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Barack Obama is TIME’s Person Of The Year. The accolade is less interesting than Obama’s words in the TIME interview. The President of the United States talks about criminal justice and prison reform. Obama says,
“There’s a big chunk of that prison population, a great huge chunk of our criminal-justice system, that is involved in nonviolent crimes. I think we have to figure out what are we doing right to make sure that that downward trend in violence continues, but also, there are millions of lives out there that are being destroyed or distorted because we haven’t fully thought through our process.”
Granted it takes until the fifth page (of five) until we get to criminal justice issues. But, still. I’m going to say ‘wow’.
In November, I half-wrote a blog post about the complete absence of talk about criminal justice policy during the presidential debates. It never published; the details were more depressing than the simple fact. These words by Obama in some way make up for that. Watch this space. Watch Obama’s team.
via Prison Policy Initiative.
“We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy. Everything was very reactive. That’s how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don’t say, ‘What are we going to do with them afterwards?’ “
Former senior US intelligence officer. (Source)
Since 2001, the US has operated a program of rendition, illegal torture and operated a network of secret prisons and CIA “Black Sites”.
Men captured as part of the Bush and Obama administrations’ program were are interrogated, physically & psychologically beaten and denied human rights.
Images of these secret prisons are not common, but I’ve peppered this piece with a few just for the sake of the exercise.
At the top of this article is Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, Romania. It was used for “high-level” detainees from as early as 2005. Beneath is Kiejkuty Stare an illegal CIA prison just 20 miles away from Szymany airport, Poland. (source) It was used as early as 2005 and its function was confirmed in 2007. (source)
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the mastermind of 9/11″, claims he was submitted to waterboarding 183 times over a one-month period. New evidence suggests he was interrogated in Poland. (More from Der Spiegel here and here).
The UK Government provided infrastructural support for America’s extraordinary rendition program allowing rendition flights to refuel on Diego Garcia (above), a British territory in the Indian Ocean. (More here and here).
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Below is the plan of a cell used during the 19 month illegal detention of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni national. Salon reports:
Bashmilah’s story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.
In 2007, Salon did a thorough job in describing his detention and its aftermath, even presenting plans based on Bashmilah’s descriptions of torture and interrogation rooms. No-one knows for certain where these cells were, but it is suspected they were within Afghanistan.
The most notorious Black Site in Afghanistan is referred to as ‘The Salt Pit’.
The Salt Pit brings us to Trevor Paglen‘s geography, photography and investigative academics, but first let me point out a couple more excellent resources.
FRONTLINE produced this astonishing interactive graphic showing all the illegal prisons and all the US aviation front-companies used for the rendition flights. That map is part of a larger presentation with interviews, time-lines and further resources.
More recently, Anand Gopal has revealed the US military’s still recent tactic against the Taliban in Afghanistan of by-night kidnappings. The result? The US has lost the support of the Afghan people toward the American project. Read America’s Secret Afghan Prisons here.
Just this month, Stephen Lendman summarised the January 26th UN Human Rights Council (HRC) report ‘Joint study on global practices in relation to secret detention in the context of countering terrorism’ which details practices by various countries “including America, by far the world’s worst offender in its war on terror.” The full report is here (Word) or here (pdf).
Lendman’s words The truth is shocking:
“Besides Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, HRC said the CIA runs scores of offshore secret prisons in over 66 countries worldwide for dissidents and alleged terrorists – in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Thailand, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere.” (Source)
Onward. Now, Paglen …
The two images below are by Trevor Paglen. The first is the Salt Pit and the second is a military jail in Kabul. They are also his most ordinary of images … the only images he could capture in the circumstances.
Paglen isn’t primarily concerned with prisons; he is concerned with all the unseen activity of the military industrial complex – aviation companies, air strips, covert ops, air bases, Pentagon annual budget projections, spy satellites, shadow NASA reconnaissance agencies … the list goes on.
After meeting Emiliano Granado last Summer, he posted a good one-stop description of Paglen’s work. Granado also posted some good examples of Paglen’s Limit Telephotography and The Other Night Sky series. Check those out and then skip to Paglen’s lecture at the foot of this post.
I have waited for a long time for an online presentation of Paglen’s oeuvre to which I could refer PP readers. (Thanks Alejandro!)
It’s quite the thrill to be brought in on Paglen’s sleuth work, as he walks us through the various public records used to piece together the rendition program. If you can spare an hour this weekend, you’ll be thankful for the education!
I am very happy with the way Prison Photography is progressing. I have done interviews with some outstanding photographers and artists. I have offered opinion where I think there’s something to be said. The most satisfying work on the blog is that contributed by guest bloggers, comment-makers and interviewees. Photographers have contacted me and I have been eager to comment upon their work.
But, there is one audience I never anticipated – The Google Image Search Audience. I get many hits for searches on Guantanamo, Guantanamo video, Iraq prison, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib Images of Prisoners, etc, etc – which is strange because these are topics that many people have grappled over with more proficiency and depth than I am likely to.
It is obvious that there is a need for fast access to images of America’s sites of torture and incarceration, namely Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. I certainly don’t wish to fuse the two institutional histories so I shall deal only with Guantanamo Bay.
Walrus Magazine. 8 of Palu’s photographs and accompanying article.
The Atlantic. 6 of Palu’s photographs.
Private galleries. Palu’s Photoshelter profile offers three separate galleries, but they’re password protected. Contact the photographer directly.
NPR Interview. Palu offered insight into his experience and impressions of Guantanamo.
Mother Jones. 15 images of daily life outside of the prison complex.
Civilian Arts Project. 25 images of a bizarrely serene Guantanamo Naval Base.
