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Poor positional play confounded by an absence of pace meant I found myself on the wrong side of a challenge for a soccer ball on Sunday morning. I won the ball, but didn’t stay on my feet. My right hand met the ground before my body.

Twenty-four hours later, with discomfort and swelling unabated, I chose to visit the ER to find out what the unglamourous tumble meant for my right wrist. On my way out the door, predicting a long wait at the hospital, I grabbed Trevor Paglen & A. C. Thompson’s book Torture Taxi (2006).

Morning Commute (Gold Coast Terminal), Las Vegas, NV, Distance ~ 1 mile, 6:26 a.m. © Trevor Paglen

I’ve talked about Trevor Paglen’s work before (albeit inadequately), and still maintain the best education on Paglen’s work is his Google lecture from 2009.

Paglen and Thompson, through an arduous but publicly-available paper trail, uncover the use of civilian aircraft in the Bush administration’s Extraordinary Rendition Program. Over 200 terror suspects were moved around the globe, not to mention the staff, transport teams, interrogators and American torturers. That’s a big operation. So while best attempts were made to keep is secret, Paglen and Thompson found and depicted its traces.

Unmarked 737 at “Gold Coast” Terminal Las Vegas, NV. Distance ~ 1 mile 10:44 p.m. © Trevor Paglen

For me, the surprising thing was that this activity was, as Paglen phrases it, “hidden in plain site”. Military aircraft must gain prior clearance before entering another nation’s airspace, whereas civilian aircraft need not satisfy the same protocols.  Also shocking is the fact that the CIA out-sourced it’s torture to convenient and “friendly” nations whose poor human rights records allowed for the application of unrestrained torture methods.

The CIA preferred Morocco and Mubarek’s Egypt to host and brutalise their human cargo.

In one passage, Paglen describes a particularly sadistic regime of torture in which Moroccan interrogators armed with scalpels visited and revisited Binyam Mohammed’s penis at two week intervals:

On the 21st of January, 2004, the Moroccans told Mohammad he was going home. […] Mohammad heard the sound of an airplane, then of men speaking American-accented English. As they had done in Pakistan, the American’s stripped Mohammad’s blindfold and clothes off, and Mohammad saw that he was again surrounded by black clad Americans wearing face-masks. ‘There was a white female with glasses’, he recalled, ‘she took the pictures. One of the soldiers held my penis and she took the pictures. This took awhile, maybe half an hour. She was one of the few Americans that ever showed my any sympathy. She was about 5’6”, short, blue eyes. When she saw the injuries I had, she gasped. She said, “Oh my God, look at that,” then all her mates looked at what she was pointing at and I could see the shock and horror in her eyes.” But Mohammad wasn’t going home. The Americans were taking him to Afghanistan.

Mohammad suffered for eighteen months in Morocco and the same period in Afghanistan at the hands of America’s contractors of violence. Since he was picked up off the street in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, Mohammed was transported across the globe through multiple jurisdictions and tortured to within inches of his life countless times. Your tax dollars at work.

In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme court rejected the case of Binyam Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a lawsuit brought by Mohammed and four other victims of the rendition program against Jeppesen a subsidiary of Boeing Aircraft. The plaintiffs claimed that Jeppesen provided the transportation that brought them to their respective places of torture.

The decision leaves standing  a federal appeals court ruling upholding the “state secrets'” privilege claimed by both the Bush and Obama administrations to prevent to testimony in matters regarding national security.

A defeat for human rights and the legitimacy of the law as it exists.

A man left with only two teeth in his lower jaw ­after being t­ortured with an electric truncheon, Chad, Africa, year unknown. Photograph: Courtesy Hermann Vogel

Paglen and Thompson interweave the horrific accounts of prisoner’s experiences with the mundane logistics of CIA front companies scheduling aeroplanes.

As I waited for the orthopedic’s analysis of my X-ray images, it was quite clear my injury, whatever it was, was is inconsequential.

Last year, I came across Brogdon, Vogel, and McDowell’s A Radiologic Atlas of Abuse, Torture, Terrorism, and Inflicted Trauma. This is a book centred on specialised imaging and imagery of political violence; it applies to the most pressing of basic global human rights and yet it is unlikely to be used or acquired by a photo enthusiast. The A Radiologic Atlas of Abuse, Torture, Terrorism, and Inflicted Trauma is an encyclopedia for use by medical and legal professionals likely involved in the investigation of war crimes or domestic abuse.

