Tortured geographies

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

Salt Pit

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

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

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

map_paglen_emerson_r1_c1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Ghosts of Bagram

bagram_worse_than_guantanamo

I’ve written about ‘haunting’ before, but Asim Rafiqui has an elegaic photo-essay over at Warscapes on The Ghosts of Bagram that adds other dimensions and deserves the widest audience.  Over the last several months I’ve been compiling what has turned into a fat dossier to help me revise my essay on Guantanamo, “The Black Flag” (DOWNLOADS tab), for The everywhere war; in particular, I’m determined to  incorporate other sites in the global war prison – notably Bagram in Afghanistan – because the (in)constant attention focused on Guantanamo artfully distracts the public gaze from these other sites.

No doubt Obama will say he is as ‘haunted‘ by his failure to close Guantanamo as he is by the killing of civilians by US drones in Waziristan.  But here is Rafiqui on the other ghosts from Pakistan:

‘They are ghosts, and I have spent nearly two months trying to find any evidence of them. They are the 40 Pakistani men who remain imprisoned, without charge or evidence, by the Americans at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. They have not been see or heard by anyone other than their immediate families who are granted carefully monitored and heavily censored telephone and internet video call access. Some of the men have been in Bagram, often called one of America’s most notorious prisons, for over 11 years. Denied access to the press, human rights organizations, and legal representation, these men have been silenced and erased, the evidence and rationale for their incarceration beyond the eyes, ears and focus of the public and the media. This is intentional and part of a process of systemic dehumanization that enables the unjust detention and cruel prison conditions the men face. Until 2012, their own government refused to recognize them as citizens of Pakistan. I have spent two months traveling across Pakistan trying to discover something, anything, about them.’

In 2008 the US Supreme Court in Boumedienne vs. Bush extended the right of habeas corpus protections to non-citizens detained at Guantanamo.  But those incarcerated at Bagram, many of them not only from Afghanistan and Pakistan but also from Iraq, central Africa and south east Asia, are beyond the reach of the writ: see Andrew Tutt on ‘Boumedienne’s wake’ here and, for a more comprehensive analysis,  Janet Cooper Alexander on ‘The law free zone and back again’ here.   If you need background on Bagram, try Lisa Hajjar on Bagram as ‘Obama’s GITMO’ here, and for the global war prison more generally Laleh Khalili‘s Time in the Shadows.

Renditions rendered

Many readers will know of various attempts made, several years ago, to map the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme.  One of the most innovative was artist-geographer Trevor Paglen‘s Terminal Air project (and the idea of (de)basing the travel agency in this way was taken up, in a different register, by Adel Abidin: see here).

Trevor and his collaborators produced a series of visualizations of the flight network between Guantanamo and various black sites, some in digital form (like Terminal Air) — the image below is a screenshot of a remarkable animated sequence —

Terminal Air interactive screenshot

— and others displayed on physical billboards, like this one:

PAGLEN:EMERSON CIA FLIGHTS 2001-6

Today the Guardian publishes the results of a three-year programme of ESRC-funded collaborative research between Ruth Blakeley at the University of Kent and Sam Raphael at Kingston University in association with Reprieve into the system of extraordinary rendition and its associated practices.  This is of more than historical interest; they write:

The Rendition Project aims to analyse the emergence, development and operation of the global system of rendition and secret detention in the years since 9/11. In doing so, it aims to bring together as much of the publicly-available information as possible on the detainees who have been held in secret, the detention sites in which they have been held, and the methods and timings of their transfers.

With this data in place, we will seek to identify specific ‘key moments’ that have shaped the operation of rendition and secret detention, both regionally and in a global context. We are particularly interested in the contest between the executive, the judiciary, and the human rights community (comprising human rights lawyers, human rights NGOs, and some academics), over whether and how domestic and international law applies to those detainees held within the system. A key aim of the project is therefore to identify how rendition and secret detention have evolved within the context of this struggle to defend basic human rights.