BBC, The Other Side of Guantanamo. Article about Sims’ series.
Daylight Magazine. 4 minute audio of Sims’ experiences on project.
Agence VU/Moment. Twenty-six images exhibited. Likely more on file at the agency.
Guantanamo Prison. 18 Black & White images. 3 Colour.
Joint Task Force (JTF)
Many of the photographs shown in the press over the last few years were taken by members of the Navy’s own Joint Task Force. When press photographers visited the JTF vetted all images before release.
Boston Globe. 30 Hi-Res images.
Repeat of above selection. 20 Hi-Res images selected.
JTF Photo Galleries. 22 months (July 2007 – May 2009). Hundreds of images. Official photography.
Description of the 8 different camps at Guantanamo
Explanation of the Legal contexts: Key defendants, the judges, the defense and prosecution counsel.
Cursory look at Art influenced by Guantanamo
Bruce Gilden. Guantanamo Bay. Enemy Combatant Camps, 2003
Paolo Pellegrin. Guantanamo Detainees, 2006
Stuart Franklin’s work Cuba, 2003, included images from Guantanamo and you’ll need to search the Magnum website for images.
An eight-month McClatchy investigation of the detention system created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has found that the U.S. imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into a school for jihad.
Intro. Text and 11 minute video.
Photos. Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay
Photos. Detainees held in Afghanistan.
Comprehensive overview of base using Google Maps, official photographs. Details structures, uses and topography of naval base.
Stars & Stripes “The Independent News Source for the U.S. Military Community”
Work at Guantanamo
Education at Guantanamo
Recreation at Guantanamo
David Hicks. Virtual Guantanamo Cell
Penny Byrne. Porcelain Guantanamo Detainee Figurines
Gregor Schneider. 21 Cells, Bondi Beach, Australia
Flickr – Protest Images
Amnesty International. Guantanamo Protests
Various Photographers. 100 Days to Close Guantanamo and End Torture.
James M. Thorne. Protest images.
Prisoners of War. 2004 article by the San Francisco Gray Panthers with images of US airforce transporting detainees and early 2003 images of Camp X-Ray.
IF YOU HAVE ANY RESOURCES TO SUGGEST,
PLEASE CONTACT ME AND I’LL ADD THEM TO THIS LIST.
Chris Jordan was low on my list of priorities but this timely post by Mike Kelley at Change.org (a blog as impressive for its readers’ comments as it is for the straight forward presentation of Jordan’s work) compelled me to bump it up and champion the depressingly and unfathomable figures that arise when one simply runs the numbers.
In reading Change.org’s straight forward commentary on America’s broken criminal justice system, I signed up for Change.org and read a few of their older posts. In doing so I was presented with the catalyst to comment on Obama’s momentous inauguration without repeating the media-lovefest that has surrounded the 44th’s swearing in. This post will cover Jordan’s astounding artwork, Obama’s astounding tasks-at-hand and where they politically overlap.
Chris Jordan has spent his time making larger and larger photographic constructions to communicate the scale at which American society wastes its resources, its environmental future and its grasp on logic. In his effort to catalogue the linear and thoughtless waste of the US, he has progressed from crushed automobiles, to cell phone chargers, to polystyrene cups to American prisoners.
Jordan is a bright guy, now consumed by his photography (which to be quite frank is eco-hip and brilliantly executed). He talks passionately about a sea-change in our cultural consumption. He specialises in highlighting “the behaviours that we all engage in unconsciously on a collective level … the actions we are in denial about and the ones that operate below our daily awareness … like when you’re mean to you wife because you’re mad about something else or when you drink too much at a party because you’re nervous.” Jordan is no prophet, he just sees the necessary u-turn we must all make in our habits and thoughts to move toward sustainable existence.
I like to think the strength of Jordan’s visual framework that deals with soda cans to the landfill as it does with prisoners to the cell blocks is deliberate. As hard as it is to acknowledge, the majority of Americans have turned their back on a seven-figure-minority as if it were worth no more thought than discarded packaging. Mass imprisonment is the result of widespread apathy, denial and unpinnable responsibility. How unconscionable is this situation? We are all responsible. Barack Obama talked very little about criminal justice and prison policy during his electioneering. This is not surprising as helping the invisible incarcerated masses is on the electorate’s mind as much as the whereabouts of their last twinkie wrapper. But, Obama also made it very clear that this was the time for personal responsibility and accountability.
So after a week of photography gallery after gallery, the militarised eye vs. the personal touch, Gigapan-assisted user-generated snooping, faux controversy, minor mishaps, cult worship, sentimental clap-trap, unending debate, media catfights, nerdcore details, celeb fluff and even UFO’s isn’t it time we adopt the same realism that Obama trusted in for his inaugural speech?
A wonderful article from the Wall Street Journal lays out the realism and “the audacity of hope behind bars”. (Via Change.org). Angola prisoner, Mr. Dennis served up some REALISM: “He’s got his hands full: Two wars, the economy is going in the tank and the health-care costs are skyrocketing – I’d be surprised if he has time to brush his teeth in the next four years.” While another prisoner took care of the HOPE: “If the men here can have hope, then why can’t the rest of the country?”
So how does this all connect? Jordan and Obama share the same call to think, with serious intent, about the things invisible to us. Both call us to consider the reality of our society and accept our shared responsibility for its faults, weaknesses and injustices. Both men challenge conventional wisdom; the logic that just because we didn’t turn the key nor bring down the gavel, we are not complicit – by our silence – in America’s mass incarceration.
What can you do? You can start by signing this petition immediately and by using web2.0 to access Obama’s administration as his team reached you during the election.