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There’s nothing new here that advocates for prison reform don’t already know, but it’s worth a listen just to hear Obama declare that Omar was his favourite character in The Wire.

The conversation starts off pretty left of progressive with Simon asserting that “What the drugs didn’t destroy, the war on them did.” It’s a line he uses often but it’s a good one, and an accurate summary.

Obama makes pains a few minutes in to stress sympathy for police forces. To be expected from a leader who is taking the effort to first and foremost express sympathy for people who may have antagonist views toward an arrogant and broken record of policy as regards crime and punishment in American cities.

The political turn turns us toward the children. If we can’t all rally around a love of the children then what have we? The depiction of struggling Baltimore schools in The Wire was particularly hard for Obama, he says.

These 12 minutes weren’t a total waste of time. Simon got to register his dismay at the failings of government to help poor and addicted people. Obama got to express optimism for the more sensible debates we’re having about crime and transgression and where that might take us. He was very excited about bipartisan buy in, without any criticism that’s its come decades later than it should. Oh, that’s right people’s lives impacted by tough-on-crime-rhetoric were political footballs for the past 40 years.

The most sensible and realistic thing in the conversation is the closing remark of Obama when he says if we keep being honest about putting our policing, policy and sentencing failures right, we may see an improvement in about 20 years.

This was good PR for everyone involved. I doubt Obama would have sat down with Simon for this same conversation in 2009, but now it’s safer to be sensible — government budgets have told us so.

It’s not really significant what Obama and Simon said when they sat down together. Of most significance is the fact they sat down together, for the cameras, at all.


Anyone doing work about drone and drone policy that I’ve spoken to has, as some point in their research, relied on the information put out by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ). When I wrote my piece Here’s What Drone Attacks in America Would Look Like for WIRED, BIJ was an invaluable resource, especially in providing solid figures for the numbers of drone strikes, deaths from those strikes, and specifically civilian deaths from those strikes.

BIJ’s good work continues, as it played host to the Forensic Architecture (Goldsmiths University, London) and SITU Research to produce an online interactive WHERE THE DRONES STRIKE.

With WHERE THE DRONES STRIKE which we can examine drone target types (vehicles; religious; other; domestic; unclear target). Was that an insurgent training camp that was annihilated or was it a marriage celebration full of women and children?

Due to secrecy at the Pentagon (and previously at the CIA, when it controlled the drone program), reliable information on drone attacks is very difficult to come by.

“The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s tribal agencies with drones since June 2004. In the early years, strikes were rare. But from mid-2008 onward the frequency of strikes increased, peaking in 2010. That year, 128 strikes killed at least 751 people – of whom 84 were civilians. There were 23 strikes in September 2010 alone – the most intense month yet recorded by the Bureau,” say the BIJ.

BIJ routinely collects info on drone strikes through thousands of reports, witness testimonies and on-the-ground data from Pakistan, but this is the first time this data has been put rendered as an interactive to propel human rights and accountability.

“The map demonstrates how the frequency of strikes – and the overall reported casualties – has changed over time. It also shows how the targets of the strikes have changed,” explains BIJ. “Domestic buildings have been the most frequently hit target type in each year of the drone war. Attacks on vehicles have become gradually more frequent, and in 2011 almost as many vehicles were hit per strike, on average, as buildings. But this dropped from a peak that year and in 2013 drones targeted vehicles just three times. Attacks on vehicles tend to kill fewer people than attacks on domestic buildings, and fewer civilians. The highest death tolls of all are in the comparatively rare attacks on madrassas and mosques.”

The U.S. dropped it’s first bomb from a drone in late 2002, on Yemen. The Obama Administration only formally acknowledged it was flying killer robots over foreign lands in 2012.

Go to

For a wild editorial break down of the data (and more graphs!) read the BIJ’s report Most US Drone Strikes In Pakistan Attack Houses which accompanied last week’s release of WHERE THE DRONES STRIKE.

For regular updates on drones at home and abroad, may I recommend following the Drone Weekly Roundup and signing up for the Newsletter (scroll down) put out by the Center For The Study Of The Drone at Bard.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting injustice.

Because I just read this, I wince a little as I repost thoughts via the indubitable Jim, but time is of a premium today. Please excuse me.

Martin vs. Barack

Why is it some American’s “mythologize and sanitize” MLK – a man that called for a national guaranteed income – but as quickly abase and demonize Obama who, by the way, is a pithy moderate by comparison?

In other words, why is the socialist agenda of one leader ignored and – worse still – why is a socialist agenda fabricated and super-imposed on another?