From the summary:

‘The results of aggression against humans can be hideously obvious, but may also be entirely concealed from casual inspection. Often […] only radiologic exploration of the inner recesses of the body can reveal the evidence of such violence. Victims of aggression range from the tiniest infant to entire populations. Hopefully you will never encounter every situation covered in this book. However, should you come across any, you will want a copy within reach.’

As I read Paglen’s horrific accounts of torture, it occurred to me a machine had just peered through my lower arm and a doctor was about to describe the exact nature of my injury. I wondered about the permanent marks left inside the tissues of torture victims and I wondered about the chances of these injuries ever being documented and, consequently, seen.

As with the extraordinary rendition program, one presumes the visual evidence will always be hidden, suppressed. Or non-existent.

Hermann Vogel, co-author of A Radiologic Atlas of Abuse, Torture, Terrorism, and Inflicted Trauma, has considered similar issues. Thirty years ago, Vogel began collecting x-rays of torture injuries. His collection now numbers 120 X-ray images. Vogel explains:

“X-rays reveal what the naked eye cannot see. A forensic investigation will reveal fractures, foreign objects and needles, but x-rays provide plausibility. Does the story match the pattern of injury? Does the age of the injury correlate with the time-span of when the torture occurred? Does the torture method correspond with the region, organisation, military or militia responsible?”

“In some countries, X-rays can be used as evidence in court and a few of my X-rays have helped prove that torture has occurred. They are also increasingly being considered as part of the [political] asylum process.”

The world saw the digital photographs made by soldiers asked to perform as prison guards at Abu Ghraib, but this was only a single prison (and the most audacious at that) operated by American forces in the global war on terror. Given that only lowly operatives were prosecuted for that shit-show, imagine what scientific X-ray images and the political will could achieve if they were delivered to a international court of law. And imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee in the dock.

Sometimes, images with no author carry the most power.

But let’s not be blind. Torture in our name continues today. Vogel surmises:

“I can imagine that no one has access to x-rays from the American detention camps like Abu Ghraib, although I would also assume that American torture methods are so advanced now that any injury is undetectable. Pure psychological torture, which includes months of solitary confinement and days of sleep deprivation, is very popular worldwide because it does not leave behind any physical traces. Torturers have nothing to fear if nothing can be proved.”

There are some documentary photographers, namely Gilles Peress, motivated in their work by the prospect of their photographs doubling as evidence. Compared to Vogel’s collection of images, and compared to the thousands of X-rays that were never made of torture victims in America’s imperialist wars, this expected influence of their photographs is optimistic in the extreme.


This post was transcribed by Aline Smithson over Skype. During my recovery, we’ll collaborate once a week for six weeks on extended posts. This is done in the interets of shared learning and proof that the photo-blogging community is alive, strong and charitable. Thanks Aline!

Screengrab: Pete and Aline at work.

Photography and fingerprinting room.

David Moore has an uncanny knack of gaining access to sites most photographers might think are beyond reach.

In the Summer of 2009, Moore took advantage of a short-window of time during which the cells inside Paddington Green Police Station sat empty. The survey Moore completed – a series entitled 28 Days – was the first foray into this infamous jail. Prison Photography is proud to publish these images for the very first time.

[Keep reading below]


Forensic pod.

Paddington Green Police Station is structurally banal. Constructed in the late sixties, its functionalism is belied somewhat by a concrete-lovers facade. For Britons, Paddington Green means one thing: Terrorism. Built into and underneath the station are sixteen cells and a purpose built custody suite; extraordinary hardware for a police station, but not for the interrogation of high-level terror suspects.

In the 1970’s many IRA suspects were incarcerated at Paddington Green prior to appearing in court. At that time, the period of initial detention was up to 48 hours, this could be extended by a maximum of five additional days by the Home Secretary. (Prevention of Terrorism Act, Northern Ireland, 1974). British terror legislation was not renewed until the Millennium.

The Terrorism Act of 2006 increased the limit of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 28-days, hence Moore’s title for the work.

Originally, the Labour Government and Prime Minister Tony Blair, had pushed for a 90-day detention period, but following a rebellion by Labour MPs, it was reduced to 28-days after a vote in the House of Commons.

[Keep reading below]

Control room.

Chair, police interview room.

Holding cell.

In 2005, Lord Carlile (a hero of photographers, as a key person in reversing abused UK police stop-and-search procedures) was appointed independent reviewer for the government’s anti-terrorism legislation. His team visited Paddington Green in May, 2007 and issued a damning report on its inadequacy as a modern facility for the detention of humans for such extended periods.

