No Safe Place

PHR Gaza 2014

Physicians for Human Rights has published a ‘First Experts’ report on Israel’s military assault on Gaza last summer, Gaza 2014: No Safe Place.  It provides a much more detailed accounting of the attacks on the medical infrastructure of Gaza than I was able to do in Gaza 101 and subsequent posts.  Here is PHR’s description of the mission:

On 8 July 2014, Israel initiated a military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Although accounts vary, most estimates put the number of residents of Gaza killed in the 50-day armed conflict at over 2,100, of whom at least 70% were civilians, including over 500 children. Over 11,000 were wounded and over 100,000 made homeless. According to Israeli official accounts, 73 Israelis were killed: 67 soldiers and 6 civilians, including one child and one migrant worker. 469 soldiers and 255 civilians were wounded.

Questions arose regarding violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the course of the conflict. In July 2014, following discussions with Al-Mezan, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) commissioned a fact-finding mission (hereafter ‘FFM’) to Gaza, whose aim was to gather evidence and draw preliminary conclusions regarding types, causes and patterns of injuries and attacks; attacks on medical teams and facilities; evacuation; impact of the conflict on the healthcare system; and longer-term issues including rehabilitation of the wounded, mental health, public health and displacement.

PHR-Israel recruited 8 independent international medical experts, unaffiliated with Israeli or Palestinian parties involved in the conflict: four with special expertise in the fields of forensic medicine and pathology; and four experts in emergency medicine, public health, paediatrics and paediatric intensive care, and health and human rights.

The team made three visits to Gaza between August and November last year:

Meetings and site visits were held in medical facilities and in the community, and included interviews with victims, witnesses, healthcare professionals and human rights workers, officials from the Gaza Ministries of Health and Justice, and representatives of international health organisations in Gaza and the West Bank. Wherever possible, forensic, medical and other material evidence was collected to support oral testimonies.

They interviewed 68 patients, and the chart below (from p. 36 of the report) explains why there was indeed ‘no safe place’ in Gaza.  As I argued previously, the Israeli military turned Gaza into a vast death zone extending far beyond the so-called ‘restricted areas’:

Location of incident leading to patient's injury PNG

Here are the summary conclusions from the report [the emphases are mine]:

The attacks were characterised by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighbourhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property. Such indiscriminate attacks, by aircraft, drones, artillery, tanks and gunships, were unlikely to have been the result of decisions made by individual soldiers or commanders; they must have entailed approval from top-level decision-makers in the Israeli military and/or government.

The initiators of the attacks, despite giving some prior warnings of these attacks, failed to take the requisite precautions that would effectively enable the safe evacuation of the civilian population, including provision of safe spaces and routes. As a result, there was no guaranteed safe space in the Gaza Strip, nor were there any safe escape routes from it.

In numerous cases double or multiple consecutive strikes on a single location [double tap] led to multiple civilian casualties and to injuries and deaths among rescuers.

Coordination of medical evacuation was often denied and many attacks on medical teams and facilities were reported. It is not clear whether such contravention of medical neutrality was the result of a policy established by senior decision-makers, a general permissive atmosphere leading to the flouting of norms, or the result of individual choices made on the ground during armed clashes.

In Khuza’a, the reported conduct of specific troops in the area is indicative of additional serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Ha’aretz‘s English-language coverage of the report is here.

Freedom fries, anyone?

Three more contributions to the Charlie Hebdo debate to think about.  The first is from Pankaj Mishra at the Guardian.  Not sure about his call for a ‘new Enlightenment’ – though there was certainly much wrong with the old one – but it’s a luminously (sic) intelligent argument.  He writes about ‘a profound clash – not between civilisations, or the left and the right, but a clash of old and new visions of the world in the space we call the west, which is increasingly diverse, unequal and volatile.’

It is not just secular, second-generation immigrant novelists [Hari Kunzru, Laila Lalami and Teju Cole] who express unease over the unprecedented, quasi-ideological nature of the consensus glorifying Charlie Hebdo’s mockery of Islam and Muslims. Some Muslim schoolchildren in France refused to observe the minute-long silence for the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo mandated by French authorities.

It seems worthwhile to reflect, without recourse to the clash of civilisations discourse, on the reasons behind these striking harmonies and discords. Hannah Arendt anticipated them when she wrote that “for the first time in history, all peoples on earth have a common present … Every country has become the almost immediate neighbour of every other country, and every man feels the shock of events which take place at the other end of the globe.” Indeed, it may be imperative to explore this negative solidarity of mankind – a state of global existence in which people from different pasts find themselves thrown together in a common present.’

Construction of Statue of Liberty in Paris.comI think that’s right, which is why I’m disconcerted by Pankaj’s focus on Europe; I certainly don’t think the murders in Paris can be assimilated to ‘an assault on American values’ (far from it), but the complicated and often confounding relations between the two republics need excavation too.  They go back far beyond the gift of the Statue of Liberty to the US in the 1880s – I discussed this in what is still my favourite chapter in Geographical Imaginations – and reach forward to include the double, displaced misadventures in Indochina (not least the conviction that the US would sort out Vietnam after France had failed to do) and, still more proximately, France’s refusal to support the US-led invasion of Iraq (“freedom fries“, anyone?).

