The scene of the crime: customary law and forensic architecture

I returned from a wonderful visit to Glasgow last week – thanks so much to Jo Sharp, who ensured I had a criminally good time – and I’ve spent this week trying to catch up.  It rained most of the time I was there, and in fact my first impression of the University was of a quadrangle turned into a quagmire: a case of mire in the flood, you might say.  But nothing could dampen my spirits, and in the gaps between marvellous restaurants, coffee shops that would make anyone in Vancouver (or Seattle) green with envy, the best lunch ever, and truly excellent conversation, I gave two talks: one on my skeletal ideas about my new project on Medical-military machines and casualties of war, 1914-2014, and the other a more formal affair on ‘Dirty dancing: drone strikes, spaces of exception and the everywhere war.’ The purpose of the first talk was to explore, largely for graduate students, how I work; it generated a lively discussion, so I thought I would try to do the same in this post but in relation to the second presentation.  And in doing so, I’ll also have more to say about the scene of a real crime.

I’d prepared my formal presentation before I left Vancouver, and as I’ve explained before I now never read from a written text: I design the slides carefully (see my ‘Rules’ here) and talk to them, so that I retain as much flexibility as possible.  It’s a sort of semi-scripted improv, I suppose, and it also means that the argument can develop from one presentation to the next.

On the train up from London I started to think some more about the air strikes on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (see also herehere and here).  Part of my purpose was to trace a narrative of air attack that, for those now ‘living under drones’, stretched back (at least in memory) to British air control and counterinsurgency on the North West Frontier in the 1920s and the 1930s.

Waziristan bombing 1920s and 30s PNG

War of Terror inside Pakistan PNGI’d made this point before, and sharpened it during an earlier version of the presentation in Beirut, but I’d since realised that the narrative was resumed by the Soviet and Afghan Air Forces striking mujaheddin bases in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.  I hadn’t paid much attention to this in The colonial present, where my focus was on the aid provided by the CIA to mujaheddin striking across the border in the opposite direction, but these air raids were described by the Washington Post on 13 March 1988 as part of the USSR’s “war of terror” (really).  They are an important moment in the genealogy of air strikes and counterinsurgency in the FATA, and I’d managed to unearth some estimates of the number of cross-border violations of Pakistani air space and the number skilled and injured in the strikes:

Afghan:Soviet cross-border air strikes 1980-88

Then, in one of the ironic twists of our post 9/11 world, the (il)logic of air war was revived and ramped up by the CIA-directed drone strikes that have convulsed the borderlands since 2004.

I wanted to show, as I’ve argued in previous posts, that this narrative was more than a cross-border affair and that the Pakistan Air Force has been also actively involved in a series of domestic air campaigns: since 2008 it has carried out thousands of air strikes against what it describes as militants, insurgents and terrorists in the FATA.  In fact, the offensive was resumed earlier this year, when F-16 aircraft and helicopter gunships attacked targets in North Waziristan, driving thousands of people from their homes.

the-frontier-crimes-regulationIn some measure, all of these air campaigns raise the spectre of colonial power, but so too does the legal status of the FATA and its exceptional relation to the rest of Pakistan.  This is usually traced back to Lord Curzon’s Frontier Crimes Regulations (1901), which were retained by Pakistan after independence in 1947.  They were minimally revised in 2011, but the FATA are still under the direct executive control of the President through his appointed Political Agents who have absolute authority to decide civil and criminal matters. The exceptional status of the FATA was confirmed by the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations in 2011 which exclude the high court from jurisdiction on fundamental rights issues in any area where the Pakistan armed forces have been deployed ‘in aid of the civil power’.

All of this indicates that the FATA constitute a ‘space of exception’ in something like Giorgio Agamben‘s sense of the term: a space in which particular people are knowingly exposed to death through the juridical or quasi-juridical removal of legal protections from them.  This was, in part, my argument, but I was also concerned to show that this was not a matter of a legal void: rather, military and paramilitary violence was orchestrated, as it almost always is, through the law.

But there is quite another sense in which the FATA is not a legal void, despite all the rhetoric about them being ‘lawless’ lands.  So I started to think through the intersections between these formal legal geographies (and the state violence they sanction) and the system of customary law known as Pashtunwali (loosely, “the way of the Pashtuns”).  The system is far from static, but it still governs many areas of life among Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border whose cultures and communities were bisected when the Durand Line was drawn in 1893.  I’d been reading as much as I could by anthropologists and others to help me understand its contemporary relevance: for recent surveys, see Tom Ginsburg‘s ‘An economic interpretation of the Pashtunwali’ from the University of Chicago Legal Forum (2011) here,  Lutz Rzehak‘s ‘Doing Pashto’ here, and Thomas Ruttig‘s qualifications in relation to the Taliban here.  For a sense of how the US military understands Pashtunwali, as part of its ‘cultural turn’, see Robert Ross‘s thesis here.

Pashtunwali is more than a legal system, of course, but I was particularly interested in its legal force and how this is put into practice.  Many commentators have shown that Pashtunwali is precisely the sort of ‘mobile’ legal system that you would expect to find among (originally) nomadic peoples, for whom the fixed statutes of a centralised state had neither appeal nor purchase.  It includes obligations of hospitality and protection, asylum and refuge, and revenge and restitution, and provides for a system of resolution through a council (or Jirga).  Within its patriarchal and masculinist framework, the system is resolutely non-hierarchical: the men who compose the Jirga sit in a circle and each, as a symbol of authority and equality, carries a gun.

Sitting in a circle, the Jirga has no speaker, no president, no secretary or convener. There are no hierarchical positions and required status of the participants. All are equal and everyone has the right to speak and argue, although, regard for the elders is always there without any authoritarianism or privileged rights attached to it. The Jirga system ensures maximum participation of the people in administering justice and makes sure that justice is manifestly done.

On my way over to the UK I’d read an extremely interesting essay in the International Review of Law and Economics 37 (2014) 108-20 – stored on Good Reader on my iPad – in which Bruce Benson and Zafar Siddiqui argued that the system works not only to provide a decentralised, local and regional system of order and regulation – so Hobbes was wrong: without the state people do not automatically revert to a ‘state of nature’ (Tom Ginsburg is very good on this) – but also to defend the Pashtun from the incursions of the central state.  Indeed, the Frontier Crimes Regulations specifically recognised the validity and autonomy of the Jirga: much more here.  The message from all this was clear: ‘The Pashtun tribes who inhabit the rugged mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan are neither lawless nor defenceless.’

The Pakistan Taliban know this very well, not surprisingly, and in many instances work with Pashtunwali to mediate disputes in the FATA.  In fact, as the train curved around the Lake District I remembered reading about a Jirga being convened in Datta Khel in March 2011 to resolve a dispute over a chromite mine.  It’s odd how some things stick in your mind, like burrs on your jeans, but this incident had stayed with me because the Jirga had been targeted by the CIA and two Hellfire missiles were launched from a drone, killing more than 40 people.  In itself, that probably wouldn’t have been enough for me to remember it in any detail since it was all too common – but the usual faceless and anonymous US official, speaking off the record because he was not authorised to comment in his official capacity, had offered a series of ever more bizarre justifications for the strike: and I remembered those (as you’ll see in a moment, you could hardly forget them).