The Rendition Project also examines the ways in which this system has evolved over time, including during the Obama administration. While President Obama has ordered the closure of CIA-run secret prisons (the so-called ‘black sites’), and revoked authorisation for use by US agents of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, many thousands of detainees in the ‘War on Terror’ continue to be held beyond the bounds of US and international law. Moreover, continued rendition and proxy detention have not been ruled out by the US Government, and may still form a central plank of counterterrorism policy.

The Rendition Project

The website for The Rendition Project includes testimony, profiles and documentation together with a detailed database and an interactive map (produced in collaboration with Craig Bloodworth from The Information Lab).

The composite map is daunting, as befits the terrifying scale of the process itself:

The Rendition Project composite map

But the ability to disentangle the threads and to interrogate the database changes the terms of the engagement, making it possible to track the experience of individual victims and to identify the major circuits and the global network of complicities in which they were enmeshed.

Chillingly brilliant work.

Global geographies of torture

Globalizing torture (2013)It’s over six years since I wrote ‘The Black Flag’ and ‘Vanishing points’, two linked essays about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the global war prison (see DOWNLOADS tab), and I’m currently updating, revising and integrating them for The everywhere war.

Today there’s news of a new report by Amrit Singh, Senior Legal Officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative’s National Security and Counterterrorism program, Globalizing torture, that lists 136 people who were subjected to CIA secret detention and/or extraordinary rendition.  The list – the most comprehensive to date: you can find it on pp. 30-60 – combines secret detention and extraordinary rendition ‘because the two programs had similar modalities, and torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and the abuses were common to both.’

The report also identifies 54 states that were complicit in the programs: ‘hosting CIA prisons [“black sites”] on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting the CIA in the capture and transportation of detainees; permitting the use of their airspace and airports for secret CIA flights transporting detainees; providing intelligence leading to the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals; and interrogating individuals who were being secretly held in the custody of other governments. ‘  Only one state has issued an apology (over a single case), and only four have provided financial compensation to victims.  You can find this ghastly gazetteer, carefully annotated, on pp. 62-118. (There are some conspicuous omissions; the Guardian has an infog[eog]raphic here).

In case you think this is a purely historical geography, the report notes that:

‘the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition, choosing to rely on anti-torture diplomatic assurances from recipient countries and post-transfer monitoring of detainee treatment. As demonstrated in the cases of Maher Arar, who was tortured in Syria, and Ahmed Agiza and Muhammed al-Zery, who were tortured in Egypt, diplomatic assurances and post-transfer monitoring are not effective safeguards against torture. Soon after taking office in 2009, President Obama did issue an executive order that disavowed torture, ordered the closure of secret CIA detention facilities, and established an interagency task force to review interrogation and transfer policies and issue recommendations on “the practices of transferring individuals to other nations.” But the executive order did not repudiate extraordinary rendition, and was crafted to preserve the CIA’s authority to detain terrorist suspects on a short-term transitory basis prior to rendering them to another country for interrogation or trial.’

And, as the New York Times reports, ‘the Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page study of the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program, but it remains classified, and it is uncertain whether and when it might be even partially released.’

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History

While I was in Cologne I had an e-mail from Ian Paul, an artist/theorist in San Francisco who works around issues of border violence and post-national human rights.  He wanted to include my essay “The Black Flag” in an online project on Guantanamo Bay:

“The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History is a project which hopes to bring together artists and writers from around the world to examine the current conditions of the Guantanamo Bay Prison as well as the possibility of its closure.  The project takes the form of a ‘speculative present’, and posits that the prison itself has been closed and has been replaced by a museum that features exhibitions and public programs which document/interrogate/examine the history of the prison. The project seeks to draw a transnational/transdisciplinary group together to critique the prison, and artists/theorists from 5 different countries have already agreed to participate.”

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History  has now opened its virtual doors here.  Well worth a visit. (It’s also on Facebook).

Current Exhibitions includes a specially commissioned video montage by Adam Harms, “Performing the Torture List”, while  the Jumah al-Dossari Center for Critical Studies includes “The Black Flag” and contributions from Judith Butler, Martin Puchner, Harsha Walia (and more to come).