NIVAT Bagdad zone rougePankaj is simply brilliant on the ghosts of the colonial past, as you would expect, and they reappear in a different spectral guise in a short essay by Anne Nivat at Warscapes.  She provided some of the most reflective reporting from occupied Iraq (see her Bagdad, zone rouge), and in ‘Charlie Hebdo and the Boomerang Effect’ she mines that rich vein of experience to reflect on the knee-jerk responses to the murders in Paris:

In a democracy, one has the privilege of freedom of expression, and it is in the name of this that, for years, I have been traveling to the lands of “Islamist” wars.

For some time, I have been amazed, and even hurt, to hear friendly voices claim not to understand why I continue to give the floor to “the other side”; to those who make us afraid; to the “bad guy”; the “barbarian”; the “jihadist”; the Taliban; the “Islamic fighters” – the ones our allies have sought out to fight, or to “bump off in the outhouse,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin so elegantly put it in 2000 in reference to Chechen separatist fighters (Western military and political leaders typically use less violent vocabulary, but the meaning remains the same).

I regret that the attempts to know the “enemy” – my work, and others’ – have not been sufficient, as evidenced by the onslaught of hate on social networks.

And at the same site Andrew Ryder explores the multiform versions of ‘hate’ in ‘Charlie Hebdo and the limits of nihilism’.  He maps the gavotte between iconoclasm and nationalism and in so doing returns us to the figure of the Republic and to the dilemmas exposed by Pankaj Mishra.

Three years ago, [the editor of Charlie Hebdo] said, “If we say to religion, ‘You are untouchable,’ we’re fucked.” His idea was that no religion should be free from mockery, because to allow this is to permit the continuing subjugation of human freedom by religious superstition…

However, Charb also said, that same year, “I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.” This is the point where this apparent commitment to freedom actually masks French nationalism. What he is really saying, whether he was conscious of it or not, is that traditional French secularism, the products of a distinct national revolutionary tradition, should take absolute precedence over the values of immigrants. The secularism takes the shape of social chauvinism. In this context, it’s no longer a progressive contribution to the liberation of human beings. The apparent irreverence is bound to a greater advocacy of European heritage over the cultural character of the immigrants who now comprise such a large part of its society, and who were traditionally colonized and exploited by the ostensibly progressive and liberal nations whose secular values are then rhapsodized… [T]his complicity with racism was probably unrecognizable to him. We can see this today in the irony of the French right, paying homage to a magazine that hated them.

Torture and raison d’état

statue-of-liberty-waterboardingMelanie Richter-Montpetit has an essay at The disorder of things, ‘Why Torture When Torture Does Not Work? Orientalism, Anti-Blackness and the Persistence of White Terror‘, which repays careful reading.

[L]ocating the findings of the Senate Torture Report within the racial-sexual grammars of chattel slavery and its afterlife opens up our analyses beyond explanatory and moral frameworks such as failed intelligence-gathering, “state of exception” or “human rights abuses” towards a more comprehensive understanding of seemingly illiberal security practices in the War on Terror. This genealogy indicates the fundamental role and value of force for the consolidation of the sovereign authority of the U.S. settler imperial formation ‘at home’ and abroad, and suggests the stubborn persistence of certain racial-sexual grammars of legitimate violence and suffering in this age of “post-racial triumph.” For “[w]ithout the capacity to inspire terror, whiteness no longer signifies the right to dominate.”

The immediate provocation for her essay, which is rooted in her recent York PhD thesis Beyond the Erotics of Orientalism: Homeland Security, Liberal War and the Pacification of the Global Frontier, was the Senate Torture Report (see my earlier post on ‘Tortured geographies’ here).

GTMO Statue of LibertyAt Just Security Jameel Jaffer has a brief, important post about the release of these documents – and, crucially, the Obama administration’s attempt to prevent the publication of photographs documenting the abuse of detainees at US military facilities – that loops back to the debate over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.  He argues that it is at the very least ironic that some of the same voices calling for the freedom to publish cartoons whatever their consequences are now demanding the suppression of other images ‘because of the possibility that their release will provoke violence’…

And speaking of violence and torture in the global war prison, Mohamedou Ould Slahi‘s Guantanamo Diary, which is being serialised in the Guardian and was published in book form earlier this week, provides more evidence of its routinised, banalised practice.

Slahi Unclassified Manuscript scan

Slahi is still incarcerated at Guantanamo even though he was approved for release in 2010.  Spencer Ackerman reports:

Slahi’s manuscript was subjected to more than 2,500 redactions before declassification, ostensibly to protect classified information, but with the effect of preventing readers from learning the full story of his ordeal. The book is being published with all the censor’s marks in place, and the publishers – Canongate in the UK and Little, Brown in the US – hope they will be able to publish an uncensored edition when Slahi is eventually released.