Oh, and also, actual functioning democratic socialism (even in its sputtering form under New Labour) is a pretty good ticket.

… or put another way, the apparently unassailable problem that is Guantanamo only amounts to 2% of the actual problem.

guardian logo

This is only one of the many astounding facts I learnt from following the Guardian’s Slow Torture series.

I particularly valued this half hour podcast in which an expert panel of legal professionals discuss the cyclical, “odious” and often ludicrous procedures for trials based on ‘secret evidence’. Clive Stafford Smith has many valuable things to say about American legal protocols. He has represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay and says that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, ‘secret evidence’ used against terrorism suspects does not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The majority of the Slow Torture series looks at British ‘secret evidence’ trials, how it affects the lives of terror suspects and the consequent erosion of Britain’s legal reputation:

The UK government’s powers to impose restrictions on terror suspects – without a trial – amounting to virtual house arrest have been condemned as draconian by civil liberties campaigners. In a series of five films, actors read the personal testimonies of those detained under Britain’s secret evidence laws and campaigners and human rights lawyers debate the issues raised.

Basically, the same problems embroiled in the acquisition and control of “sensitive” evidence exist on both sides of the Atlantic and are ultimately putting our societies at more of a long-term risk.

Photography alone is worthless. Interviews, think-pieces, investigation, theatre, video, debate, political fight and direct action make issues reality.

What are we to do with our Gitmo preoccupations when the real problem has been moved to Bagram, Afghanistan by President Obama?

Merry July Fourth.

American’s love to remind me that this was the day a very long time ago that some guys in wigs signed a piece of paper and declared independence from the British. This is pretty much true and there is a reason American children are drilled with the idealism of it all and British schools don’t cover it in their curriculum.

British schools cover the Victorian age, the industrial revolution and the subjugation of a quarter the world’s people through colonialisation (note: 19th century). When America seceded it did so from a fledgling empire, not from tyrannical brutes in Westminster.

British kids are not taught that America seceded from Britain because the Britain of the late 18th century has little relation to the Britain of today … just as the America of today has little to do with the America of 1776.

For British kids of the new millennium, America is very much its own country and they’d be surprised to hear America was ever under British rule. The Britain of George III’s rule is unrecognisable to high-school pupils of the UK. It has no bearing. To be blunt … they, we, I don’t care what happened over two centuries ago.

Listen Up! America, you’ve always been you’re own country. America is big, its own monster, fantastic, extreme. America boasts the greats of science, technology, film and gun-making in its alumni. Recognise your nation’s brilliance, but please also recognise its shortcomings.

Instead of focusing on irrelevant and ‘pseudo-mythical’ oppressors of the past, why not consider today the active and brutal oppressors in your political system today.

America is the only Western nation in the world to execute human beings.
America has 1 in 30 adults locked up in prisons (4 times the amount of any other Western state).
America’s middle class has fled to the banality of the suburbs and hung its public school systems out to dry.
America has 50 million medically uninsured people, including 11 million children.

America has embraced the privatisation of prisons and stockholders profit from the incarceration of men, women and children.
America’s drug war is in fact a war on the lower classes, who are predominantly minority groups.

All these are connected by hard line economics and the devastating effects promote distrust and division.

I am interested in prisons primarily because how a society treats those that transgress is a telling gauge on its wider shared cultural/political landscape.

Don’t build prisons, build schools. Don’t wage wars in foreign lands, wage war on the poverty and inequalities of your major cities. This is all simple stuff said many times before.

I apologise for this inconvenient diatribe; I don’t want to piss on your parade. In fact, I wish you had more parades. America has the fewest public holidays of any Western nation. Take a break America … love a little.

And, no, I don’t hate America … I just distrust patriotism, false mythologies and the resultant complacency. If I had the chance to decry all state-pageantry and self-congratulation, I would.

Last of all, stop allowing journo and political hacks to smear Socialism as a dirty word and system. They know bugger all. Socialism means spreading love as well as wealth. It means educating kids so that they don’t steal from you a decade later. It means providing health services NOW so that individuals can support themselves for life and the state needn’t.

President Obama emailed me today, “Two hundred and thirty-three years ago, our nation was born when a courageous group of patriots pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the proposition that all of us were created equal”. Start putting your tax dollars where your constitution is and propagate equality. You can call it Socialism or not, I’ll just call it love.


