Making sense of war

The irresistible Léopold Lambert managed to prompt me to re-work my thoughts on corpography (click on the Categories column on the right for more) for the second series of The Funambulist Papers: you can read the result here, and the printed vesion is en route.  I’m immensely grateful to Léopold for the invitation to take part, for his encouragement – and not least for his patience (all the more remarkable given his legendary capacity to answer any e-mail sent at any time within a single, terrifying minute….).

Regular readers will know that this short essay grows out of both Gabriel’s map: cartography and corpography in modern war and The natures of war, both of which are available under the DOWNLOADS tab.

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My previous conversation with Léopold for his other (podcast) platform, Archipelago, is here.

Tortured geographies

Guantanamo 'Suicides' In what now seems another life, I wrote about US torture during the early years of the “war on terror”, in ‘The Black Flag’ (which was specifically about Guantanamo, and which opened with three ‘suicides’ that we now have good reason to believe were anything but: see here and here) and ‘Vanishing Points’ (which extended the argument to Abu Ghraib and the archipelago of black sites like the ‘Salt Pit’ [shown below] within the global war prison).  Both are available in their original forms under the DOWNLOADS tab, and form part of the material I’ve been working with for a new essay to be included in The everywhere war.

Salt Pit

cia-report-p1-normalNow I’m digesting the Executive Summary that has been released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, but you can download the original (redacted) summary here, ‘Other Views’ here, and the Minority View from the Republicans – and please God it remains a minority view – here.

The New York Times‘ coverage is here, the Washington Post‘s here, and the Guardian‘s here.

In the meantime, some of the best work on the dispersed geography of this vast apparatus was carried out by Trevor Paglen (see my updated discussion here).

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Readers of his Blank spaces on the map will know of Trevor’s own attempt to see the ‘Salt Pit’ for himself, on the ground rather than from the air, and the images that result from this dimension of his work make clear – in plain sight, so to speak – their constitutive difficulties: see, for example, Jonah Weiner‘s essay on his work, ‘Prying eyes’, that appeared in the New Yorker here.

But here is part of what Trevor had to say about the mappings like the one above involved in his Torture Taxi and Terminal Air projects in An Atlas of Radical Cartography:

I’ve actually tried to stay away from cartography and “mapping” as much as possible in my work. The “God’s eye” view implicit in much cartography is usually not helpful in terms of describing everyday life, nor in describing the qualities of the relationships that cartography depicts. Because of what cartography cannot represent… it becomes pretty clear why it (and the forms of power that the cartographic viewpoint suggests) have traditionally been such powerful instruments of both colonialism and the contemporary geopolitical ordering of the world (which of course very much comes out of colonialism)…

I tend to be far more attracted to “on the ground” viewpoints and to embrace their fragmentedness and incompleteness. This project, as well as the “Terminal Air” project with the Institute for Applied Autonomy, are of course notable exceptions. With both of these projects that use the cartographic viewpoint, I was interested in taking what might seem like a familiar image and trying to and make it strange – trying to capture the feeling I had when I first started following CIA flights: it was the constant domestic flights to places like Tulsa, Las Vegas, Fresno, Fort Lauderdale and such that made a big impression on me. In working with John Emerson and the IAA, I insisted that we try to show a continuum between the domestic landscape and the landscape “somewhere else.” Neither of these projects are in my view not particularly useful as didactic tools but are instead useful in helping to see the point that we talked about above: that the “darkest” spaces of the war on terror blur into the everyday landscapes here “at home” and are in many way mutually constitutive. In this sense, they’re … images rather than analytic tools.

As I’ve noted before, this is part of the ‘capture’ side of the US kill-capture apparatus that uses drones (and often Special Forces) for the ‘kill’.  I say ‘US’, but it’s clear – not least from the map above – that a network of other states that radiates far beyond the other ‘Five Eyes‘ which have been so deeply involved in providing geospatial intelligence for drone strikes (and more) has been complicit in the production and concealment of this global archipelago of torture.

But there’s an irony in all this: even as the Obama administration ramped up drone strikes – and after a lull they have been resumed with a vengeance in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas – it was also condemning torture and, last month, committed the United States to acknowledging the extraterritorial reach of the Convention Against Torture (see Sarah Cleveland at Just Security here and Ryan Goodman and Eric Messenger here).  The refusal of the Bush administration to do so was a central part of the argument about legal geographies that I developed in both ‘The Black Flag’ and ‘Vanishing Points’.

So now we have an administration that recognises extra-territoriality to proscribe torture – and insists on it (or its own version of extra-territoriality) to authorise targeted killing.

Irresponsible Eyes

The Left to Die Boat

I’m off to Berlin to give a new version of ‘Angry Eyes‘ at HAU’s Waffenlounge (‘Weapons Lounge’), so I’ve been thinking some more about the dispersed and distributed field of militarized vision.  En route, I’ve read Timothy Raeymaekers‘ thoughtful reflection over at Liminal Geographies on Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani‘s short film Liquid Traces.

Their video retraces the awful journey of 72 desperate people who set out from Tripoli on 27 March 2011.  Two weeks later their boat washed ashore on the Libyan coast again – but with only 11 survivors on board, two of whom later died.

I expect many readers will recognise that Liquid Traces derives from a project at Forensic Architecture called The Left to Die Boat:

The Forensic Oceanography project was launched in summer 2011 to support a coalition of NGOs demanding accountability for the deaths of migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea while that region was being tightly monitored by the NATO-led coalition intervening in Libya. The efforts were focused on what is now known as the “left-to-die boat” case, in which sixty-three migrants lost their lives while drifting for fourteen days within the NATO maritime surveillance area.