The full manuscript is available here.  You can find Tim Stanley‘s review at the Telegraph here (‘a necessary book’ that ‘reminds us that the evil we’re fighting can be found in ourselves as well as in our enemies’), Mark Danner‘s extended review at the New York Times here (‘Slahi’s memoirs are filled with numbingly absurd exchanges that could have been lifted whole cloth from “The Trial”’), and Deborah Perlstein‘s review at the Washington Post here (‘Slahi’s descriptions of … torture are the book’s most compelling, and difficult, passages [and] … are closely consistent with descriptions in official investigations of the treatment of other U.S.-held detainees’.)

In the face of these horrors, it’s necessary to consider this blunt reminder from Peter Beinart:

Torture, declared President Obama … in response to the newly released Senate report on CIA interrogation, is “contrary to who we are.” Maine Senator Angus King added that, “This is not America. This is not who we are.” According to Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, “We are better than this.”

No, actually, we’re not. There’s something bizarre about responding to a 600-page document detailing systematic U.S. government torture by declaring that the real America—the one with good values—does not torture. It’s exoneration masquerading as outrage. Imagine someone beating you up and then, when confronted with the evidence, declaring that “I’m not really like that” or “that wasn’t the real me.” Your response is likely to be some variant of: “It sure as hell seemed like you when your fist was slamming into my nose.” A country, like a person, is what it does.

And in the face of evasion and denial – and redaction and suppression – here is Chase Madar from February’s Bookforum:

Though the [Senate] report has blacked out the names of the torturers, refusing even to use pseudonyms, torture watchers have been able to identify one of the agents, a model for Maya in Zero Dark Thirty. Her record of malfeasance, misrepresentation, incompetence, and gratuitous participation in waterboarding was blisteringly detailed by NBC News and [Jane Mayer at] the New Yorker, though neither outlet would name her. But far from being sanctioned or even demoted, she has risen to the civilian-rank equivalent of general inside the CIA. She has, unbelievably, served as the recent head of the agency’s “global jihad unit.”

It’s tempting to compare this to Latin American–style police impunity, but that would be unfair to the societies that have punished at least some of the abuses of their past dictatorships. In the same week that the SSCI released its report, Brazil published its own investigation into state torture of political dissidents under its long dictatorship. Indeed, one of that torture regime’s victims, Dilma Rousseff, is now the head of state. Latin American nations have been chipping away at, or simply ignoring, the amnesty deals made with the authoritarian rulers of the ’70s and ’80s and have brought many of their torturers to justice.

The United States would face a very different reckoning with its record of torture, should it elect to take a genuine, closer look at it. In our case, the impact of torture has largely been muffled by the military adventurism that has underwritten it…

Divided societies and connected spaces

Following my last post, Mustafa Dikeç has sent me a link to his brilliant reflections on ‘Hate’ at the Society & Space website here.  Written from Paris, it takes us to the heart of modern French society and its divided spaces:

DIKEÇ Badlands… if we are troubled about what has happened, troubled enough to take a hard look at, rather than falling in love with, ourselves, then it is important to inquire about the conditions that made such a mobilisation of hate possible. In the highly emotional aftermath of the incidents, it is hard not to feel moved by the extraordinary mobilisation of citizens. Newspapers are full of comments about how proud we should be as French citizens, how a united and solidaristic people we are, how the spirit of May 1968 continues despite the attack on its inheritors, how we value equality and freedom of expression, and so on. If all were nice and dandy, then what made such radicalisation of these three French-born and raised citizens possible? Why, a decade ago, did 300 cities go up in flames for two weeks, and what has been done since? How is it that the extreme right has become the second major political force in this land of freedom, equality and fraternity? …

This is not at all to suggest that the murderers’ actions can be justified by the circumstances. But to warn that despite the timely and admirable display of unity under an alleged one and indivisible republic, the French society is deeply divided, owing to its long history of discrimination and the increasing hostility towards immigrants – a poisonous mix of xenophobia and Islamophobia that several French politicians, endowed with the authority of the state, have unashamedly mobilised for their political ends. Muslims are the most stigmatised group of this divided society, spared neither by satire nor political discourse and action.

thursdaytoonMustafa’s essay begins not with the murders in Paris but with a bomb explosion in Yemen, and a second e-mail from Tim Raeymaekers has alerted me to his equally indispensable post ‘”Us” against “Them”‘ over at Liminal Geographies here.  Tim moves in the opposite direction to Mustafa, zooming out above the arc of that explosion to provide a contrapuntal geography that reads the murders in Paris in concert with the global violence of contemporary wars, most of them fought under the tattered banners of counter-terrorism, undeclared in their particulars and less than covert in their killing.  He ends with this reminder from Teju Cole‘s incandescent essay on ‘Unmournable bodies’ at the New Yorker:

BUTLER Precarious LifeFrance is in sorrow today, and will be for many weeks to come. We mourn with France. We ought to.

