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I was interviewed by ACLU recently: Prisons Are Man-Made … They Can Be Unmade.
The Q&A focuses around the exhibition Prison Obscura and you’ll notice a return to many of my favourite talking points. Still, the work never ends, and I know that ACLU will push out — to an expanded audience — my argument that we should all be more active and conscientious consumers of prison imagery. My thanks to Matthew Harwood for the questions.
Good news arrived today for Think Ten Media, producers of the innovative web series The wHole: funding has been secured to continue production. Producer Jennifer Fischer tweeted, “Big News! The wHOLE got the greenlight. Episode 2 is a go.”
— Jennifer Fischer (@IndieJenFischer) May 5, 2015
$$$ ONWARD $$$
But the fundraising and the efforts are not over. If you’ve got any money to throw in the pot. I know Fischer and writer & director Ramon Hamilton would love to push toward the 100% funding. (At the time of writing, they are at 80%). You can view the pilot episode here, and if you like what you see, then donate.
If you need a little more convincing about why to support a web series about this issue then read this conversation about “The Truth Behind Solitary” — hosted by ACLU — between Amy Fettig, senior counsel at the National Prison Project at the ACLU; Jeff Deskovic, advocate and exoneree who was released after 16 years in prison; and Hamilton.
The wHole was filmed at the empty and never-used Wapato Jail in Portland, Oregon. When they were working on the pilot last year, I argued that it was the only good thing to come out of the vacant jail.
It was a double whammy this week. Everyone noticed the 6,000 page report into CIA torture. Many won’t know that today was the day that Justice Department attorneys presented the Obama administrations rationale for suppressing over 2,100 photos and videos of torture by American military personnel in Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Since 2009, the Obama administration has argued that releasing them would inflame anti-American sentiment abroad and place Americans at risk. Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is not so easily convinced and wants the government to explain, photograph by photograph, how each might pose a threat to national security. The fight to release these photos dates to 2004, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
David Levi Strauss has tracked these developments from the very beginning. Several chapters in his new book is Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow (Aperture, 2014) deal directly with the war over control of torture photos.
Strauss and I, for WIRED talked about state secrets, how the brain is wired, the political power of images and whether or not photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse actually exist.
WIRED: Why has the release of 2,000-plus remaining images and videos made by US military personnel in Abu Ghraib not been resolved?
Strauss: Because of the effectiveness of the images. They became the symbol of the change in US policy to include torture. Images are very powerful. That’s why the US government has become very afraid of the effects of these images worldwide.
The other amazing thing about the Abu Ghraib images was that they crossed the boundary between private and public. That is unusual. It changed things for photojournalism, for the military, certainly, and for the public at large. Prior to the release of the Abu Ghraib images, the military was handing out cameras to soldiers so that they could use photos to stay in touch with their families, and to be used operationally.
Read the full conversation: The War Over the US Government’s Unreleased Torture Pictures.
[All images for this Prison Photography post via Salon]
In 2008, Tim Gruber embedded at the Kentucky State Reformatory to photograph in the geriatric wing designated for elderly and terminally ill patients. The result is Served Out, a photography and multimedia project. Here, I featured six images included in the PPOTR/Cruel and Unusual exhibition, but you should check out Tim and Jenn’s website for more stellar images.
Both Tim and his wife Jenn Ackerman worked in KSR the same summer. Tim is unequivocal: their access was down to then-Warden Larry Chandler’s good grace and good sense. Chandler wanted people to see how their tax dollars were spent and understood photography as part of the transparency he insisted on for the institution. KSR even gave weekly tours of its facilities.
Tim and Jenn, after brief training, were given staff-badges and were free to go about their work in the prison. They moved down to La Grange, KY for the summer to make the project and it wasn’t easy; Tim blogged some of the challenges (one, two, three, four, five.)
When we spoke last October, Gruber was in discussion with the ACLU. Last month, his images were used to illustrate the ACLU’s latest report ‘At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly‘ (Tim’s announcement.)
Of course, the common knowledge of the problems of incarcerating the elderly shaped our discussion. From the ACLU report:
Over the last 25 years, state corrections spending grew by 674%, substantially outpacing the growth of other government spending, and becoming the fourth-largest category of state spending. […] It costs $34,135 per year to house an average prisoner, but it costs $68,270 per year to house a prisoner age 50 and older. to put that number into context, the average American household makes about $40,000 a year in income.
In 1981, there were 8,853 state and federal prisoners age 55 and older. today, that number stands at 124,900, and experts project that by 2030 this number will be over 400,000, amounting to over one-third of prisoners in the United states. in other words, the elderly prison population is expected to increase by 4,400% over this fifty-year time span. this astronomical projection does not even include prisoners ages 50-54, for which data over time is harder to access.
The U.S. keeps elderly men and women locked up despite an abundance of evidence demonstrating that recidivism drops dramatically with age. For example, in new York, only 7% of prisoners released from prison at ages 50-64 returned to prison for new convictions within three years. that number drops to 4% for prisoners age 65 and older.
But, also, Tim and I talked about the emotions and first-hand experiences statistics don’t capture – the need for alternative imagery of prisoners and their humanity; what it was like to work on the wings, sit with the men and witness death (“Tears would overwhelm me”); compassionate release, prisoner-volunteer medical assistants and how Tim’s imagery may effect change.
