Many readers will know of various attempts made, several years ago, to map the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme. One of the most innovative was artist-geographer Trevor Paglen‘s Terminal Air project (and the idea of (de)basing the travel agency in this way was taken up, in a different register, by Adel Abidin: see here).
Trevor and his collaborators produced a series of visualizations of the flight network between Guantanamo and various black sites, some in digital form (like Terminal Air) — the image below is a screenshot of a remarkable animated sequence –
– and others displayed on physical billboards, like this one:
Today the Guardian publishes the results of a three-year programme of ESRC-funded collaborative research between Ruth Blakeley at the University of Kent and Sam Raphael at Kingston University in association with Reprieve into the system of extraordinary rendition and its associated practices. This is of more than historical interest; they write:
The Rendition Project aims to analyse the emergence, development and operation of the global system of rendition and secret detention in the years since 9/11. In doing so, it aims to bring together as much of the publicly-available information as possible on the detainees who have been held in secret, the detention sites in which they have been held, and the methods and timings of their transfers.
With this data in place, we will seek to identify specific ‘key moments’ that have shaped the operation of rendition and secret detention, both regionally and in a global context. We are particularly interested in the contest between the executive, the judiciary, and the human rights community (comprising human rights lawyers, human rights NGOs, and some academics), over whether and how domestic and international law applies to those detainees held within the system. A key aim of the project is therefore to identify how rendition and secret detention have evolved within the context of this struggle to defend basic human rights.
The Rendition Project also examines the ways in which this system has evolved over time, including during the Obama administration. While President Obama has ordered the closure of CIA-run secret prisons (the so-called ‘black sites’), and revoked authorisation for use by US agents of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, many thousands of detainees in the ‘War on Terror’ continue to be held beyond the bounds of US and international law. Moreover, continued rendition and proxy detention have not been ruled out by the US Government, and may still form a central plank of counterterrorism policy.
The website for The Rendition Project includes testimony, profiles and documentation together with a detailed database and an interactive map (produced in collaboration with Craig Bloodworth from The Information Lab).
The composite map is daunting, as befits the terrifying scale of the process itself:
But the ability to disentangle the threads and to interrogate the database changes the terms of the engagement, making it possible to track the experience of individual victims and to identify the major circuits and the global network of complicities in which they were enmeshed.
Chillingly brilliant work.