But it is also true that violence from “our” side continues unabated. By this time next month, in all likelihood, many more “young men of military age” and many others, neither young nor male, will have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. If past strikes are anything to go by, many of these people will be innocent of wrongdoing. Their deaths will be considered as natural and incontestable as deaths like Menocchio’s, under the Inquisition. Those of us who are writers will not consider our pencils broken by such killings. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

Once you decide you want to engage with audiences beyond the academy – one of my reasons for starting this blog, which also spirals in to my presentations and (I hope) my other writing – you run the risk of accepting invitations to comment on issues that lie far beyond your competence.  Even supposed ‘experts’ can be caught out, of course: think of  Steven Emerson‘s extraordinary claim earlier this week on Fox News (where else?) that in the UK ‘there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in…’  Emerson is the founder and Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and ‘is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations’ – or so he says on his website – and he subsequently apologised for his ‘inexcusable error’.

Emerson was being interviewed as part of Fox News’s continuing coverage of the murders at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris on 7 January, and specifically about the supposed proliferation of what he called ‘no-go zones … throughout Europe’.

A good rule is to treat areas you know nothing about as ‘no-go zones’ until you’ve done the necessary research.

Academics need to take that seriously too, especially as universities become ever busier pumping up their public affairs, boosting their media profiles and offering journalists ready access to the specialised knowledge of their faculty.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe passionately in the importance of public geography, especially with a little g, and I also understand how producers and journalists racing to meet a deadline need talking heads.  But we need to be careful about the simulation of expertise.

This is, in part, why I haven’t said anything so far about the murders in Paris.  But on Thursday I was invited to lead a lunch-time discussion about them at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies; one of the many wonderful things about the place is the trust that emerges out of a commitment to the irredeemably social nature of intellectual work, and so – beyond the cameras, the microphones and the notebooks – I tried to sort out what I had been reading and thinking.    In many ways, it was an extended riff on Joe Sacco‘s cartoon that appeared in the Guardian just two days after the attacks (if you want to know the reactions of Arab cartoonists, then see Jonathan Guyer here and here):

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My starting-points were provided by The colonial present.  First, many commentators have suggested that the attacks were ‘France’s 9/11’; Le Monde‘s banner headline declared emphatically ‘Le 11 Septembre Français’.

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I think this absurd for many reasons, but there are several senses in which the comparison is worth pursuing, particularly if we focus on the response to the attacks in New York and Paris.  Both events, or more accurately television and video feeds of the developing situations, were relayed to watching audiences in real time.  This sense of immediacy is important, because it says something about the ways in which viewers were drawn in to the visual field and interpellated as subjects who were enjoined to respond – and crucially to feel – in particular ways.

Since this is emphatically not what Dominique Moisi, author of The geopolitics of emotion, had in mind when he insisted that ‘the attacks in Paris and in New York share the same essence’, that both cities ‘incarnate a similar universal dream’ of ‘light and freedom’, perhaps a different comparison will clarify what I mean.  Think of the killing of hundreds, even thousands of people by Boko Haram in Baga in northern Nigeria two weeks ago; reports began to appear in Europe and North America just one day after the murders in Paris, but the focus on France remained relentless.  There were surely many reasons for that (see Maeve Shearlaw‘s discussion here and Samira Sawlani‘s here), but the contrast between the live feeds from Paris and the scattered, inchoate and verbal reports from Baga is part of it – particularly when you realise that the scale of that distant atrocity was eventually  ‘laid bare’, as the Guardian put it, by satellite photographs released by Amnesty International showing more than 3,000 houses (‘structures’) burned or razed in Baga and Doron Baga.  For all the importance of surveillant witnessing in otherwise difficult to reach locations, the distance between bodies and buildings, an ordinary camera and a satellite, and live television and static imagery is telling, and sustains an affective geopolitics that is at once divided and divisive.

(Imagery is important to the Paris attacks in another sense too: when the murderers stormed in to the offices of Charlie Hebdo the focus of their rage was a series of cartoons mocking Mohammed – but they were radicalised by quite other documentary images, including coverage of the wars in Iraq and photographs showing the atrocities committed by American troops in Abu Ghraib: see here and here, and look at Joe Sacco’s cartoon again).

My second borrowing from The colonial present was a re-borrowing of Terry Eagleton‘s spirited invocation of ‘the terrible twins’, amnesia and nostalgia: ‘the inability to remember and the incapacity to do anything else’.  In the book I suggested that these are given a special significance within the colonial memory theatre, where the violence of colonialism is repressed and replaced by a yearning for the culture of domination and deference that it sought to instill.   And in much (fortunately not all) of the commentary on the Paris attacks, France’s colonial past has been effaced.  But here is Tim Stanley writing in the Telegraph:

The ability of a society to forget its recent past is like the amnesia that follows an accident – the body’s way of protecting itself against trauma. Yet in the 1950s and 1960s, as France tried to cling on to its African colonial possessions, political violence was far more common than today. Muslim Algerian nationalists (their race and religion regarded as interchangeable by the French) bombed the mainland, assassinated officials and killed colonialists en masse. The reaction of the state was shocking. In 1961, 12,000 Algerian immigrants were arrested in Paris and held in a football stadium [and at other sites: see the map below]. Many were tortured; more than a hundred disappeared. For days, bodies were found floating in the Seine.

Carte.ParisAlgerie1961Bis

EINAUDI Bataille de ParisYou can find more on the events of 17 October 1961 – on the arrests, torture and summary executions following a mass rally to protest against a curfew imposed on Algerians in Paris – here and here, but the definitive account remains Jean-Luc Einaudi‘s Bataille de Paris (1991).