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So I started to dig some more – WiFi on the train – and discovered that Eyal Weizman and his brilliant colleagues at Goldsmith’s Forensic Architecture had reconstructed this very strike (the image above is from their work):

‘In the absence of on-the-ground photographic or video documentation, and with no visible impact on buildings, this investigation unfolded by cross-referencing witness testimonies with satellite imagery. An examination of before and after satellite imagery indicated two areas with surface disturbance consistent with the reported missile strikes, thus allowing us to confirm the location of the strike. From the testimonies of survivors and eye-witnesses, we harvested spatial information that helped us to generate a 3D model of the site of the drone strike on the Jirga.’

Then all (!) I had to do was go back in to my e-files (each morning I work my way through the press, copying and pasting reports and commentaries into a series of files so that I have my own searchable archive), recover the glosses provided by that anonymous official, and put them together with the reconstruction.  Here’s the result:

Dhatta Khel 1 PNGDhatta Khel 2 PNGDhatta Khel 3 PNG

Dhatta Khel 4 PNGDhatta Khel 5 PNGDhatta Khel 6 PNGDhatta Khel 7 PNGDhatta Khel 8 PNG

You can read more about these reconstructions here (‘The forensics of a lethal drone attack’).  This strike is one of several investigated by the UN’s Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, and you can find much more information at the interactive website produced in collaboration with Forensic Architecture and SITU Research that accompanies his written report to the United Nations (28 February 2014) (the Datta Khel incident is summarised in paragraph 50, but the website provides a far richer understanding).  You can also download hi-res versions of Forensic Architecture’s stills and videos here.

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What I find so significant is that the anonymous official provided a series of different and, as I’ve said, bizarre (even offensive) descriptions of what the assembly in Datta Khel was not: but he was clearly incapable of recognising what it was.  This was certainly another performance of the space of exception, but it was plainly not a legal ‘black hole’, as some commentators gloss Agamben.  The only ‘black holes’ were the craters in the ground and the conspicuous failure to recognise the operative presence of customary law.

Death, drones and Camp Delta

When I wrote ‘The Black Flag’ (DOWNLOADS tab), exploring the idea of Guantanamo Bay as a space of exception, three young men had just committed suicide in the war prison.  This is how I started:

In the early morning of 10 June 2006 three prisoners held at the military detention facility at the US Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen, were found dead in their cells. Although the three men had been detained without trial for several years and none of them had court cases or military commissions pending (none of them had even been charged), the commander of the prison dismissed their suicides as ‘not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us’. Although the three men had been on repeated hunger strikes which ended when they were strapped into restraint chairs and force- fed by nasal tubes, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy described their deaths as ‘a Public Relations move to draw attention’ – to what, she did not say – and complained that since detainees had access to lawyers, received mail and had the ability to write to families, ‘it was hard to see why the men had not protested about their situation’. Although by presidential decree prisoners at Guantánamo are subject to indefinite detention and coercive interrogation while they are alive, when President George W. Bush learned of the three deaths he reportedly stressed the importance of treating their dead bodies ‘in a humane and culturally sensitive manner’. 

KAISER Tod in Camp Delta

After ‘The Black Flag’ was published, I read a remarkable account of the despair and desperation of these three men by Mario Kaiser.  His original essay has now been updated and translated into English as ‘Death in Camp Delta‘ at Guernica.  Here is an extract:

At some point during their captivity, these three men began to retreat. They no longer touched the food the guards pushed through the holes in the doors of their cells. Their bodies dwindled. Their lives hung on thin yellow tubes shoved down their nostrils each morning to let a nutrient fluid drip into their stomachs. In their minds, nothing changed. They didn’t want to stay, and one night, on June 9, 2006, they decided to leave Guantánamo. They climbed on top of the sinks in their cells and hanged themselves.

In the Pentagon’s view, the men hanging from the walls of their cells were assassins whose suicides were attacks on America. The Pentagon struck back.

The story of the lives and deaths of these prisoners is an odyssey of three young men who left for Afghanistan and ended up in Cuba. It is the story of a war against a terror that is difficult to define, a war that the United States government wages even in the cells of its prisoners. It is about a place, Camp Delta, that exposes the asymmetry of this war, and it leads to the front lines—and the American lawyers standing between them, struggling to defend presumed enemies of their country. It is the story of the internal and external battle over Guantánamo.

Nobody but the dead knows the whole truth. But there are places where the story can be pieced together. There are files and letters, people who distinctly remember these prisoners. There are places where the strands of this story intersect. A law firm in Washington. A mosque in London. A living room in North Carolina. A cell in Guantánamo.

This is on my mind today for three reasons.  The first is that Kaiser describes himself as

‘a writer who combines in-depth reporting with literary storytelling. Taking on issues of social transformation and human rights, Kaiser’s stories are based on long-term immersion in environments that are difficult to access. His hope is that this approach provides a fuller understanding of the ways in which policies and social change affect people’s lives and long-term prospects.’

It’s worth reflecting on those aspirations if you read his essay (which I urge you to do) because they raise important questions about the lazy distinction between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, and about the ability of researchers to produce and animate publics through their (our) work.  There’s something there, too, about the power (and, yes, the seductions) of story-telling: so much academic writing still seems to substitute and so privilege our own narrative (‘I did this… then I did that .. I thought this…. then I felt that’) for the stories of others.  And, as Kaiser shows in that brief extract, those stories are often multi-sited.

AGAMBEN State of exceptionThe second reason Kaiser’s work matters to me is that I’m revisiting ‘The Black Flag’ for The everywhere war (more on this later) and, partly in consequence, thinking again about spaces of exception.  I’m in Mexico this week, and I’ve been re-reading Giorgio Agamben‘s Homo sacer and The state of exception.  I was originally doing this to sharpen my arguments about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as a space of exception for air strikes by the CIA/JSOC and the Pakistan Air Force – I’ll be talking about this in Glasgow early next month, and I’ll post the presentation slides as soon as I’ve finished – but as I’ve worked my way through these texts still wider issues have emerged.

One of the central elements of Homo sacer (and Remnants of Auschwitz – though here too the differences between the two texts are suggestive) is the deliberate exposure of bodies to death: outcasts from whom the protections of the law have been stripped so that their death is no crime.  But in The state of exception Agamben’s focus is on the genealogy of the ‘force of law’ through which this takes place: the victims are nowhere in sight.  Throughout the short text Agamben makes much of the proximity of war and, for the ’emergency’ that activates the modern state of exception, of the First World War, but war and its developing armature of (international) law is never subjected to critical scrutiny.

Yet war (and its casualties) can reveal something else about spaces of exception.  On the battlefield – and let us immediately agree with Frédéric Mégret that ‘the battlefield’ is a highly unstable conceptual constellation – soldiers are at once vectors and victims of violence.  Here the usual restrictions on killing are removed; they can kill, provided they do so ‘lawfully’, without risk of punishment (‘combatant immunity’).  The other side of the contract, of course, is that those who might kill them are not subject to  legal sanction either.

This is not what Agamben means by the state of exception, and apart from repeated references to a contemporary ‘global civil war’ (and to Guantanamo) the transnational rarely appears in his writing and international law disappears into the margins.  His thumb-nail history of the state of exception is framed by the state and its sovereign.

But for reasons that I’ll set out in a later post, the proximity of the exceptional space of  the ‘battlefield’, of war zones and killing fields, to the ultimate reductions of bare life, is far from accidental.  In fact, that’s one of the links between the three deaths in Guantanamo Bay and air strikes and targeted killings in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan which, as I’ll want to show, requires a radically enlarged view of spaces of exception and their historical geographies.  (In the case of the FATA, the Obama administration insists it requires a radically enlarged juridical conception of the ‘battlefield’ in time and space too).