© Chris Maluszynski/Agence VU

Guantanamo © Chris Maluszynski/Agence VU





Courtesy of The Department of Defense Visual Information Center

Guantanamo Bay Tents. Courtesy of The Department of Defense Visual Information Center


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.

Louie Palu

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.

Christopher Sims

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.

Chris Maluszynski

Agence VU/Moment. Twenty-six images exhibited. Likely more on file at the agency.

Cesar Vera

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.

Miami Herald

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. Faces of Guantanamo Detainees. Part one.

Photos. Faces of Guantanamo Detainees. Part two.

Photos. Detainees held in Afghanistan.


Comprehensive overview of base using Google Maps, official photographs. Details structures, uses and topography of naval base.

Camp America, Camp Delta, Camp V and Administrative & Court building.

Camp X-ray and construction of later detention camps.

Maximum Security facility

Associated Press

Images of Detainee existence.

Images of facilities and interiors of various detention blocks and camps.

Stars & Stripes “The Independent News Source for the U.S. Military Community”

Work at Guantanamo

Education at Guantanamo

Recreation at Guantanamo

Artistic Turns

David Hicks. Virtual Guantanamo Cell

Penny Byrne. Porcelain Guantanamo Detainee Figurines

Gregor Schneider. 21 Cells, Bondi Beach, Australia

Legofesto. Guantanamo reconfigured with Lego men and Lego pieces and Wired Interview

Flickr – Protest Images

Amnesty International. Guantanamo Protests

Various Photographers. 100 Days to Close Guantanamo and End Torture.

James M. Thorne. Protest images.

Miscellaneous Media

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.

BBC. Life in a Guantanamo Cell


Rendition. Photographer Unknown

Rendition. Photographer Unknown



© Cesar Vera

© Cesar Vera



Guantanamo Bay Navel Base with a New Commander-in-Chief. Photographer Unknown.

Guantanamo Bay Navel Base with a New Commander-in-Chief. Photographer Unknown.



The standard issue of clothing, sleeping mat, food, sandles, canteen, soap, and buckets for detainees of Camp X-Ray is pictured in Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002. Tomas van Houtryve/AP Photo

The standard issue of clothing, sleeping mat, food, sandles, canteen, soap, and buckets for detainees of Camp X-Ray is pictured in Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002. © Tomas van Houtryve/AP Photo



CUBA. Guantanamo Bay. 2003. Soldiers wait for their meals before a prayer breakfast at Camp America. Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum

CUBA. Guantanamo Bay. 2003. Soldiers wait for their meals before a prayer breakfast at Camp America. Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum



Penny Byrne Guantanamo Bay Souvenirs 2007, vintage figurines, metal chains, epoxy resin, plastic, re-touching medium, powder pigments, 14 x 32 x 10 cm.

Penny Byrne Guantanamo Bay Souvenirs 2007, vintage figurines, metal chains, epoxy resin, plastic, re-touching medium, powder pigments, 14 x 32 x 10 cm.






Obama’s decision to quash the release of Iraqi prison torture photographs has welled across the journo networks today. It began as a rumour and then confirmed by the Huffington Post, New York Times and other major news outlets.

Last month, I blogged about ACLUs legal victory and announcement of images release on May 28th. I told you to keep the date in mind as the images were sure to be a thwack on the retina – of course,  not half as bad as some of the thwacks of twisted acts meted out by American rank and file under America military order.

I even went as far to say that Obama – with seeming little control – would possibly suffer at the fate of an early leak. Well, Obama’s done his u-turn and it looks like he might stop their release. He gets some support from Tomasky at the Guardian, but I can’t buy this argument. Obviously, Obama’s worried about the safety of his troops but the rest of us are worried about Cheney et al. getting off scott-free. The official line is that the Abu Ghraib abuses have been investigated fully, but in truth 25 low ranking officers were hung out to dry. There was no accountability further up the chain.

We should bear in mind that these are new images to the public and media, but not to politicians and internal investigators, and this is not the first time images have been suppressed and challenged.

The military’s mood was one of relative calm last month, with army investigators going on record that “these images are not as near as bad as Abu Ghraib”, but some are recalling long forgotten testimonies from 2004, namely by Seymour Hersh, here, here and here.

Hersh alleged that the children of female prisoners were sodomized in front of their mothers. These assertions were made on two occasions in 2004 – during a speech at the University of Chicago and at an ACLU conference.