DIKEÇ BadlandsThis is but one episode in a violent and immensely troubled colonial history.  To point to this past – as Robert Fisk also did, in much more detail, in the Independent – is to loop back to 9/11 again, when attempts to provide similar contextual explanations were dismissed (or worse) as ‘exoneration’.  To be sure, one must be careful: although Chérif and Said Kouachi were the Paris-born sons of Algerian immigrants, Arthur Asseraf is right to reject attempts to draw a straight line between violence in the past and violence in the present.  But can the continued marginalisation of Muslims in metropolitan France, particularly young men in Paris’s banlieus, be ignored?  (Here there is no better place to start than Mustafa Dikeç‘s work, especially Badlands of the Republic).  Doesn’t it matter that more than 60 per cent of prisoners in French jails are Muslims? For the Economist all this means is that jihadists ‘share lives of crime and violence‘ so that structural violence disappears from view, but Tithe Bhattacharya provides a different answer in which the ghosts of a colonial past continue to haunt the colonial present.

And doesn’t the responsive assertion of a ‘freedom of expression’ that is, again, highly particularistic seek to absolutize a nominally public sphere whose exclusions would have been only too familiar to France’s colonial subjects?  Ghasan Hage reads its triumphalist restatement in the aftermath of the Paris murders as a colonial narcissism – a sort of colonial nostalgia through the looking-glass – fixated on what he calls a strategy of ‘phallic distinction’ in which ‘freedom of expression’ is flashed at radicalised Muslims to tell them: ‘look what we have and you haven’t, or at best yours is very small compared to ours.’  (And whose governments have done so much to prop up authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and beyond that thrive on the suppression and punishment of free speech?)

There are, as Joe Sacco’s cartoon makes clear, real limitations on what can be said or shown in France too, including how somebody can present themselves in public – think of the arguments over the veil and the headscarf.  There are also limitations elsewhere in the world, of course, which is why the sacularisation of Charlie Hebdo and, in particular, the march in Paris on 11 January seemingly headed by politicians from around the world, arm in arm (in some cases arms in arms would be more accurate), processing down the Boulevard Voltaire (symbolism is everything), was a scene that, as Seumas Milne noted, was beyond satire:

from Nato war leaders and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s foreign minister, who between them have jailed, killed and flogged any number of journalists while staging massacres and interventions that have left hundreds of thousands dead, bombing TV stations from Serbia to Afghanistan as they go.

True enough, but here too appearance is everything: the photograph was artfully staged (even before one ‘newspaper’ airbrushed the women from the frame) and took place in an otherwise empty side-street.

Paris photo-op PNG

If I can make one last nod to The colonial present, not surprisingly many of these politicians have also used the murders to justify the continued violence of the wars being fought in the shadows of 9/11; if you are in the mood to reverse the looking-glass, then Markha Valenta‘s sobering reflection at Open Democracy is indispensable:

[E]verything that might be said about revolutionary Islamist movements – when it comes to global violence – could be said about global Americanism and US foreign policy. It has been ruthless, cruel, illiberal, anti-democratic. It has wreaked havoc, killed innocents, raped women, men and youths, tortured viciously, violated the rule of law and continues to do so…

It does so in our name. In the name of democracy. And those who expose this … are shut up ruthlessly, cruelly and in ways designed to degrade. (Yet we did not march then.)

This matters because it clarifies what our condition is today, the condition under which last week’s violence took place: an extended and expanding global war between those who claim the right to intervention, brutality and terror in the name of democracy and those who do so in the name of Islam.

No less predictably, one of the immediate and dismally common responses to the murders, amidst the clamour for freedom of speech, was a renewed call for more state surveillance and regulation.  As Teju Cole wrote in the New Yorker,

The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

But it’s not only politicians who are guilty of appropriation.  Putting on one (far) side the extraordinary attempts to turn “Je suis Charlie” to commercial account – to ‘trademark the tragedy and its most resonant refrain‘ – there are other, less venal and more complicated appropriations.

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Heat map of #jesuischarlie hashtag; animation is available here

So back to the looking-glass.  You might think that “Je suis Charlie” is an affirmative gesture born of anger and horror but also of sympathy and compassion, a simple human reflex that has become virtually commonplace – comparable to, say, “We are all Palestinians“.  That was my first thought too. But the trouble is that such a rhetorical claim comes with a lot of baggage.  David Palumbo-liu suggests that  “I am Charlie” can be an assertion of empathy, solidarity or identification.  Even empathy is far from straightforward – why do we extend our fellow feeling to these people and not those? – but, as he shows, the other two progressively raise the stakes.    Sarah Keenan and Nadine El-enany wire this to appropriation with exquisite clarity in a short essay at Critical Legal Thinking:

The #JesuisCharlie hashtag and its social media strategy of solidarity through identification with the victim is … an appropriation of what was a creative and subversive tool for fighting structural violence and racist oppression, perhaps most famously in the “I am Trayvon Martin” campaign. When young black men stood up and said “I am Trayvon Martin”, they were demonstrating the persistent and deeply entrenched demonisation of black men which not only sees them killed in the street on their way to the local shop, but also deems their killers innocent of any wrongdoing. When predominantly white people in France and around the world declare “Je Suis Charlie”, they are not coming together as fellow members of a structurally oppressed and marginalised community regularly subjected to violence, poverty, harassment and hatred. Rather, they are banding together as members of the majority, as individuals whose identification with Charlie Hebdo, however well-​meaning, serves to reproduce the very structures of oppression, marginalisation and demonisation that allowed the magazine’s most offensive images to be consumed and celebrated in the first place.