As I say, worth a visit.  As Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic blog notes, you can find the Museum on Google maps (really) –

– and he’s captivated by the conceit:

The imaginary museum draws its power from this resonance: If Gitmo exists because of one fiction, perhaps it can be closed by another? Or put another (augmented) way, germane to this digital project: if we change Gitmo’s website, can it actually change its physical and legal reality? That’s what the museum’s organizers are hoping. 

“The museum is the result of a collaboration between artists/theorists and is meant to act as both a critique of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility as well as assert the possibility of its closure,” Rene Guerne, one of its organizers, told me in an email. “In this sense, it is a ‘real’ museum, although I cannot promise that there is a physical building in Guantanamo Bay.”

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare is also intrigued by the project, and published the artists’ opening statement:

On August 29th, 2012, the website of the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History was publicly launched. Designed by a group of artists from around the globe, the project creates a ‘speculative present’ in which the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities have been closed and replaced by an art museum whose purpose is to reflect on the history of the site.

The museum was listed as an official place on google maps ( http://goo.gl/tg72v ) and features original artworks from 6 different contemporary artists, as well as essays on Guantanamo Bay from leading contemporary scholars including Judith Butler and Derek Gregory.

Ian Alan Paul, an artist from San Francisco who coordinated and curated the project, states:

“The purpose of the project is both to explore the human rights abuses that occurred and continue to occur in Guantanamo Bay, but also to provide a space for radical imagination and potential openings and to insist that it is both possible and necessary to close the prison facility.”

The project was the result of large collaboration, with over 25 artists, writers and other volunteers contributing to the project in some way from Europe, North America and South America. Visitors to the museum were invited to plan their trip to Guantanamo Bay, become a member of the museum, apply to be an artist in residence, as well as read about the history of the museum itself.

There were over 3000 visits to the museum on the first day from 42 different countries.

In January 2009, interestingly, Florence Waters – anticipating Obama’s closure of the war prison (I wonder if she still does?) – proposed the creation of a (physical) museum on the site:

Transforming what will become an important site of memory into a museum could be an opportunity to present the facts from multiple points of view and give the subject transparency. Guantanamo detainees and guards would have the opportunity to present their stories alongside one another.

America has led the way in the post-modern world in erecting museums and sites of memory. They serve not only as burial sites of the past but also to affirm the symbolic order of a society, and head warnings to future generations…. Guantanamo Bay Museum would be a cultural and historical showcase dedicated to reinstating America’s most important values, liberty and justice, giving the detainees fair trial in the eyes of the outside world.

If only.  There are, incidentally, several other virtual Guantanamo Bays.  It was one of the founding sites for Mathias Judd and Christoph Wachter‘s  Zone Interdite, and Nonny de la Peña and Peggy Weil created a virtual Gitmo in Second Life (and, ironically, had to launch a campaign to keep Gitmo – their Gitmo – open!).

As the matchless Bryan Finoki put it on the much missed Subtopia, ‘the field guide to military urbanism’ (and still up even though Bryan stopped posting there early this year), referring to and then riffing off Zone Interdite,

 I love the idea of revealing these off-limit places this way, in a sense, de-restricting them in the process of remaking them. Altogether, rendering a de-restricted global fortress. 

What starts off as a few models of detention centers and prison camps could eventually turn into a full on game-world atlas of forbidden cities; a Borgesian labyrinth of illegal walkthroughs and blatantly trespassed border-zones, subverted checkpoints, oblique tunnel architecture, web tourists lost in the intersecting planes of bunker complexity and secret baseworld archipelago urbanism. It becomes a backlash taxonomy of exposed military installations. A virtual military-industrial-complex: “clandestinatopia.” Border fences and security walls give way now to a deterritorialized map of exploratory landscapes, overrun by mad gamers and tribes of sim-squatters preserving the world’s most closed and hidden places as endlessly wandering open space. Like a Subtopianinvoluntary park online, or a virtual spelunker’s paradise. 

So, yeah, I hope to see you there.

And as Bryan reminds us, there are many more black flags to fly over many more prisons and camps all over the world.