To be continued.

Total war, double vision and surgical strikes

Paul K. Saint-AmourOver the years I’ve learned much from the writings of Paul K. Saint-Amour, whose work on the violent intersections between modernism and air power has helped me think through my own project on bombing (‘Killing Space’) and, in a minor key, my analysis of cartography, aerial reconnaissance and ‘corpography’ on the Western Front in the First World War.  A minimalist listing would include:

Like me, Paul also has an essay in Pete Adey‘s co-edited collection, From above: war, violence and verticality (Hurst, 2013): ‘Photomosaics: mapping the Front, mapping the city’.

He has just published an important essay, ‘On the partiality of total war‘, in Critical inquiry 40 (2) (2014) 420-449, which has prompted this post.  What I so admire about Paul’s writing is his combination of literary style – these essays are a joy to read, even when they address the bleakest of subjects – critical imagination and analytical acumen, and the latest essay is no exception.

His central point is that the idea of ‘total war’ – which, as he insists, was essentially an inter-war constellation – was deeply partial.  It both naturalized and undermined a series of European imperialist distinctions between centre and periphery, peace and war:

‘… forms of violence forbidden in the metropole during peacetime were practiced in the colony, mandate, and protectorate, [and] … the distinction between peace and war was a luxury of the center. At the same time, by predicting that civilians in the metropole would have no immunity in future wars, it contributed to the erosion of the very imperial geography (center versus periphery) that it seemed to shore up.’

Hence the partiality of what he calls ‘the fractured problem-space of the concept’: ‘A truly total conception of war would have insisted openly on the legal, ethical, political, and technological connections between European conflagration and colonial air control’ (my emphasis).

CharltonPaul advances these claims, and enters into this fraught ‘problem-space’, by tracking the figure of a Royal Air Force officer, L.E.O. Charlton (left).  A veteran of the First World War, Charlton was appalled by his experience of colonial ‘air control’ in Iraq in the 1920s (‘direct action by aeroplanes on indirect information by unreliable informants … was a species of oppression’: sounds familiar) but became a strenuous advocate of bombing civilians as the ‘new factor in warfare’ in the future. Convinced that Britain was exceptionally vulnerable to air attack, the only possible defence was extraordinary air superiority capable of landing devastating ‘hammer blows’.

Now others have traced the lines of descent from Britain’s ‘air policing’ in Palestine, Iraq and the North-West Frontier in the 1920s and 30s to its bomber offensive against Germany in the 1940s – ‘Bomber’ Harris notoriously cut his teeth in both Iraq and Palestine, though one historian treats this as precision dentistry – and still others have joined the dots from yesterday’s imperial borderlands to today’s: I’m thinking of  Mark Neocleous‘s (re)vision of police power (‘Air power as police power‘, Environment and Planning D: Society & Space 31 (4) (2013) 578-93 and Priya Satia‘s genealogy of ‘Drones: a history from the Middle East‘, Humanity 5 (1) (2014) 1-31.

But Paul complicates these genealogies in important ways by showing how, within British military circles, war from the air was at once prosecuted and displaced/deferred.  He argues that major air power theorists of the day reserved the category of ‘war’ for conflicts between sovereign states and relegated state violence ‘against colonial, mandate and protectorate populations’ to minor categories: ‘police actions, low-intensity conflicts, constabulary missions, pacification, colonial policing’.  Indeed, at the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1923 the British delegation sought to abolish all air forces except those deployed ‘for police purposes in certain outlying regions’.  The manoeuvre failed, yet it wasn’t until 1977 that the first Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention of 1949 recognised the right of subject populations to resist colonial domination, military occupation and racial repression, nominated such acts as constituting an ‘international conflict’, and extended to them the protections of international law.  Several states have refused to ratify the AP, including the United States, Israel, Iran, India and Pakistan.  Charlton’s original objection was to the use of air power outside declared war zones and against civilian subject populations: an objection that many would argue continues to have contemporary resonance in the CIA-directed drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

But Charlton’s masters (and, ultimately, Charlton himself) ‘dissevered’ the meaning of ongoing state violence in the periphery from prospective state violence at the centre.  ‘Home is the space of the total war to come‘ – the Royal Air Force evidently believed that lessons learned in the colonies could be repatriated to the metropolis – and this would necessarily involve the breaching of state borders.  War from the air thus dissolved the distinctions between military and civilian spaces, as Giulio Douhet prophesied in the 1920s:

‘By virtue of this new weapon, the repercussions of war are no longer limited by the farthest artillery range of guns, but can be felt directly for hundreds and hundreds of miles… The battlefield will be limited only by the boundaries of the nations at war, and all of their citizens will become combatants, since all of them will be exposed to the aerial offensives of the enemy. There will be no distinction any longer between soldiers and civilians.’

Few military experts in Britain talked about Douhet before the 1930s, but Charlton had read him in French translation, referring to him in his Cambridge lectures published as War from the air: past, present, future (1935): John Peaty calls him ‘Douhet’s leading disciple in Britain.’  But in Charlton’s view war from the air also redrew the contours of military violence so that they no longer lined fronts but bounded areas.  In principle this transformation of the target space provided for two different strategies, though in practice the differences between them were as much ideological as they were substantive.  Air strikes could take the form of either area bombing, levelling whole districts of cities, or so-called ‘precision bombing’ that would dislocate strategic nodes within a networked space, and it was this that Charlton believed was the key to aerial supremacy:

‘[T]he nation conceived by air-power theorists was a discrete entity unified both by the interlocking systems, structures, and forces that would constitute its war effort and by their collective targetability in the age of the bomber. As the proxy space for total war doctrine, in other words, air-power theory provided limitless occasions for representing the national totality. The common figures of “nerve centres,” “heart,” and “nerve ganglia” all participated in the emergent trope of an integrated national body whose geographical borders, war effort, and vulnerability were all coterminous.’

Penguin-S8 Air Defence of Britain

In War from the air, Charlton had advocated a devastating attack on the enemy capital:

‘It is the brain, and therefore the vital point. Injury to the brain means instant death, or paralysis, whereas injury to the body or the members, especially if it be a flesh-wound, may mean nothing at all, or, at most, a grave inconvenience.’

And in his contribution to The air defence of Britain, published in 1938, Charlton used the figure of the ‘national body’ to underscore what he saw as Britain’s vulnerability to air attack: ‘We are laid out, as if on an operating table, for the surgical methods of the bomber.’  As it turned out, of course, air strikes were even less ‘surgical’ than today’s aerialists try to claim, but as I showed in ‘Doors into nowhere’ (DOWNLOADS tab), these bio-physiological tropes were refined by Solly Zuckerman when he sought to provide a scientific  basis for the combined bomber offensive during the Second World War.

wp0a26afc9_1b-1But precisely because the enabling experiments for these operations were carried out in a colonial laboratory, ‘outside the boundaries of the national body’, this couldn’t qualify as war – so this was ‘interwar’ in quite another sense too – and, Charlton notwithstanding, the ‘bombing demonstrations’ that took place in Iraq and elsewhere were not subject to much critical scrutiny or public outcry in Britain.  On the contrary, within the metropole they were turned into popular entertainment at successive air displays at Hendon in North London in the 1920s (see below) (though, prophetically, by the 1930s, the pageant staged bombing runs against ‘the enemy’, and in War over England (1936) Charlton envisaged Britain forced to surrender after a devastating German air attack on, of all things, the Hendon Air Show) .

