiguity,'' says Michael L. Carlebach, professor emeritus of art history and photography at the University of Miami. ``They resolve things. They explain things. And it cuts through a lot of rhetoric; you can see for yourself.''
OTHER FAMOUS PHOTOS
The naked girl fleeing napalm in Vietnam, debunking the Pentagon line that civilians weren't caught up in the war.
The Chinese protester stopping a tank's advance in Tiananmen Square.
''They can't spin it,'' Carlebach said. ``Is it fair? Is it representative? All photographs take things out of context. They stop time -- just one little split second, and you can get very philosophical and say they're not real. But that's irrelevant.''
The date was Jan. 11, 2002, and homemade snapshots of guards tormenting nude detainees in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, were two years away. News photographers in Baghdad had yet to swarm around the toppling Saddam Hussein statues.
In Guantánamo, Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert told a handful of reporters the nascent prison project was getting ''the worst of the worst'' of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan, 8,000 miles away.
McCoy was assigned to Combat Camera, an elite unit that took secret pictures not for the public but the Pentagon brass. He was the only photographer allowed that day at Camp X-Ray, the first of a series of prison camps that across six years would hold and interrogate more than 750 captives, leaving 275 there today.
He was outside a makeshift, open-air holding compound where the captives were kept on their way to registration -- now defunct after housing 300 men and boys in the earliest days.
The sailor said it was just another job: Take pictures. Choose some. Write captions. Send them to Washington.
A week later, they were on CNN.
SPIRIT OF GENEVA
That's because at the Pentagon, the Bush administration was debating how to reassure the world that its evolving detention strategy was humane -- if not exactly in keeping with the Geneva Conventions by policy, then in keeping with what commanders would come to call ``its spirit.''
So, as then-spokeswoman Torie Clarke wrote in her memoirs, Lipstick on a Pig, releasing pictures that didn't show detainees' faces seemed like the smart thing to do.