As the invocations of Voltaire should have demonstrated, there is a substantial difference between defending the right to draw a cartoon and celebrating what is drawn.  Too many commentators clearly want to elide the difference, but there is another distinction to be made too.  A Muslim friend who lives in Paris was distraught at the murders, but when he heard the calls for the cartoons to be re-published immediately after the killings he told me he felt brutalised all over again.  Those who made such demands, who casually sneered at the ‘cowardice’ of those who failed to comply, either forgot or chose to ignore the existence of a far, far larger Muslim audience than the terrorists against whom they vented their spleen: or, still worse, it never occurred to them that there is a difference between the two.

So: je ne suis pas Charlie; I think I’d rather ‘be’ Joe.

***

I am grateful to my friends and colleagues who helped me think through these issues – I realise there’s a lot more thinking to be done, so please treat this as a first, fumbling attempt – and to Jaimie.

‘That others may die’

As I am (at last) moving into the finishing stages of my ‘Dirty Dancing’ essay on CIA-directed drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, it’s time to round up some of the latest work on drones and civilian casualties across multiple theatres.

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First, Afghanistan: the principal theatre of US remote operations.  I’ve noted Larry Lewis‘s remarkable work before (here and here), based on classified sources, and in particular this claim (see also here):

Drone strikes in Afghanistan were seen to have close to the same number of civilian casualties per incident as manned aircraft, and were an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement.

usaf_mq_9_reaper_1024x1024As I said at the time, the distinction between an ‘incident’ and an ‘engagement’ is crucial, though most commentators who have seized on Larry’s work have ignored it and focused on the dramatic difference in civilian casualties per engagement. Despite my best efforts, the Pentagon were unwilling to clarify the difference, so here is what Larry himself has told me:

An engagement is probably intuitively what you would expect – the use of force against a target. The distinction is the term incident, which is borrowed from ISAF definitions. I should have said “civilian casualty incident.” This refers to an engagement that results in civilian casualties.

This means that, if you look at the collection of civilian casualty incidents, the average number of civilian casualties is close to the same for manned and unmanned platforms. At the same time, the rate of civilian casualties for the two platforms is markedly different, with unmanned platforms being ten times more likely to cause civilian casualties than manned platforms. That doesn’t mean that drones caused more civilian casualties than manned aircraft, by the way, since the denominators (number of engagements of manned aircraft versus drones) can and in fact were very different. But it does suggest that the relative risk of civilian casualties was higher for one kind of platform versus the other.

And this is in the specific context of Afghanistan and for a specific time. I wouldn’t want to say that this specific rate would be repeated, necessarily. Yet there were certain risk factors I observed in the civilian casualty incidents that I would expect to continue to be factors unless steps were taken to mitigate them.

Larry’s most recent report, Improving lethal action: learning and adapting in US Counterterrorism Operations, is available here.  It includes an analysis of the Uruzgan air strike that is central to my ‘Angry Eyes’ essay (next on my to-do list).

[The short clip above is from Baden Pailthorpe‘s stunning animation MQ-9 Reaper (That Others May Die) (2014) – you can find much more here]

You might think that all of this is now of historical interest since President Obama has declared the end of the Afghanistan war.  Not so.  Here is John Knefel writing in Rolling Stone this week:

Though many Americans may not have realized it, December 28th marked what the U.S. government called the official end of the war in Afghanistan. That war has been the longest in U.S. history – but despite the new announcement that the formal conflict is over, America’s war there is far from finished. In fact, the Obama administration still considers the Afghan theater an area of active hostilities, according to an email from a senior administration official – and therefore exempts it from the stricter drone and targeted killing guidelines the president announced at a major speech at the National Defense University in 2013.

“Afghanistan will continue to be considered an ‘area of active hostilities’ in 2015,” the official tells RS. “The PPG does not apply to areas of active hostilities.” (PPG stands for Presidential Policy Guidelines, the formal name for the heightened drone rules.)

That perplexing distinction – that formal combat operations are over but that the U.S. still remains in an armed conflict – in many ways exemplifies the lasting legacy of Obama’s foreign policy.

If you assume the situation in Pakistan is somehow less ambiguous, read Ryan Goodman on ‘areas of active hostilities’ over at Just Security here (I’m having to sort all this out for ‘Dirty Dancing’, of course).