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I think this argument could profitably be extended, because the desert ‘proving grounds’ had a cultural-strategic significance that, as both Priya Satia and Patrick Deer have shown, can be unravelled through another figure who also enters this problem-space, albeit in disguise, T.E. Lawrence or ‘Aircraftsman Ross’ (I’ve suggested some of these filiations in ‘DisOrdering the Orient’)….

I hope I’ve said enough to whet your appetite.  This is a rich argument about war’s geographies, at once imaginative and material, and my bare-bones’ summary really doesn’t do it justice.  An introductory footnote reveals that the essay, and presumably Paul’s previous ones, will appear in a book in progress (and prospect), Archive, Bomb, Civilian: Total War in the Shadows of Modernism, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

More dirty dancing

As I work on turning my Beirut talk on drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into a long-form version – which includes a detailed and critical engagement with Giorgio Agamben‘s characterisation of the state/space of exception – I’ll post some of the key arguments here.  But for now, two important developments.

Document-excerpt

First, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has just published a list of 330 drone strikes  between 2006 and July 2013 (data for the five strikes that took place in 2007 are missing) compiled by the Pakistan government (see extract above); this is an update of a partial release from the Bureau last summer.  The source is a series of reports filed each evening by Political Agents in the field to the FATA secretariat, and while it’s not a comprehensive listing – and Islamabad relies on other sources too – the document closely follows the Bureau’s own database compiled from other independent sources.  It also allows for a more accurate mapping of the strikes – more to come on this.

But one key difference between the list and the Bureau’s database is that, following the election of Obama, the official reports no longer attempted to classify the victims as combatants or civilians: and the coincidence may not be coincidental.  According to Chris Woods,

‘One of my sources, a former Pakistani minister, has indicated that local officials may have come under pressure to play down drone civilian deaths following the election of Barack Obama. It’s certainly of concern that almost all mention of non-combatant casualties simply disappears from this document after 2009, despite significant evidence to the contrary.’

One of the most egregious omissions is the drone strike on 24 October 2012 that killed Mamana Bibi, a grandmother tending the fields with her grandchildren.  The case was documented extensively by Amnesty International and yet, as the Bureau notes, while the date and location of the strike is recorded the report from the political agent is remarkably terse and makes nothing of her evident civilian status.

‘If a case as well-documented as Mamana Bibi’s isn’t recorded as a civilian death, that raises questions about whether any state records of these strikes can be seen as reliable, beyond the most basic information,’ said Mustafa Qadri, a researcher for Amnesty International…. ‘It also raises questions of complicity on the part of the Pakistan state – has there been a decision to stop recording civilians deaths?’

These are important questions, and in fact one of the central objectives of my own essay is to document the close, covert co-operation between the US and Pakistani authorities: what I called, in an earlier post, dirty dancing, trading partly on Jeremy Scahill’s inventory of ‘dirty wars’ and partly on Joshua Foust‘s calling out of the ‘Islamabad drone dance’.

We now know that this collaboration continued at the very least until late 2011.  The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center routinely prepared reports that included maps (see below) and pre- and post-strike imagery that were briefed by the Deputy Director to Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, and subsequently transmitted to Islamabad.

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And consistent with the reports from Political Agents to the FATA Secretariat, Greg Miller and Bob Woodward note that in these briefings:

Although often uncertain about the identities of its targets, the CIA expresses remarkable confidence in its accuracy, repeatedly ruling out the possibility that any civilians were killed.  One table estimates that as many as 152 “combatants” were killed and 26 were injured during the first six months of 2011. Lengthy columns with spaces to record civilian deaths or injuries contain nothing but zeroes.

The collaboration is important, because it has major implications for how one thinks about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as a ‘space of exception’: there are multiple legal regimes through which the people who live in these borderlands are knowingly and deliberately ‘exposed to death’, as Agamben would have it.  More on this later, but for now there is a second, more substantive point to be sharpened.

I’ve previously emphasised that the people of FATA are not only ‘living under drones‘, as the Stanford/NYU legal team put it last year, but also under the threat of air strikes from the Pakistan Air Force.  Last week the PAF resumed air strikes against leaders of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan, using first F-16 aircraft and then helicopter gunships to attack what were described as ‘eight major targets’ in the villages of Mir Ali (Hamzoni, Issori, Khadi and Nawana). Although the Air Force described the operation as a ‘blitz’, it initially claimed that only two people were killed.  A different story soon emerged.

MIR ALI

According to Pakistan’s International News, the air raids started just before midnight on 20 January, and people ‘left their homes in desperation and spent the night in the open along with children when the jets started bombing.’

There were conflicting reports about the identity of those killed. Military authorities said all the 40 people killed in the overnight aerial strikes were hardcore militants or their relatives and family members.

However, tribesmen in Mir Ali subdivision insisted that some local villagers, including women, children and elderly people, were also killed in the bombing by the PAF’s fighter aircraft and Pakistan Army’s helicopter gunships as residential areas were attacked.

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Several days later there were reports of hundreds – even thousands – of people fleeing the area in anticipation of continuing and intensifying military operations.  On 25 January the Express Tribune reported:

“Most of the families of Mir Ali Bazaar and adjacent areas have been leaving,” Abdullah Wazir, a resident of Spin Wam told The Express Tribune, adding, “women and children have been leaving with household materials, but livestock and larger items of belongings are being abandoned by these families.”

“It is difficult to find shelter in Bannu,” said Janath Noor, aged 38, who travelled there with her family. “There are problems at home and here in Bannu too.” She added that the families were forced to act independently as the political administrations in North Waziristan and Bannu have not made arrangements for the fleeing families. Some families reportedly spent the night under the open sky in Bannu town, waiting for any available shelter.

Some IDPs have also faced problems such as harassment at the hands of the police, requests for bribes, soaring rates of transport from Mir Ali and inflated rents for houses in Bannu. Some families, suspected of being militants, have had problems finding accommodation in Bannu district.

Mir Ali:Bannu

By 27 January the government estimated that 8,000 people had arrived in Bannu, while many others unable to find shelter and unwilling to sleep in the open had hone on to Peshawar and elsewhere.  But the head of the FATA Disaster Management Authority declared that ‘No military operation has been announced in the tribal area so there are no instructions to make arrangements for the internally displaced people.’

Most local people were clearly sceptical about that and, certainly, there were authoritative claims that Pakistan was being put ‘on a war footing’ to counter the surging power of the TTP.  In the same week that the air strikes were launched, Islamabad promulgated an amended Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO), modelled on the imperial Rowlatt Act of 1919, that included provisions for secret courts, greater shoot-to-kill license for the police, house raids without warrants and the detention of terror suspects without charge. Rana Sanaullah, Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Public Prosecution in the Punjab and a close confidant of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told the Guardian: ‘I think what will be done will be no worse than what has happened in Guantánamo Bay.’  Not surprisingly, he also offered support for the US drone strikes:

‘We believe that drone attacks damage the terrorists, very much… Inside, everyone believes that drone attacks are good; but outside, everyone condemn because the drones are American.’

And, as I’ll try to show in a later post, it’s a different inside/outside indistinction that plays a vital role in producing the FATA as a space of exception.

Theory of the drone 3: Killing grounds

This is the third in a series of posts on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone, in which I provide a detailed summary of his argument, links to some of his key sources, and reflections drawn from my soon-to-be-completed The everywhere war (and I promise to return to it as soon as I’ve finished this marathon).

