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terror

Screengrab of a Google image search for “terror”

ONE HELL OF AN OPENER

One of the more amazing ledes to a story you’ll see:

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach—from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet—would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order.

Read Tom Engelhardt’s 14 Years After 9/11, the War on Terror Is Accomplishing Everything bin Laden Hoped It Would

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?

DISASTER PHOTOGRAPHY

I ran across the University College Dublin’s Photography & International Conflict project this week. It operates out of UCD’s Institute for American Studies … and it’s awesome.

Or as awesome as something about war can be … or at least the best academic offering on photos and carnage since Photography and Atrocity served up at Leeds University a couple of years ago.

If you fancy going all rogue-scholar then this is the site for you: Imaging, Africa, ethics, Northern Ireland, the political economies of photography, America, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia and well known academes of the media/photo/critic world.

Anyhoo, this is all by the by, because amongst this thinkers-paradise are some straight video interviews with leading photography editors.

SATURATION POINT

Roger Tooth, Head of Photography for the Guardian UK says (at about 18 minutes and 30 seconds):

I would have thought we are at saturation point for photojournalists, but then you have the colleges churning out thousands of graduates each year, so its all a bit worrying really. I haven’t got a clue what these people are going to do? I would have thought we’ve got enough people to go around at the moment. What I suspect they’ll do in the future, I suspect they’ll do video because that’s going to be the currency.

Well, how’s about that?! Seriously, great site and plenty of food for thought.

Found via the reliably excellent CONTACT blog, which keeps me real with all things Britski.

UPDATE

As if on cue, A Photo Editor has this interview with Vincent Laforet about his switch over to moving images.

Two things today. First an important debate. Second my own reflections and housekeeping.

debate

Ben Chesterton at DuckRabbit has had ongoing discussions with MSF / Medicin Sans Frontier / Doctors Without Borders for many months (years?) about the use of media and the fine line between MSF’s promotion of aid work and fair representation of the peoples they work with. Duck has opened a worthwhile debate with Pete Masters of MSF on the duckrabbitblog with regard this new MSF advertisement.

Feel free to add your comments over on Duck’s blog. I know Ben will appreciate and we should all benefit, right?

house keeping

In absolutely no way related – AND, I encourage you not to presume the fictional scene in the MSF ad as one set in Africa – I’d like to return to an image I featured on Prison Photography in December.

McKulka Tim - Sudanese Detention Facility. UNMIS

The image is by Tim McKulka. The caption reads: The container which serves as a detention facility as human rights and protection officers make an inspection of the capacity of police and prison service.  UNMOs from Torit team site were engaged in a long range patrol to Chukudum along with various civilian sections of UNMIS in order to assess the security and social conditions of the area.

Last night, I had the great privilege of attending a YPIN World Affairs Council presentation by Tim McKulka and his partner Anyieth D’Awol about Human Rights in Sudan. There were a few thing that I took from the talk:

1. The problems in Darfur are very serious, but Darfur is not the only conflict in Sudan
2. Things are better now than they were one, two or three years ago – if you measure better by fewer deaths.
3. The predominant source of unrest in the Sudan always stems from the growth of the capital, Khartoum, at the expense of the periphery.
4. Since independence from the British in 1955, Southern Sudan has never known stable or benevolent governance (Civil wars raged from 1956 – 1975; and then from 1982 – 2005). The first war was settled with the drawing of a new boundary between North and South and newly provided autonomy. The second war began because rich reserves of oil were found within the territory of South Sudan and consequently Khartoum and the North reneged on the agreement, grasped for the wealth and resorted to aggression.
5. There exists to this day tribal conflicts in the central areas of contested lands, particularly Aybei where much of the oil reserves lie.

Needless to say the talk was humbling – Tim and Anyieth successfully gave a summary of culture and politics across the entire country, covering the last 60odd years. No small achievement!

I wanted to finally pin down some background to the image and so I asked Tim, “What is that container assemblage exactly?” His response,

It was in a place called Chukudum in southern Sudan, East Equatoria State and it shows that there is no other place to put prisoners. There are crimes being committed but there is no justice, no security; no security sector. The police don’t have guns, or cars, or transportation. They don’t have communications. So the container is what people are left to use when they have prisoners. What else can you do with them?

Tim has followed much of the peacekeeping and reconstruction work in Sudan. This has involved shadowing the training of new prison officers and the establishment of new institutions for juvenile justice. I hope to follow up on this with more involved comments from Anyieth as she, as a human rights lawyer, has far more knowledge in the area … and Tim deferred to her experience.

Here’s Tim’s portfolio Faces of Sudan.

Tim McKulka has been working as the senior photographer for the United Nations Mission in Sudan since September 2006. Prior to that, he was based in New York covering national and international news as a freelance photojournalist for Polaris Images. He graduated with a fine arts degree in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work has been featured in numerous national and international publications including The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Italian Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine.

Anyieth D’Awol LLB, LLM is an independent researcher working in Southern Sudan. She has worked for the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) as a Human Rights Officer. She also worked for the Joint Donor Office as a Policy Officer. Anyieth was a Senior Researcher for the Presidential Advisor on Gender and Human Rights with the Government of Southern Sudan, focusing primarily on sexual violence and human rights issues and the military. She is the founder of a civil society organization providing underprivileged women and girls opportunities for sustainable income through arts and crafts while creating opportunities for capacity development in literacy and numeracy, and providing information on HIV, gender and human rights issues.

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