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drone

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 www.WHERETHEDRONESSTRIKE.com

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.

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.

IF THE IMAGES PEGGED FOR RELEASE ON THE 28TH ARE TO STIR UP FRESH INQUIRY INTO SEXUAL ABUSE OF JUVENILES THEN OBAMA HAS A SERIOUS PROBLEM.

Detainee on Box Stencil. By Steve Reed. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sreed99342/2077223377/

Detainee on Box Stencil. By Steve Reed. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sreed99342/2077223377/

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.

powellslide2

Modified captions on Colin Powell’s grainy images.

According to Joseph Pine we all crave – and will buy – authenticity these days.

According to Errol Morris we are more inclined to find authenticity in grainy low resolution images.

ERROL MORRIS: But, as we become more and more sophisticated about images — about how images are processed — haven’t we become more sophisticated about detecting fraud? Photoshop manipulations are relatively easy to detect. They fool the eye, but they don’t necessarily fool the expert.

HANY FARID: The answer is: yes and no. It depends on the image source. So, if we have the raw files[8], if we have the original footage from someone’s digital camera, you can’t fool us anymore. We have enough technology today where, given the camera, the original images that came off the camera, we can tell if you’ve manipulated them. If, however, you are talking about an image that has been cropped and reduced and compressed and posted on the web, then we might be able to do it, but there’s no guarantee. The task is decidedly harder because a lot of information has been thrown away. You’ve compressed the image; you’ve resized it. This is why all the Loch Ness monster and ghost images are always so tiny and grainy, because then you can’t see the signs of tampering. With low-res images it’s much harder to detect a fake. Definitely, when we have a high-res original image, we are much better at it.

[People often trust low-res images because they look more real. But of course they are not more real, just easier to fake. We look at picture of Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster). It’s grainy, fuzzy. It’s hard to make anything out. You never see a 10-megapixel photograph of Big Foot or the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness Monster. One explanation is: these monsters don’t exist. But if they did exist — so the thinking goes — they are probably unwilling to sit still for portraiture. The grainy images are proof of how elusive Nessie can be. This belief extends to documentary filmmaking, as well. If it’s badly shot, it’s more authentic. – E.M.]

caribou

Grainy image of Caribou. From the Film Board of Canada, who gave Boards of Canada a name.

moon

Grainy image of moon surface

pentagon

Grainy image of Pentagon

bigfoot

Grainy image of man in a flamboyant hirsute

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