Second, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released its end-of-year report on US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in 2014, which includes these tabulations of casualty rates for the first two countries:

cas-rates-cia-pak-09-14

cas-rate-yemen-02-14

The Bureau comments:

While there have been more strikes [in Pakistan] in the past six years, the casualty rate has been lower under Obama than under his predecessor. The CIA killed eight people, on average, per strike during the Bush years. Under Obama, it is less than six. The civilian casualty rate is lower too – more than three civilians were reported killed per strike during the past presidency. Under Obama, less than one.  There were no confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistan in the past year, as in 2013….

The frequency of strikes [in Yemen] may have fallen in 2014 but more people were killed, on average, per strike than in any previous year.  The casualty rate for last year even outstrips 2012 – the bloodiest year recorded in the US’s drone campaign in Yemen when at least 173 people were reported killed in 29 strikes. In 2014 at least 82 people were reported to have died in just 13 strikes.

You can find the Long War Journal‘s tabulations for Pakistan here and Yemen here.

unammed-rogershillThird, Israel.  I’ve commented previously on an interview with an Israeli drone pilot, but it’s been difficult to put his observations in context (though see here and scroll down to the tabulations). Now Ann Rogers, who wrote Unmanned: drone warfare and global security (Pluto, 2014) with John Hill – as good an introduction to drone wars as you will find – has just released an essay on ‘Investigating the Relationship Between Drone Warfare and Civilian Casualties in Gaza‘.  It’s in a special issue of the open-access Journal of Strategic Security 7 (4) (2014) on ‘Future challenges in drone geopolitics’.  Here’s the abstract:

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, are increasingly touted as ‘humanitarian’ weapons that contribute positively to fighting just wars and saving innocent lives. At the same time, civilian casualties have become the most visible and criticized aspect of drone warfare. It is argued here that drones contribute to civilian casualties not in spite of, but because of, their unique attributes. They greatly extend war across time and space, pulling more potential threats and targets into play over long periods, and because they are low-risk and highly accurate, they are more likely to be used. The assumption that drones save lives obscures a new turn in strategic thinking that sees states such as Israel and the US rely on large numbers of small, highly discriminating attacks applied over time to achieve their objectives. This examination of Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza argues that civilian casualties are not an unexpected or unintended consequence of drone warfare, but an entirely predictable outcome.

Drone-flying-above-me-Friday-afternoon-400-x-300It’s an interesting essay, but I fear that it takes the Israeli military at its word.  Ann repeatedly refers to Israel’s ‘discriminating’ targeting:

‘The central point is that drones enabled the IDF to undertake detailed, extensive, and discriminating targeting of Gaza, before and during the actual fighting. The killing of civilians may be down to differing interpretations of military necessity, or in some cases, in how combatants and non-combatants are distinguished from one another. But it is the drone gaze that enables these targets to be ‘called into being’ (p. 102)…

‘As Israeli targeting of Gaza appears to have been highly discriminating, a more serious problem may lie in how its view of legitimate attacks differs from the global “norm.” (p. 104).’

I commented on Israeli attacks on hospitals and ambulances last summer here, here and here, and on the wholesale destruction of  Gaza here and here, so I confess I am at a loss for words.  But she is right to emphasise the operative power of international humanitarian law and its protocols of distinction (discrimination) and proportionality – though, as often as not, these seem to have been inoperative in anything other than a rhetorical sense.  For much more on this, and the way in which military lawyers are incorporated into Israel’s kill-chains, you should click across to Craig Jones‘s War, Law and Space.  All of which makes the Palestinian decision to seek membership of the International Criminal Court all the more important (there’s a good commentary on the wider legal issues by David Luban at Jus Security here and by a clutch of commentators at the Middle East Research and Information Project‘s blog here).  Perhaps not surprisingly, Daniel Reisner, the former head of the Israeli military’s International Law Department, has condemned the Palestinian application as ‘a belligerent act within the framework of the non-physical and kinetic world of lawfare.’

Finally, the US-led air strikes on IS/ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria.  Here we know much less than we should, not least because the Pentagon knows much less than it should.  Here is Nancy Youssef reporting earlier this week:

In a war fought largely from the air and in places no one can safely go, the impact is as opaque as the war itself, making it difficult to measure whether the U.S. and coalition effort is working.

“We don’t have the ability to count the nose of every guy we schwack,” as Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday, using military jargon [sic] for killing. “That’s not the goal.”

Presumably, that also means the Pentagon can’t count how many civilians it has accidentally killed in the name of ridding the region of ISIS.

Drone Wars UK has an excellent survey of the logistics of air operations over Iraq and Syria from Chris Cole here, and the New York Times has produced a useful interactive map of US-led air strikes from which I’ve snipped this summary:

Iraq:Syria air strikes 4 August to 31 December 2014

We don’t know how many of these were carried out by drones or even orchestrated by them, but as their limitations are becoming clearer it’s reasonable to assume that most involved conventional strike aircraft.  We do know that targeting involves the analysis of video feeds from both remote and conventional platforms, and that CENTCOM has had considerable difficulty in juggling the competing demands for ISR from Afghanistan and from Iraq/Syria.