By going “against the grain” in our use of surveillance technologies, we were able to reconstruct with precision how events unfolded and demonstrate how different actors operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea used the complex and overlapping jurisdictions at sea to evade their responsibility for rescuing people in distress. The report we produced formed the basis for a number of ongoing legal petitions filed against NATO member states.

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As Tim notes,

The paradox is this: despite its departure during a period of massive Frontex and NATO deployment following the Tunisian and Libyan uprisings, and despite the vicinity of 38 NATO ships (see below) and numerous commercial vessels, the migrants who were traveling across the Mediterranean were left to die while being actively observed through an assemblage of multiple, irresponsible eyes.

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Tim concludes in terms that echo my own invocation of Donna Haraway, though in a radically different context:

Rather than being a God’s eye, which towers high above human activity, as if it were seeing from nowhere, the assemblage that surveys Mediterranean waters constitutes a patchy puzzle of often conflicting and contradictory visions and legislations, and – I might add – quite different and opposing temporalities. As Haraway points out, the main question in this case becomes not what but “how to see? Where to see from? What limits to vision? What to see for? Whom to see with? Who gets to have more than one point of view? Who gets blinded? Who wears blinders? Who interprets the visual field? What other sensory powers do we wish to cultivate besides vision?” And… “with whose blood were my eyes crafted?”

in Berlin, I’ll be presenting a new reading of an air strike orchestrated by an MQ-1 Predator in Uruzgan; here’s the programme note:

In the early hours of 21 February 2010 a team of US Special Forces soldiers and Afghan National Army troops flew in by helicopter to the village of Khod in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. Their job was to search for a factory making Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In the darkness the headlights of three vehicles were spotted in the far distance, and their movements were tracked by a Predator drone sending back full motion video to its crew at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Hour after hour, the Predator crew became more and more convinced that they were watching a group of Taliban preparing to attack the Special Forces team. But the Predator only had only one missile left, and so two combat helicopters were ordered in to attack. As the smoke cleared, it became obvious that a dreadful mistake had been made: women and children were visible among the casualties. A subsequent US Army investigation revealed that at least 15 innocent civilians had been killed and another 12 seriously injured; there were no Taliban present. The crew of the Predator were blamed – not least for having a ‘Top Gun’ mentality. But re-reading the 2,000 pages of that investigation reveals another story that dramatically complicates what has become the standard critique of Unmanned Aerial Violence and raises a series of troubling questions about militarized vision and later modern war.

More here on the narrowness of the standard ‘Predator view’, and I’ll post the full essay as soon as it’s finished.

A short history of schematic bodies

While I was in Irvine last month for the Secrecy and Transparency workshop, I had a series of rich conversations with Grégoire Chamayou — who also made a brief but brilliant presentation on targeting, signature strikes and time-space tracking.  He now writes to say that he has elaborated his ideas in a longer contribution to Léopold Lambert‘s Funambulist papers: ‘A very short history of schematic bodies‘.

(Even more) briefly, Grégoire connects Torsten Hågerstrand‘s time geography – which Anne Buttimer once saw as a danse macabre – to the activity-based intelligence that supposedly ‘informs’ CIA-directed drone strikes [see my ‘Lines of descent’ essay: DOWNLOADS tab] via three diagrams drawn from Paul Klee.

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The first two (above) distinguish (1) ‘dividuals‘ from (2) ‘individuals‘: so, following Deleuze, Grégoire distinguishes (1) ‘societies of control articulated through the dyad of “dividuals” and databanks’ from (2) ‘disciplinary societies structured around a relationship between the individual and the mass.’ Seen thus, Hagerstrand’s project mapped the reverse move from (1) to (2), from ‘statistical dividuality’ to ‘chronospatial individuality’.

But Grégoire suggests that targeting involves a third fabrication, a co-construction of (1) and (2), thus:

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He writes:

The corresponding object of power here is neither the individual taken as an element in a mass, nor the dividual appearing with a code in a databank, but something else: a patterned individuality that is woven out of statistical dividualities and cut out onto a thread of reticular activities, against which it progressively silhouettes in time as a distinctive perceptible unit in the eyes of the machine.

The production of this form of individuality belongs neither to discipline nor to control, but to something else: to targeting in its most contemporary procedures, whose formal features are shared today among fields as diverse as policing, military reconnaissance and marketing. It might well be, for that matter, that we are entering targeted societies.

This speaks directly to current theses about the individuation of military violence as one (and only one) modality of later modern war, but we need to remember that targeting appears at the interface of the market and the military, as Sam Weber shows in Targets of opportunity.  

It’s also important to think through the ‘body’ that is made to appear in the sights and as a sight; it’s not a fleshy body but a digital-statistical trace that is literally ‘touched’ by the cross-hairs (the apparatus of the drone as prosthesis).  As I wrote in ‘Drone geographies’ (DOWNLOADS tab),

[People] are brought within the militarized field of vision through the rhythmanalysis and network analysis of a suspicious ‘pattern of life’, a sort of weaponized time-geography… 

Killing is made the culmination of a natural history of destruction – in precisely not the sense intended by W.G. Sebald – and the targets are rendered as ‘individuals’ in a calculative rather than corporeal register.

Here Ian Hacking‘s ideas about ‘making up people‘ are also relevant.  In his classic British Academy lecture, ‘Kinds of people: moving targets‘, he described how ‘a new scientific classification may bring into being a new kind of person’ – in this case, the target – and how ‘a classification may interact with the people classified.’  A signature strike is surely the deadliest version of this ‘interaction’…

Incidentally, anyone who thinks that so-called ‘personality strikes’ are somehow less deadly needs to read REPRIEVE‘s latest report, You only die twice: multiple kills in the US drone program.  Spencer Ackerman has a good summary (and graphic, extracted below) here, describing the multiple deaths involved in the search for specific, named targets:

'Personality strikes' in Pakistan