There were audio files of these speeches online, but they do not seem to be operating. ACLU will have this on file nonetheless. And, in any case, Information Clearing House has a transcript of Hersh’s statements, from which I quote below:

Some of the worst things that happened that you don’t know about. OK? Videos. There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at [Abu Ghraib], which is about 30 miles from Baghdad — 30 kilometers, maybe, just 20 miles, I’m not sure whether it’s — anyway. The women were passing messages out saying please come and kill me because of what’s happened. And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has, and they’re in total terror it’s going to come out. It’s impossible  to say to yourself, how did we get there, who are we, who are these people that sent us there.

When I did My Lai, I was very troubled, like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened, and I ended up in something I wrote saying, in the end, I said, the people that did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed, because of the scars they had.

I can tell you some of the personal stories of some of the people who were in these units who witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers. And so we’re dealing with an enormous, massive amount of criminal wrong-doing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher. And we have to get to it, and we will. And we will, I mean, you know, there’s enough out there, they can’t.

And finally, if you thought you’d experienced the depravity of Abu Ghraib via the pictures – and if you thought you understood the extent to the crimes – you’d be wrong. This Guardian article, quoting Washington Post relays the testimony of a detainee witness to juvenile rape.

Detainee, Kasim Hilas, describes the rape of an Iraqi boy by a man in uniform, whose name has been blacked out of the statement, but who appears to be a translator working for the army.

“I saw [name blacked out] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15-18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [blacked out], who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid’s ass,” Mr Hilas told military investigators. “I couldn’t see the face of the kid because his face wasn’t in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures.”

It is not clear from the testimony whether the rapist described by Mr Hilas was working for a private contractor or was a US soldier. A private contractor was arrested after the Taguba investigation was completed, but was freed when it was discovered the army had no jurisdiction over him under military or Iraqi law.


Detainee on Box Stencil. By Steve Reed. Source:

Detainee on Box Stencil. By Steve Reed. Source:

Author’s Note: I am taking my lead from Michael Tomasky for this blog post tying Obama’s call for a block on the release of images to the worst case scenario (sexual torture). Bear in mind that the buzz has been over 44 images – why, I don’t know – but over 2,000 were/are set to be released on May 28th. Also bear in mind that the images are said to be predominantly from facilities other than Abu Ghraib. There are a lot of unknowns in this matter. Nevertheless, I am sure of two things: 1) there is more visual evidence of abuse in existence and 2) Obama is obstructing the release of the latest evidence. Time will tell how these two variables cross or diverge.

First image by photographer Christopher V. Smith whose work can be found on his Flickr profile.

Second image by Steve Reed, whose work is on his Flickr profile and blog Shadows & Light.


The blogo-photo-sphere has been spinning the past couple of days with the 2009 Pulitzer Prize announcements. Damon Winter took one gong for “his memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.” (Featured Photography). Patrick Farrell secured the other with his “provocative, impeccably composed images of despair after Hurricane Ike and other lethal storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.” (Breaking News Story)

Winter’s images are eye-catching, but to be honest I am suffering from ‘Obama-fatigue’. So saturated were we with so many high-quality images of the new 44th President, I now look for different material. A quick shufties through Winters website revealed all. His portraits of sports stars show a precocious willing to improvise with technique and composition. Winter has a seriously sentimental side also epitomised by his portraits of American Olympians from the 1984 Los Angeles games.

I guess, my hope is that he doesn’t become known as ‘that guy that did Obama’ … which is why I am more interested in his Angola Prison Rodeo photojournalism.


The rodeo featuring the prisoners of Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, is an old – even traditional – event in the Louisiana calendar. Damon Winter is one of many photographers that have covered the community event. It is a raucous spectacle that brings together populations in and outside of the prison.

I still cannot reconcile this event my existing ethics which this event. There’s a charge that the rodeo is exploitative entertainment for which prisoners can suffer serious injury. Yet, I have not witnessed the rodeo-weekend first hand and I have read in the past that this is an event that provides long-term focus and short-term adulation for the prisoner-competitors. All I want to do is bring Winter’s photographs to your attention and hope they’ll compete with Obama for your attentions!


Winter’s pictures capture the strong forces and consequent risks of rodeo competition. I deliberately picked his colour images. The black & white stripes of inmates harry within Winter’s ‘red, white and blue’ palette. The star-spangled palette imbues the series with patriotism, pomp and faux-purpose. I almost feel we are subliminally less inclined to question Angola’s unique display of pseudo-gladiatorial entertainment when the games are suffused with hues of the American flag.



View Damon Winter’s Obama campaign coverage for the New York Times, and listen to an audio interview with Winter about his experiences. Winter and PDN did an interview in 2008.


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