5: Pattern of life analysis

Chamayou begins with the so-called ‘Terror Tuesdays‘ when President Obama regularly approves the ‘kill list’ (or disposition matrix) that authorises ‘personality strikes’ against named individuals: ‘the drones take care of the rest’.

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But Chamayou immediately acknowledges that most strikes are ‘signature strikes‘ against individuals whose names are unknown but for whom a ‘pattern of life analysis‘ has supposedly detected persistent anomalies in normal rhythms of activity, which are read as signs (‘signatures’) of imminent threat.  I’ve described this as a militarized rhthmanalysis, even a weaponized time-geography, in ‘From a view to a kill’ (DOWNLOADS tab), and Chamayou also notes the conjunction of human geography and social analysis to produce a forensic mapping whose politico-epistemological status is far from secure.

The principal limitation – and the grave danger – lies in mistaking form for substance.  Image-streams are too imprecise and monotonic to allow for  fine-grained interpretation, Chamayou argues, and supplementing them by equally distant measures, like telephone contacts, often compounds the problem.  Hence Gareth Porter‘s objection, which both Chamayou and I fasten upon:

‘The phone numbers and call histories from those phones go into the database which is used to “map the networks.” But the link analysis methodology employed by intelligence analysis is incapable of qualitative distinctions among relationships depicted on their maps of links among “nodes.” It operates exclusively on quantitative data – in this case, the number of phone calls to or visits made to an existing JPEL target or to other numbers in touch with that target. The inevitable result is that more numbers of phones held by civilian noncombatants show up on the charts of insurgent networks. If the phone records show multiple links to numbers already on the “kill/capture” list, the individual is likely to be added to the list.’

This is exactly what happened in the Takhar attack in Afghanistan on 2 September 2010 that I’ve discussed elsewhere, relying on the fine investigative work of Kate Clark, and Chamayou draws attention to it too.   The general assumption, as Kate was told by one officer, seems to be that ‘”If we decide he’s a bad person, the people with him are also bad.”

Takhar For a better future.001

These necro-methodologies raise two questions that Chamayou doesn’t address here.

The first, as Porter notes, is that ‘guilt by association’ is ‘clearly at odds with the criteria used in [international] humanitarian law to distinguish between combatants and civilians.’  You can find a much more detailed assessment of the legality of signature strikes (and what he calls their ‘evidential adequacy’)  in Kevin Jon Heller‘s fine essay, ”One hell of a killing machine”: Signature strikes and international law’ [Journal of international criminal justice 11 (2013) 89-119; I discussed a pre-publication version here].

The geo-legal ramifications of these attacks reach far beyond the killing grounds.  Earlier this month in the High Court in London one man who lost five relatives in the air strike in Takhar (as you can see on the slide above, on an election convoy) challenged the legality of the alleged involvement of Britain’s Serious and Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA) in drawing up the kill-list, the Joint Prioritized Effects List, used by the military to authorise the attack: more herehere and here. (It was the presence of names on the list that triggered the faulty network analysis).

The second is the imaginary conjured up by the very idea of a ‘pattern of life’ analysis.  I’ve written before about the way in which the screen on which the full-motion video feeds from the Predators and Reapers are displayed interpellates those who watch what is happening on the ground from thousands of miles away, and I’ve emphasised that this isn’t a purely optical affair:  that it is an embodied, techno-culturally mediated process that involves a series of structured dispositions to view the other as Other (and often dangerous Other).   But these dispositions also reside in what we might think of as a grammar of execution.  To see what I mean, here is Micah Zenko:

‘Recently, I spoke to a military official with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the special operations world, and who has had direct exposure to the targeted killing program. To emphasize how easy targeted killings by special operations forces or drones has become, this official flicked his hand back over and over, stating: “It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?”’

Hence, of course, ‘Bugsplat’ [according to Rolling Stone, ‘the military slang for a man killed by a drone strike is “bug splat,” since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed’], and a host of other predatory terms (see also here) that distinguish between this mere (bare) life and what Judith Butler calls ‘a life that qualifies for recognition’.

state-violence-and-the-execution-of-lawBut the same result is achieved through the nominally neutral, technical-scientific vocabulary deployed in these strikes. Joseph Pugliese captures the grammar of execution with acute insight in another fine essay, ‘Prosthetics of law and the anomic violence of drones’, [Griffith Law Review 20 (4) (2011) 931-961; you can also find it in his excellent new book State violence and the execution of law]:

‘The term ‘heat signature’ works to reduce the targeted human body to an anonymous heat-emitting entity that merely radiates signs of life. This clinical process of reducing human subjects to purely biological categories of radiant life is further elaborated by the US military’s use of the term ‘pattern of life’…

‘The military term ‘pattern of life’ is inscribed with two intertwined systems of scientific conceptuality: algorithmic and biological. The human subject detected by drone’s surveillance cameras is, in the first scientific schema, transmuted algorithmically into a patterned sequence of numerals: the digital code of ones and zeros. Converted into digital data coded as a ‘pattern of life’, the targeted human subject is reduced to an anonymous simulacrum that flickers across the screen and that can effectively be liquidated into a ‘pattern of death’ with the swivel of a joystick. Viewed through the scientific gaze of clinical biology, ‘pattern of life’ connects the drone’s scanning technologies to the discourse of an instrumentalist science, its constitutive gaze of objectifying detachment and its production of exterminatory violence. Patterns of life are what are discovered and analysed in the Petri dish of the laboratory…

‘Analogically, the human subjects targeted as suspect yet anonymous ‘patterns of life’ by the drones become equivalent to forms of pathogenic life. The operators of the drones’ exterminatory attacks must, in effect, be seen to conduct a type of scientific ethnic cleansing of pathogenic ‘life forms’. In the words of one US military officer: “Our major role is to sanitize the battlefield.”’

Later modern war more generally works through relays of biological-medical metaphors – equally obviously in counterinsurgency, as I’ve described in “Seeing Red” and other essays (DOWNLOADS tab), where the collective enemy becomes a ‘cancer’ that can only be removed by a therapeutic ‘killing to make live’ (including ‘surgical strikes’) – and Colleen Bell has provided an illuminating series of reflections in ‘Hybrid warfare and its metaphors’ [in Humanity 3 (2) (2012) 225-247] and ‘War and the allegory of medical intervention’ [International Political Sociology 6 (3) (2012) 325-8].

This immunitary logic is clearly bio-political, and its speech-acts just as plainly performative, and Pugliese draws the vital conclusion:

‘As mere patterns of pathogenic life, these targeted human subjects effectively are reduced to what Giorgio Agamben would term ‘a kind of absolute biopolitical substance’ that can killed with no concern about the possibility of juridical accountability: they are ‘bare life’ that can be killed with absolute impunity. Anonymous ‘patterns of life’ signify in contradistinction to legally named persons; they exemplify the ‘ontological hygiene’ legislated by US government policy in order to secure the reproduction of the ‘principle of scarcity with respect to agency and personhood’.

‘Situated in this Agambenian context of the extermination of human life with absolute impunity, the Predator drones must be seen as instantiating mobile ‘zones of exception’…’

Which artfully brings me to Chamayou’s next chapter…

6: Kill-box

Chamayou notes that the ‘war on terror’ loosed the dogs of war from their traditional boundaries in time and in space: at once ‘permanent war’ and, as he notes, ‘everywhere war’.