The facilities […] were designed when the station was built in the late 1960s in order to deal with terrorism suspects from Northern Ireland – a far different threat from that faced from international terrorism today, in terms of scale and complexity. The main deficiencies of Paddington Green are as follows:
* there are only 16 cells. Over 20 people at a time were arrested during individual terrorism investigations in both 2005 and 2006 and some had to be sent to Belgravia police station, which is not set up to deal with terrorism suspects. In addition, the normal day-to-day work of Paddington Green police station, which serves the local neighbourhood, was severely disrupted.
* there are no dedicated facilities for forensic examination of suspects on arrival. Cells have to be to specially prepared for this purpose, which is time consuming and further exacerbates the lack of accommodation.
* there is no dedicated space for exercise. Part of the car park can be cleared to provide a small exercise yard but this takes time to arrange and the car park is overlooked. This is likely to reduce considerably opportunities for exercise.[48]
* only one room is provided for suspects to discuss their cases in confidence with a solicitor.
* there are no facilities on site for the forensic examination of equipment such as computer hard drives.
* the videoconferencing room is too small to accommodate judicial hearings on the extension of the period of detention. Such hearings are usually now held in the entrance lobby, which is itself cramped, is a thoroughfare into the custody suite, and opens into the staff toilets at the back. It is clearly an inappropriate location for such a crucial part of the detention process.


And so it was, shortly after the completed £490,000 refurbishment of Paddington Green Police Station, Moore photographed to the smell of fresh paint.

[Keep reading below]

CCTV camera with courtesy screening over toilet, holding cell D

Holding cell D.

28 Days is a continuation of Moore’s preoccupation with sites of state apparatus, but this was not always his interest. During the nineties, Moore worked in New York as a commercial photographer, Upon his return to his Britain, he spent three years piecing together The Velvet Arena (1994), a look at the textures, couture and gestures of high society, openings and schmoozing … canapes and all.

From here Moore, still concerned with the dark weight of the familiar made photographs of the House of Commons. He describes The Commons (2004) as a forensic view. “British people know what the House of Commons looks like,” said Moore via Skype interview. His response was to get close and change the view; he focused on corners, carpets, perched flies, scratches in the wood and banisters.

The Commons was pivotal in Moore’s development. He argues that photography has always been entangled in politics, specifically the British Empire. Following the destruction by fire of the existing Houses of Parliament on 16 October 1834, Barry and Pugin designed the new houses for British law with Gothic-Revivalist importance. They were completed in 1847. Photography’s earliest manifestation came about in 1839 with the daguerreotype.

Law, reason, progress, conquest, taxonomy and technology drove the British Empire through the end of the 19th century. Photography, with its will to objectivity, played its part in stifling cultural relativism; it disciplined both colonialist and colonised. Against this history, The Commons, for Moore, was “born of political frustration.”

“It was important for me to break it down. I am probably most influenced by Malcolm McLaren than anyone else,” says Moore.

[Keep reading below]

Solicitors’ consultation room

Virtual courtroom.

“My volition as a photographer goes back to the want to use it as a democratic tool. Looking at state apparatus and panoptic sites, I see my work as an act of visual democracy. Any small chip I can make.”

In 2008, Moore made quite a large chip. For The Last Things, he negotiated access to the Ministry of Defence’s crisis command centre deep beneath the streets of Whitehall, London. Moore got the pictures no other photographer ever had, or ever will. Read my article for about Moore’s experience working in the subterranean complex that – to this day – officially “does not exist.”

The Last Things more than any other portfolio, opened the door for Moore to work at Paddington Green. It was a body of work with which he could show he could be trusted. Besides the Police Station was vacant. “It was relatively low security,” explains Moore.

“Paddington Green was very different to the MoD crisis command center. Paddington Green is imbued with a history and a trajectory of history. I know about [IRA] terrorism and about interview techniques and who’d been held in there over the years.”

For Moore, 28 Days is a contrast of the old and the new. An old building with new fixtures. Old procedures replaced by new codes of conduct. “There were definitely some opinions from older police officers: ‘These are terrorists, what does it matter if a cell is painted or not?’ and there was a mix of young and old police officers. The architecture reflected the changing Metropolitan police,” says Moore.

Moore’s work at Paddington Green is a glimpse of an institution in transition; in a moment and not in use. It could be said the stakes were low for London’s Metropolitan Police; that the risk was minimal. It is likely Paddington Green Police Station will cease to operate as the first stop for terrorist suspects. Plans are afoot for a new purpose-built facility. For the authorities, Moore’s work is transparency, for us it is curiosity sated, and for the photographer it is a small victory for “visual democracy”.

Exercise area.

All Images Courtesy of David Moore


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