Last week, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, the first suspect transferred from Guantanamo military prison to stand a civilian trial was found guilty of only 1 of the 285 charges brought against him – a charge relating to involvement in the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.
Prosecutors branded Ghailani a cold-blooded terrorist, but the defense portrayed him as a clueless errand boy, exploited by senior al-Qaida operatives and framed by evidence from contaminated crime scenes. Ghailani was convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy U.S. property. He faces a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison at sentencing on Jan. 25.
Only one charge was successfully prosecuted because civil courts don’t look kindly upon the involvement of torture in extracting testimony for evidence.
From the New York Times:
Many observers attributed any weakness in the prosecution’s case to the fact that the Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan, who presided over the trial, refused to allow prosecutors to introduce testimony from an important witness, who was discovered after interrogators used coercive techniques on Mr. Ghailani.
If this trial is a precedent for other trials of Gitmo detainees to follow, prosecutions are going to have a tough time of it.
The extent of torture used by American powers across the globe is picked apart in the ACLU’s ‘Torture Report’.
Experts have dissected govt. documents (released under the Freedom of Information Act) to piece together the practice of enhanced interrogation techniques; practices that have ultimately derailed the prosecution cases against hundreds of GWOT detainees.
In the past I have provided varied perspective on Guantanamo. I put together a rudimentary Directory of Visual Resources. I alerted readers to important coverage of exceptional events here and here (granted, all events related to Gitmo are out of the extraordinary) and I have provided reflection on Guantanamo through the lenses of Bronstein, Clark, Gilden, Linsley, Pellegrin, Toledano and Lieutenant Sarah Cleveland.
Ultimately, none of these posts come close to describing or making sense of that most nonsensical of places. And so to ACLU’s latest video. My good mate Stan (cheers pal) posted earlier today:
Elsewhere, a friend of Prison Photography alerted me to the online journal JumpCut. Julia Lesage has assembled the most comprehensive webpage of Guantanamo links I’ve ever come across. Some of the links are already 404, but I would encourage you to peruse – I have still not exhausted the many resources. Leasge also contributes to the Spring 2009 issue with a section on ‘Documenting Torture’.
On Thursday, 28th May, photographs of prison conditions and detainee custody from six facilities other than Abu Ghraib will be released to the public.
Reports over the weekend suggested a figure of 44, but the Guardian has stated over 2,000 photographs are to be made public. Images of Bagram Air base in Afghanistan are included in the cache. Critics will surely scan for similarities in detention/torture methods used in Afghanistan as in Iraq to argue against the ‘few bad apples’ logic that railroaded earlier attempts to bring military and government commanding authorities to full-accountability.
ACLU’s advocacy deserves international acclaim. Not only have they forced the release of photographic evidence they won a ruling to prevent the destruction of audio tapes that record torture scenarios.
This is an interesting counterpoint. I presume we all assume we’ll see the images in the printed press. Would we expect the tapes to play on our televisions and radios? That scenario makes me uncomfortable.
Continuing with issues of format, it will be interesting to see how the media presents the-soon-to-be-released photographic documents in contrast to the recent torture memo’s. WoWoWoW set the bar low with the tabloid inquiry “How Bad Will They Be?” and the Los Angeles Times allays fears with a dead-pan assessment, “examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib.
No doubt these images will be contested and a ‘Meaning-War’ over the images will ensue, but I think people for and against the Bush administration’s interrogation policies are not going to change their position now – whatever the evidence.”
But, I guess it depends who’s looking.
Lefties want more weaponry in the push for prosecution of Bush and his cronies for war crimes. The right is debilitated and otherwise occupied by the economy, stocking guns before the “Obama-ban” and the latest Meghan McCain slur.
Politicians from both parties seem to want this to go away, snarking on about how the release of yet more Un-American activities will only fuel the burning hate toward the US. This position is an insult.
Did Bush care what Iraqi’s would think when he bombed them out of house and home? Did Bush care to think how American’s would react in the face of diminished civil liberties? Yet here, politicians of both parties are scrambling to avoid the negative reactions of entrenched, fundamental opponents INSTEAD of anticipating the beneficial good-will and return to mutual trust provided by honest disclosures of a transparent and constitutional government. Why cover-up a cover-up?
Maybe, the Democrats are shy to see these documents because they may implicate their top brass?
One concern I will air, is that all this could move toward some bizarre show-trial scenario, where lawyers bargain, Bush is spared, the American public settle for a conviction of Cheney, and careers and reputations lie in waste on both sides of the aisle!?!
I certainly didn’t expect the incriminating documents to flood as they have in recent weeks. I have no idea how all this is going to shake down. Obama doesn’t seem to have control of this. That doesn’t bother me. No-one can hold back the truth.
So, as wise at it’d be to remember the date, 28th May, you should bear in mind the photographs of abuse could well leak earlier…
First Image lifted from Gerry May. http://www.gerrymay.com/?p=1426
Cartoon courtesy of the Nation. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050307/duzyj
Final Image by Takomabibelot. http://www.flickr.com/photos/takomabibelot/2090273618/