But for Chamayou it is more accurate to speak of the world turned into a ‘hunting ground’ rather than a battlefield, and this matters because two different geographies (his term) are involved.  War is defined by combat, he explains, hunting by pursuit.  Combat happens where opposing forces engage, but hunting tracks the prey, so that the place of military violence is no longer defined by a delimited space (‘the battlefield’) but by the presence of the enemy-prey who carries with him, as it were, his own mobile halo of a zone of personal hostilities.

To escape, the quarry must make itself undetectable or inaccessible – and the ability to do so depends not only on physical geography (terrain) but also on political and legal geography.  For this reason, Chamayou argues, the US has rendered contingent the sovereignty of Pakistan because it (for the most part unwillingly) provides sanctuary to those fleeing across the border from Afghanistan.  In such circumstances, what becomes crucial for the hunter is not the military occupation of territory but the ability to control trans-border spaces from a distance through the instantiation of what Eyal Weizman called the politics of verticality that has since captured the attention of Stuart Elden [“Secure the volume: vertical geopolitics and the depth of power”, Political Geography 34 (2013) 35-51], Steve Graham [“Vertical geopolitics: Baghdad and after”, Antipode 36 (1) (2004) 12-23] and others.  For this to work, as Weizman shows in the case of occupied Palestine, air power is indispensable.

Chamayou suggests that the US has refined this capacity – in effect, finely calibrated the time and space of the hunt – through the concept of the kill-box.  I’m not so sure about this; the lineage of the ‘kill-box’ goes back to the USAF’s ‘target boxes’ [target boxes around An Loc in Vietnam in 1972 are shown below] – and two or three specified ‘boxes’ or ‘Restricted Operating Zones‘ were used to define the Predato’s’  ‘hunting grounds’ over North and South Waziristan that were tacitly endorsed by the Pakistan state.

Target boxes around An Loc 1972

The concept of the ‘kill box’ was formalised as a joint operations doctrine in the 1990s as part of the established targeting cycle: what Henry Nash famously described in another context as ‘the bureaucratization of homicide’.  Nash worked for the USAF Air Targets Division in the 1950s and 60s, identifying targets in the USSR for nuclear attack by US Strategic Air Command, but I doubt that Chamayou would dissent from using either the verb or the noun to describe the contemporary, non-nuclear kill-chain.  (In a later post I’ll explain how this technical division of labour feeds in to what Chamayou castigates as a ‘setting aside’, a dispersal of responsibility, which functions to separate an action from its consequences: this is aggravated by the remote-split operations in which drones are embedded, and is central to Chamayou’s critique).  Here is how the relevant military manuals incorporated the development of the kill box into the targeting cycle in 2009 (ATO = Air Tasking Order):

Kill Box Development

You can find more on kill-boxes and their operationalisation here.

Kill Box TTP

Chamayou doesn’t track the development of the concept, but since then the ‘kill-box’ has been supplanted or at least supplemented by the ‘Joint Fires Area’ as a way of continuing to co-ordinate the deployment of lethal force and allowing targets to be engaged without additional communication.  Within the grid of the JFA (shown below, taken from an essay by Major James Mullin on ‘redefining the kill box’) permission to fire in specified cells is established in advance; areas are defined, targeting intervals stipulated, and the time-space cells can be opened and closed as operations proceed.

It is this capacity that Chamayou seizes upon: within the kill box targets can be engaged at will, so that the kill box, he writes, ‘is an autonomous zone of temporary killing’ (cf. the ‘free fire/specified fires zone’ in Vietnam: see my discussion of Fred Kaplan‘s recent essay, ‘The world as a free-fire zone‘).

3-D representation of Joint Fires Area using Global Area Reference System

Chamayou implies that the schema has been further refined in contemporary counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations: the fact that the kill-box and its successor allow for dynamic targeting across a series of scales is crucial, he says, because its improvisational, temporary nature permits targeting to be extended beyond a declared zone of conflict. The scale of the JFA telescopes down from the cell shown on the right of the figure below through the quadrant in the centre to the micro-scale ‘keypad’ (sic) on the right.

Global Area Reference System

This is more than a grid, though; the JFA is, in effect, a performative space that authorises, schedules and triggers lethal action.  Chamayou: ‘Temporary micro-cubes of lethal exception can be opened anywhere in the world, according to the contingencies of the moment, once an individual who qualifies as a legitimate target has been located.’  Thus, even as the target becomes ever more individuated – so precisely specified that air strikes no longer take the form of the area bombing of cities in World War II  or the carpet bombing of the rainforest of Vietnam – the hunting ground becomes, by virtue of the nature of the pursuit and the remote technology that activates the strike, global.

KAPLAN World as Free-Fire Zone

The system I’ve described here is one adopted by the US military, and how far its procedures are used by other agencies outside established conflict zones is unknown to me and doubtless to Chamayou too.  Are these micro-cells used to specify individual compounds or rooms, as Chamayou suggests in a thought-experiment?  For him, however, it’s the imperative logic that matters, and here Kaplan’s tag-line (above) can provide the key explanatory exhibit: ‘to kill a particular person anywhere on the planet.’   The doubled process of time-space calibration and individuation is what allows late modern war to become the everywhere (but, contra Kaplan,  not the anywhere, because specified) war.

On the one side, then, a principle of what Chamayou calls precision or specification:  ‘The zone of armed conflict, fragmented into micro-scale kill boxes, reduces itself in the ideal-typical case to the single body of the enemy-prey: the body as the field of battle.’  Yet on the other side, a principle of globalisation or homogenisation: ‘Because we can target our quarry with precision, the military and the CIA say in effect, we can strike them wherever we see fit, even outside a war zone.’

This paradoxical articulation has sparked fierce debates among legal scholars – Chamayou cites Kenneth Anderson, Michael Lewis, and Mary Ellen O’Connell – over whether the ‘zone of armed conflict’ should be geo-centred (as in the conventional battlefield) or target-centred (‘attached to the body of the enemy-prey’). Jurists are thus in the front line of the battle over the extension of the hunting ground, he writes, and ‘applied ontology’ is the ground on which they fight.  I’ll have more to say about this on my own account in a later post.

Exceptions R Us

tumblr_mkc2q1MRtU1s9d11ko1_250Alex Vasudevan writes to alert me to this all-too-relevant site, Agamben Toys or Toys for the State of Exception

Most of the baubles on offer are decidedly for play in the global North, but for older kids with global (in)sensibilities there’s always this model Predator…. and plenty more like it (for example here and here).  Commentary – and comments (you’ll see what I mean) – here and (from Infowars) here.

Toys appeared in a radically different way in an exhibition at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) earlier this year called State of Exception:

166510_475567315838743_1025941788_nLSA Professor of Anthropology Jason De León has spent long hours in the Sonoran environs, cataloging and collecting the items migrants leave behind as they attempt to cross into the United States. Water jugs. Shoes. Small kids’ toys. It looks like trash, but these objects, collected through his Undocumented Migrant Project (UMP), become data to help construct a record of people who are unknown, whose journeys rarely come to light.

Many of these objects are now on display through LSA’s Institute for the Humanities exhibit titled State of Exception. This exhibit considers the complexity and ambiguity of the found objects and what they may or may not reveal in terms of transition, human experience, culture, violence, and accountability.

This is the first major curation of De León’s work since UMP began in 2009, and is a combination of objects, installation, and video shot by photographer Richard Barnes along the U.S./Mexico border.

The exhibition closed earlier this month but you can still access the catalogue/brochure online here.

