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When reading the New York Times’ New York City Police Photograph Irises of Suspects a couple of days ago I was reminded of Sebastian Meyer‘s Guardian video dispatch from Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN

In the accompanying article, Jon Boone explains that in Afghanistan,

The US army now has [biometrics] information on 800,000 people, while another database developed by the country’s interior ministry has records on 250,000 people.

It is the sort of operation that would horrify civil liberties campaigners in the west, but there has been little public debate in Afghanistan. [...] US soldiers have been collecting huge amounts of biometric data, with little oversight from the Afghan government.

It allows us to understand population shifts and movements, who wasn’t there before and who might be a potential threat just because they are new to that area,” said Craig Osborne, the colonel in charge of Task Force Biometrics.

The Afghanistan government has plans to introduce a biometric ID card by 2013; an attempt to thwart insurgency but it is also thought ID cards will reduce Afghanistan’s rampant voter fraud.

BIG APPLE

Back in New York, the NYPD is keeping track of prisoners and suspects for when they are transported or appear in court:

Authorities are using a hand-held scanning device that can check a prisoner’s identity in seconds when the suspect is presented in court, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman.

Officials began photographing the irises of suspects arrested for any reason on Monday [Nov. 15th] at Manhattan Central Booking and expect to expand the program to all five boroughs by early December, Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Browne said a legal review by the department had concluded that legislative authorization was not necessary. “Our legal review determined that these are photographs and should be treated the same as mug shots, which are destroyed when arrests are sealed,” he said.

[My bolding. Source]

WHERE IS THIS GOING?

It is clear that the US is gathering vast quantities of biometric data at transport hubs, immigration offices, police stations, conflict zones. Am I foolish to think that all this information might not one day be consolidated?

Not even considering Chomskyite accusations of US Imperialism based on military violence, could we not consider silos of biometric data (with global reach) as the foundation par excellence to empire in the networked 21st and 22nd centuries? As an invisible but intractable abundance of strategic knowledge and power?

I accept these questions probably mirror the fears of every era in which people first learn and then come to terms with new technologies that impinge upon the assumptions of the age regarding privacy and civil liberty. But still.

MORE

More from Federal Jack here.

Freelance photographer, Sebastian Meyer has a blog. The image above was sourced from this blog post. On his website, I recommend ‘How to buy a gun in London’

WAR

In many ways I am surprised it has taken so long for a reel of film to make such an immediate impact on American audiences. The wikileaked military footage Collateral Murder shows us exactly what war is; war is the erasure of doubt, benefit of doubt in the face of procedure. The procedure of war is to kill.

Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen runs for his life in the midst of a US 30mm machine-gun assault

Following the helicopter gunman’s requests to engage, the wait for the permission is one of the most haunting silences I’ve heard. And then, murder. Is it any wonder PTSD follows such carnage?

PRISONS

Ever since Change.org published With 140,000 Veterans in Prison, We Can Do Better last Veteran’s Day I have been aware of stories about the links between violence and suffering abroad with violence and suffering within US communities.

This week two stories surfaced – one from either side of the Atlantic – which illustrate two common scenarios for returning service men and women. The first is clinical depression in the from of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the second is clinical depression in the form of addiction and aggressive behaviours.

At the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, N.Y., service dogs share a room with the prisoners who help train them. Photo: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

PTSD

Stephen Crowley visited Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, N.Y. to document the Puppies Behind Bars program. (I have mentioned this initiative before at a NY womens prison).

The program at Mid-Orange serves as rehabilitation in the form of responsibility, “softening up” and purpose in the direct service to outside communities. One of the growing communities to benefit from personally trained service dogs are America’s war veterans.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Ellis, suffering from PTSD had not been to the supermarket in three years until his prison-trained service dog gave him the confidence to step into the stimulating environment.

Watch the New York Times’ slideshow A Canine Treatment for PTSD.

CRIME

The Times Newspaper (UK) published From Hero to Zero reporting the fortunes of three ex-soldiers who’ve done time. Their addiction and aggression is often the result of either undiagnosed or untreated PTSD. The Times:

There is a widespread belief that post-traumatic stress disorder, occasioned by Britain’s engagement in two brutal wars, is behind the large numbers of veterans who offend. The truth is muddier. PTSD normally takes several years after the traumatic event to set in.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has launched an independent inquiry to bring this to public attention in the UK.

Former UK soldier, Michael Clohessy sleeps with a sword under his pillow. Photo TIMES Newspaper, UK

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for understanding and working to improve the prospects of the veteran/prisoner population is that the exact figures are not known and estimates vary wildly. The Times:

We send too many ex-servicemen to prison. How many, nobody is sure. A recent study by the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) estimated that there may be as many as 8,500 ex-servicemen in prison out of a total prison population of 92,000. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the organisation, believes that around 8% of Britons in jail are from the forces. The vast majority of these offenders are from the army, and a large majority of the ex-army are from the infantry. But other groups have taken issue with Napo’s findings. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence conducted their own survey, which they published in January, concluding that only 3% of the prison population were former members of the military — around 2,500 veterans in total.

I think the title of the Times piece suggests it all – From Hero to Zero.We freely project the character of a man based upon our knowledge of his or her publicly performed actions. This is okay, but it mustn’t be only form part of our assessment. Heroes are never heroes, and zeroes are never zeroes; they are stereotypes. Stereotypes are often benign but sometimes damaging and paralysing to good judgement.

WHAT TO THINK?

Our prisons are filled with a wide variety of people with a wide variety of faults, competencies, potential and histories. For the most part, the authorities are aware of this, but I am not always convinced the public is.

Is it in our interest to think of these diverse populations in prison? Does this affect how we consider prisons and prison reform?

What do we need to see (photography?) – as well as read – to think of prisons in more reflexive ways?

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