According to a report this week from W.J. Hennigan, who visited the USAF’s 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia:

In a vast windowless room, several dozen intelligence analysts worked under the glow of more than 100 computer screens, quietly studying video streaming from U.S. drones and spy planes hunting for Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

One team searched the incoming video to find a firefight underway between Iraqi security forces and militants somewhere south of the insurgent-held city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

For four hours, the analysts pored over the imagery before identifying 20 positions where the militants were dug in with machine guns and other weaponry. After the analysts called in the coordinates, 15 jets from five countries pounded the targets with more than two dozen bombs.

The Dec. 5 airstrike, one of 462 last month, underscores the Pentagon’s increased reliance on personnel far from the battlefield…  Air Force analysts here stand — or rather sit — on the virtual front lines by tracking Islamic State fighters in a war zone some 6,000 miles away.

But here’s the rub:

Unlike in past wars, when U.S. troops on the ground helped provide targeting information and intelligence, commanders in the battle against Islamic State rely chiefly on airborne surveillance, captured communications chatter, signals intelligence and other material that is processed by analysts here.

U.S. officers said the video-watching analysts working half a world away are no match for spotters and other troops feeding intelligence from the front lines.

“We don’t have anywhere near the level of intelligence we used to,” Lt. Col. Marc Spinuzzi, a senior intelligence officer, wrote in an email from Baghdad. The analysts are under “a lot of pressure … to clearly distinguish friend from foe, and to pick out the enemy from the civilian population” on the battlefield.

That is precisely how mistakes are made and civilians killed.  And, as Robert Naiman pointed out,

“There is a big danger here that U.S. air strikes in Syria are going to resemble the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in the sense that there is no accountability for who is killed. We have reports of civilian casualties from people in the area and the U.S. government says, ‘No, they are bad guys.’ There has to be some public accountability for what happens when there are allegations of civilian casualties.”

At least the Pentagon has now gone some way towards recognising the problem.  Previously it had insisted that it was unaware of any civilian casualties, which is disingenuous: it beggars belief that 1,000 air strikes could have resulted in no civilian casualties – but if your ISR is inadequate it’s scarcely surprising that you would be ‘unaware’ of the consequences.  Even so, on 6 January the Pentagon announced that it had investigated 18 allegations of coalition airstrikes causing civilian casualties between 8 August and 30 December.  It determined that 13 were ‘not credible’, but was continuing to review three others; a further two, one in Iraq and one in Syria, are now the subject of formal military investigations.  But before you gold your breath, both Iraq and Syria are also exempt from the Presidential Policy Guidelines that require a ‘near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured’.  Here is Harold Koh (really):

‘They seem to be creating this grey zone…  If we’re not applying the strict rules [to prevent civilian casualties] to Syria and Iraq, then they are of relatively limited value.’

Object lessons

DRONE

Adam Rothestein‘s Drone, the latest contribution to the Object Lessons series co-published by the Atlantic and Bloomsbury Academic, is out at the end of this month.

Drones are in the newspaper, on the TV screen, swarming through the networks, and soon, we’re told, they’ll be delivering our shopping. But what are drones? The word encompasses everything from toys to weapons. And yet, as broadly defined as they are, the word ‘drone’ fills many of us with a sense of technological dread. Adam Rothstein cuts through the mystery, the unknown, and the political posturing, and talks about what drones really are: what technologies are out there, and what’s coming next; how drones are talked about, and how they are represented in popular culture.

It turns out that drones are not as scary as they appear – but they are more complicated than you might expect. Drones reveal the strange relationships that humans are forming with their new technologies.

Here’s the Contents list:

Introduction

Chapter One: Four Technology Stories

Chapter Two: The Military Drone

Chapter Three: The Commercial Drone (or the hole where it ought to be)

Chapter Four: Blinking Lights

Chapter Five: Software and Hardware

Chapter Six: The Non-Drone

Chapter Seven: What the Drone is For

Chapter Eight: The Drone in Discourse

Chapter Nine: Drone Fiction

Chapter Ten: Ourselves and the Drone

Chapter Eleven: Aesthetics of the Drone

Chapter Twelve: The Drone as Meme

The book comes with this enthusiastic endorsement from Geoff Manaugh of (richly deserved) BLDGBLOG fame:

“Adam Rothstein’s Drone presents this iconic figure of contemporary warfare-the disconcertingly alluring autonomous airborne machine-through the lens of a different kind of history. Privacy and tracking algorithms run side by side with the ethics of self-guided munitions, activist political programs butt heads with emerging corporate business strategies, and all of it is tied back to the earliest experiments in driverless vehicles, quaint ancestors of today’s over-mythologized UAVs. In the end, Rothstein’s book is an exploration of technical agency: Where did drones come from-and what do they want?”

You can find some of Adam’s preliminary ideas about what he then called ‘Drone ethnography’ at rhizome here, an interview with the lovely people at Bard here, and what Terraform calls his ‘future fiction, ‘Targeted strike 2: Judgment Database’, here.

The Object Lessons essay and book series, edited by Ian Bogost and Christopher Schaberg, is about ‘the hidden lives of ordinary things’.  If you want a different take on drones as objects, I suggest starting with William Walters, ‘Drone strikes, dingpolitik and beyond: Furthering the debate on materiality and security’ in Security dialogue 45 (2) (2014) 101-118.