All of this reminds me that there’s a reason we spell ‘us’ the way we do…

Dirty dancing and spaces of exception in Pakistan

Following up my post on the air campaigns waged by the United States and by Pakistan inside the Federally Administered Tribal Territories and the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), here are some screenshots from Chris Herwig‘s remarkable cartographic animation of casualties from US drone strikes from 2004 through to the present (data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism):

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2007

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2007

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2008

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2008

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2009

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2009

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2010

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2010

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2011

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2011

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2012

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2012

You can see the rapid escalation of strikes in 2009-2010 and their contraction in 2011-2012.  There is also a tendency for later strikes to cause fewer casualties; the Bureau suggests that this may have been the result of a deliberate decision to limit civilian casualties (the CIA was already reported to be using new, smaller missiles with a restricted blast field and minimal shrapnel by the spring of 2010, so the later change is likely to be down to a mix of better intelligence and greater circumspection) and, more recently, of a switch away from ‘signature strikes’ – the two are of course related – and John Brennan, who was one of the main boosters of the programme’s expansion, now claims that drone strikes are a weapon ‘of last resort’.  Maybe; most sources agree that even as the numbers of deaths dwindled, so too did their tactical significance.  By February 2011 it was clear that fewer and fewer were so-called ‘high-value targets’ and more and more were simply foot-soldiers.

Here are the Bureau’s raw figures:

Drone strikes in Pakistan (BoJ)

You can find an interactive animation of the Bureau’s tabulations from Pitch Interactive here (thanks to Steve Legg for the tip); the screenshot below doesn’t do justice to the political-aesthetic effect of seeing this in full motion (or of clicking on each strike for the details):

Drone strikes in Pakistan PITCH INTERACTIVE

The maps also show that the strikes have been concentrated on North Waziristan, increasingly so since 2010, the locus of the Haqqani Network (which is a longstanding ally of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence), with a secondary concentration on South Waziristan (a key locus of Tehrik-i-Taliban).  Here’s a tabulation from the Long War Journal, and although the strike numbers are marginally different from the Bureau’s the geographical concentration is clear:

US air strikes in FATA by district

What the maps can’t convey is the intricate, inconstant gavotte between Pakistan’s various military campaigns and US air strikes in the borderlands since 2004.  In the wake of 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and in response to increasing pressure from Washington, the Pakistan Army launched a number of offensives against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  In April 2004, after fierce fighting in the mountains of South Waziristan, Islamabad concluded a peace accord with Nek Muhammad, a key militant leader in the agency.  But he was killed just two months later, the first casualty of a US drone strike in Pakistan, and the agreement immediately collapsed.   In 2005 similar, fragile agreements were negotiated with Baitullah Mehsud, Nek’s successor, and other militant leaders, but these were soon broken.  Accords were also signed in North Waziristan in 2006 and 2007 but these too were short-lived.  In 2008 a peace accord was signed with the Tehrik-i-Taliban but heavy fighting continued, with major ground and air operations in the agencies to the north of the Khyber Pass.  In 2009 Pakistan’s military campaign became even more aggressive. Much of its effort was focused on the northern districts, especially around the Swat Valley, but attention then switched back to South Waziristan.  During the summer the Pakistan Air Force carried out regular air strikes in the region; in August 2009 Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike.  In October 30,000 ground troops entered the region, and US drone strikes in South Waziristan immediately juddered to a (temporary) halt.  These operations drove large numbers of militants into Orakzai, which in recent years has been a major target of air strikes by the Pakistan Air Force.

The previous paragraph is little more than a caricature of a highly complex and evolving battlespace, but the gavotte I’ve described has been artfully – if intermittently – choreographed by the US and by Pakistan in fraught concert: so much so that Joshua Foust writes of the ‘Islamabad drone dance’.

This may surprise some readers; earlier this month Ben Emmerson QC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights, concluded a three-day visit to Pakistan by reaffirming what he described as ‘the position of the government of Pakistan’ that drone strikes in the FATA ‘are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’  Emmerson met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Secretariat of the FATA – but not, significantly, with anyone from the military or the ISI – who told him that ‘reports of continuing tacit consent by Pakistan to the use of drones on its territory by any other State are false’ and that ‘a thorough search of Government records had revealed no indication of such consent having been given.’ Certainly, the government has repeatedly protested the strikes in public, and the National Assembly passed resolutions in May 2011 and April 2012 condemning them.  But Foust insists that Emmerson has been an unwitting participant in the dance.

We know, from the Wikileaks cache of diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Islamabad, that in August 2008 Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani told the Ambassador that he approved of the drone strikes as part of ongoing offensives in the FATA – ‘I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people’ – and that ‘We’ll protest it in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’  But this was more than ‘tacit consent’.  Foust reminds us that, until comparatively recently, US drones were being launched or supported from at least six different air bases inside Pakistan, shown below, including Islamabad, Jacobabad, Peshawar, Quetta and Tarbela Ghazi; the US was ordered to leave Shamsi and had its lease terminated in December 2011.

US bases inside Pakistan

Admiral Mullen greets General Kayani, August 2008But there’s more. Pakistan had agreed that the focus of the US strikes would be North and South Waziristan.  Earlier that same year, March 2008, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen asked General Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff,  for help in approving ‘a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA’, and writing in the Washington Post in November 2010 Greg Miller confirmed that these ‘flight boxes’ were confined to North and South Waziristan (although the US had unsuccessfully pressed for permission to extend the flights over Quetta, outside the FATA).  The geometry of those boxes is not known, though it would not be difficult to superimpose two likely rectangles over the previous map sequence. Operational details are, not surprisingly, far from clear.  According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on 26 September 2012, the CIA sends a fax to the ISI every month detailing strike zones and intended targets – replies apparently stopped early last year, but the US interprets the silence as ‘tacit consent’ since Pakistan immediately de-conflicts the air space to allow the Predators to carry out their surveillance – and a report in the New York Times earlier this month claimed that the US still provides the Pakistan military with 30 minutes notice of an imminent strike in South Waziristan (but no advance notice for strikes in North Waziristan because the Haqqani Network enjoys such close ties with the ISI that the CIA fears their targets would be warned of the attack).

The focus on the FATA follows not only from the militant groups that are based there; it also derives from the exceptional legal status of the borderlands.  Under British colonial rule, this was a buffer zone whose inhabitants were allowed a measure of nominal autonomy; colonial power was exercised indirectly through the authority vested in tribal leaders (who received subsidies from the British), and the special Frontier Crimes Regulations – in practice corrupt and draconian – were codified by Lord Curzon in 1901.  After partition and independence in 1947 Pakistan retained the 1901 Regulations, so that the President – who has direct executive control of the FATA – appoints a Political Agent for each agency who has absolute authority to adjudicate criminal and civil affairs; ordinary Acts of Parliament do not apply to the FATA unless the President expressly declares that they do. Limited reforms were introduced in August 2011, including the right to political mobilisation, but some commentators raised doubts about their implementation.  Preventive detention and collective punishment remain in force and the writ of the courts is still severely restricted.

FATA and NWFP map

AMNESTY The Hands of Cruelty Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan s Tribal AreasThese special measures were reinforced by the simultaneous passage of the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations in 2011, a quid pro quo demanded by the military, which allowed the Pakistan Armed Forces to carry out ‘law enforcement duties [and] to conduct law enforcement operations’, granted them sweeping powers of pre-emptive arrest and detention without charge, and forbade the high court from intervening.  According to one local politician, these new Regulations are ‘even more dangerous’ than the Frontier Crimes Regulations: ‘It is a system of martial law over the Tribal Areas.’  A new report from Amnesty International (from which I’ve taken these accounts) borrows its title, The Hands of Cruelty, from a despairing claim made by a lawyer from Peshawar: ‘The hands of cruelty extend to the Tribal Areas, but the hands of justice cannot reach that far.’

(Given the – I think abusive – attack on Amnesty’s report by Abdullah Mansoor at Global Research as ‘malicious’ and ‘misinformation’ that virtually ignores the violence perpetrated by the Taliban and other militant groups, I should also draw readers’ (and his) attention to Amnesty’s previous report, As if Hell fell on me, which provides a detailed indictment of exactly that).

In short, the FATA constitute a space of exception in precisely the sense given to that term by Giorgio Agamben: the normal rights and protections under the law are withdrawn from a section of the population by the law.  To see what this has to do with the geography of US drone strikes we can turn to an attack on 19 November 2008 on a residential compound in Indi Khel, 22 miles outside Bannu and about two hours by road from Peshawar.  Five alleged militants were killed and four civilians injured: not a large toll compared to other strikes, and yet the public reaction across Pakistan was extraordinary.

Drone strike at Indi Khel, Bannu, 19 November 2008

A diplomatic cable from US Ambassador Anne Patterson on 24 November explained the widening gap between what she called ‘private GOP [Government of Pakistan] acquiescence and public condemnation for U.S. action’:

‘According to local press, the alleged U.S. strike in Bannu on November 19 marked the first such attack in the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, outside of the tribal areas. The strike drew a new round of condemnation by Prime Minister Gilani, coalition political parties, opposition leaders, and the media.

‘According to Pakistani press, the strike killed four people, including a senior Al-Qaida member, and injured five others. The first strike within “Pakistan proper” is seen as a watershed event, and the media is suggesting this could herald the spread of attacks to Peshawar or Islamabad. Even politicians who have no love lost for a dead terrorist are concerned by strikes within what is considered mainland Pakistan.’

The language is truly extraordinary, with its distinction between the FATA and ‘Pakistan proper’, even ‘mainland Pakistan’. In short: (imaginative) geography matters.  Not for nothing are the FATA known in Urdu as ilaqa ghair, which means ‘alien’ or ‘foreign’ lands.

The plight of the people in the FATA is exacerbated by the forceful imposition of a second, transnational legal regime: the right asserted by the United States to carry its fight against al Qaeda and its war against the Taliban across the border from the ‘hot’ zone in Afghanistan into militant sanctuaries in Pakistan.  This is part of a larger argument about the advanced deconstruction of the traditional, bounded battlefield – here Frédéric Megret‘s work is indispensable – and the production of a global battlespace, processes that have been accelerated by the remote operations permitted by drones.  But it remains both an assertion and an argument.  Although international law is not a deus ex machina, a neutral court of appeal above the fray, it nonetheless has a developed body of precepts that are supposed to regulate armed conflicts between states, and there are also protocols and tribunals that govern armed conflicts between governments and non-state actors within the territorial boundaries of a state (the former Yugoslavia or Ruanda, for example).  But conflicts between states and transnational non-state actors pose new and difficult questions, and perhaps even map a ‘legal void’.  Significantly, as Eyal Benvenisti points out in the Duke Journal of International and Comparative Law,

Concurrently with the successful efforts to impose restraints on intra-state asymmetric warfare, we have been witnessing efforts by the same powerful countries that pressed for intra-state conflict regulation to deregulate inter-state asymmetric warfare or what may be called “transnational” warfare.

I will leave a review of these debates, at once legal and political, for another day; among the most relevant recent contributions are Kenneth Anderson, ‘Targeted killing and drone warfare: how we came to debate whether there is a legal geography of war’ (2011), available here; Laurie Blank, ‘Defining the battlefield in contemporary conflict and counterterrorism: understanding the parameters of the zone of combat’, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 39  (1) (2010-11), available here; Jennifer Daskal, ‘The geography of the battlefield: a framework for detention and targeting outside the “hot” conflict zone’ (2012), available here;  Noam Lubell and Nathan Derejko, ‘A global battlefield? Drones and the geographical scope of armed conflict’, Journal of International Criminal Justice 11 (1) (2013) 65-88 (abstract here).  In this twilight zone, where Washington at once admits its actions through a never-ending string of off-the-record briefings and yet denies any responsibility for their collateral outcomes, there are no inquiries into ‘mistakes’, no culpability for wrong-doing, and no compensation or restitution for the innocent victims.

Whatever you make of the rights and wrongs of all this, what matters for my present purposes is that these two legal regimes, one national and the other transnational, work in concert to expose the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to military and paramilitary violence and, ultimately, death.

It’s more than a matter of law, of course (and in any case we shouldn’t confuse legality with legitimacy).  Within these exceptional spaces there has been active, tactical collaboration between the US and Pakistan.  Another diplomatic cable reported a meeting on 22 January 2008 with General Kayani, who asked US Central Command to provide ‘continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area’ in South Waziristan, but was offered only Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to direct PAF air strikes by F-16s – an offer which was refused because of a reluctance to allow US ground forces to operate inside Pakistan.  But in September and October 2009 small teams of US Special Forces were deployed to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the Pakistan Army, which included a ‘live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video.’ (What is interesting about all these exchanges is the degree of collaboration they reveal not only between the US and Pakistan but also between the CIA and the US military, especially Joint Special Operations Command; this is not surprising, given the hybridisation of military and paramilitary violence and the close involvement of the military in supplying, servicing and even flying the drones used in CIA-directed strikes).

There have been several reports of continuing collaboration between American and Pakistani intelligence operatives working on the ground in Pakistan, and one source – who purported to run a network of agents and ‘spotters’ in North and South Waziristan – told Reuters in January 2012 that ‘Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship.  It’s more productive.’  He claimed that the US and Pakistan agreed priority target lists between them, and that it took little more than two or three hours between the location of a targeted individual and the firing of missiles.  These claims are impossible to verify, but the emphasis on a working relationship rings true.

FATA flagPerhaps the most chilling of the Wikileaks cables is this (redacted) message sent from Islamabad in February 2009, reporting a discussion with a senior member of the FATA Secretariat, who enthusiastically recommended the practice of ‘double tap‘ – follow-up strikes targeting rescuers – and endorses the rationale for signature strikes against unknown, un-named targets:

9.  (S)  XXXXXXXXXXXX remains a strong advocate of U.S. strikes. In fact, he suggested to PO that the U.S. consider follow-on attacks immediately after an initial strike.  He explained that after a strike, the terrorists seal off the area to collect the bodies; in the first 10-24 hours after an attack, the only people in the area are terrorists, so “you should hit them again-there are no innocents there at that time.”  His sources report that the reported September 29 strike in South Waziristan had been particularly successful; “you will see that you hit more than has been reported in the press both in terms of quantity and quality.”  XXXXXXXXXXXX also drew a diagram essentially laying out the rationale for signature strikes…

Here you can see two perspectives on administrative killing, one from Pakistan and the other from the United States, converging onto a single target.

The cables from which I’ve quoted are all four or five years old, but this reflects the shutters coming down after the subsequent assault on Wikileaks and the arrest of  Bradley Manning – the reports from seasoned investigative journalists are much more recent.  I suppose you might conclude that none of them contradicts that artful word that does so much silent work in the official statement repeated by Emmerson, in which Pakistan denies reports of continuing tacit consent.  But given what I’ve shown about the deadly dance over those five years, do you really think the music has stopped?