Edmund Clark: War of Terror – Review

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War of Terror on view at IWM London: 28 July 2016 – 28 August 2017

The Imperial War Museum continues to work with artists prepared to present challenging and critical work on Britain’s role in contemporary conflict. Following on from the Iraq War photography of Sean Smith, a retrospective of the artwork of Peter Kennard and an installation addressing the plight of Gaza by Rosalind Nashashibi, IWM London’s latest offering is Edmund Clark’s War of Terror, running in London until 28 August 2017.

“It’s not my role, “Clark says, “to tell people what they should think about it. It’s not my place to provide people with answers. What my work does, I hope, is engage them enough to see again, to want to see differently, to feel the need to find out more.”

The multimedia exhibition presents certain facets of the West’s response to terrorism. It starts with the George Bush-era international ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme and ends with the British government’s ‘control orders’ – a form of detention without trial, based on ‘reasonable suspicion’ and secret evidence. In between, the exhibit presents insights into Guantanamo Bay and the mistreatment, torture and censorship that took place in that US-run, Cuban-based, detention facility.

International and British collusion

What is clear from the exhibition is that Guantanamo was no “anomaly” as some, such as former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, claimed. The meticulous photography and documents presented by Clark and journalist, Crofton Black, then working for Reprieve, show that Guantanamo was part of an international system of organised abduction, detention and torture run by the United States government and security agencies and carried out with the help of much of the international community of states, as well as ordinary contractors.

Moreover, as the part of the exhibit on control orders, shows, the Guantanamo principle of detention without fair trial and subsequent coercion is a cross-party failing and lives on in Britain. Whilst “extraordinary rendition” was initiated by the Bush administration, Guantanamo continues to hold detainees cleared for release under Obama. In the final section of the exhibition, Clark’s images of the British suburban home of a man living tagged and under strict Home Office rules put the apparently banal into a wider context.

“I’ve been to Guantanamo Bay but this was happening in my own country where a man was being held in a form of detention with no formal legal process based on secret evidence was very disorientating and slightly absurd,” Clark said.

More than a quarter of the world’s countries participated in the US’s extraordinary rendition programme one way or another. Some governments, such as that of Poland and Lithuania, as highlighted in the exhibit, allowed the CIA to set up black sites in their country where abducted individuals were held, whilst joining the cover up to deny the existence of such an operation.

Other regimes, such as Gaddafi’s Libya, Bashir al-Assad’s Syria and Mubarak’s Egypt, received suspects, holding and torturing them on behalf of the CIA. Some of these detainees were bought from bounty hunters in Pakistan and Afghanistan and then sent by the US to a black site. Italian authorities assisted in the abduction of a cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (also known as Abu Omar) from the streets of Rome. He was transferred to Egypt where he was held and, he says, tortured for four years before being released.

Khaled al-Masri was snatched by Macedonian authorities, drugged, beaten and sodomised, he says, and transferred to Afghanistan, where he was held by the US. He was later dumped on a road in Albania as the CIA had realised that there had been a case of mistaken identity and al-Masri was innocent.

A number of nations, such as Ireland, allowed their airspace and facilities to be used by rendition flights, stopping over between international black sites.

In Britain, the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against British security officials for their role in the kidnapping, abduction and torture of two Libyans.

Opponent of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar, were abducted in Malaysia and flown to Libya in 2004 in a joint operation of MI6, the CIA and Libyan intelligence. Boudchar accused her kidnappers of chaining her to a wall for five days and taping her to a stretcher for a 17-hour flight. In Gaddafi’s Libya, Belhaj was detained for six years and, he says, during which he was regularly tortured.

Another opponent of Gaddafi, Sami al-Saadi, claims to have also been abducted and rendered to Libya, along with his wife, Karima and their four children, aged 12, 11, nine and six in an operation executed with support from MI6.

The CPS concluded that “Officials from the UK did not physically detain, transfer or ill-treat the alleged victims directly…” However, the UK’s secret support for the abduction programme was apparent in correspondence discovered following the fall of Gaddafi.

The exhibition highlights a letter by Sir Mark Allen, former director of counter-terrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa, head of the Libyan intelligence agency at the time, reading: “Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [Abdul-Hakim Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week.”

The Sami al-Saadi case was settled for £2 million by the British government. Belhaj and Bouchar’s civil case continues as they seek an apology. The Guardian reported that, as of 16 June 2016, the government had spent £600,000 to prevent the case going to court.

Parliament’s own investigations, in the form of the Gibson Inquiry, were abandoned before completion but not before an interim report made a number of serious findings. It concluded that the British Government and its intelligence agencies had been involved in the US’ rendition operations and had interrogated detainees despite knowledge of their mistreatment.

According to the Gibson Inquiry, MI6 officers were cleared of any obligation to report violation of the Geneva conventions and, Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, had even considered the possibility of legal amendments to hold rendered suspects in the UK.

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Torture and Censorship

Guantanamo Bay has become notorious as the US’ site for detention without trial, mistreatment and torture of terrorist suspects. The benefit of being based in Cuba and not on US-soil was that detainees could, they believed, be held without legal protection or scrutiny.

Edmund Clark’s exhibit reminds us of the use  of force feeding and ‘enhanced interrogation’ and also introduces us to the extreme levels of censorship imposed on detainees in a series of redacted correspondence received by a prisoner from around the world.

The US insisted that everything a detainee said or experience was classified. Nonetheless, many claims of abuse have been revealed and confirmed by official findings, including in the 2014 US Senate’s Report on CIA torture. The report found use of “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding”, as well as sleep deprivation lasting for a week and threats of violence against detainee family members. One incident of rectal force-feeding was done with “excessive force” and the detainee was later diagnosed with chronic haemorrhoids, anal fissures and rectal prolapse.

The Senate report found that at one detainee died of hypothermia after being held on concrete for hours. The quasi-drowning of waterboarding and mock executions were “enhanced interrogation” methods already well-known at the time of the report.

The full story of abuse at Guantanamo is yet to come out. Edmund Clark’s exhibition gives voice to an account of sexual abuse from Omar Deghayes, a British detainee. Others have claimed that they were raped by security officers and hung from beams.

Of the 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo since January 2002, according to the US government, 61 men are still being held, 20 of whom have been cleared for release. Without sufficient evidence to convict detainees, even by military commission, but allegedly too dangerous to release, inmates continue to languish in what has been described as “the legal equivalent of outer space.”

Only eight detainees have ever been convicted by military commission, widely decried as not offering a fair trial, and one was convicted in US federal court. At least five of the military commission convictions were made as a result of a pre-trial agreement whereby the accused agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the possibility of release. Three of the convictions have since been overturned and another three partially invalidated.

Nine detainees are known to have died in the detention centre; six are alleged to have committed suicide.

The very use of “indefinite detention constitutes per se a violation” of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, according to the UN Committee against Torture; the treaty was ratified by the USA in 1994.

The CIA has admitted that torture was ineffective in gathering information and, instead, non-coercive methods used by other agencies produced the most useful results. Meanwhile, it became widely apparent that Guantanamo was, in the words of Joe Biden, the “greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world.”

The exhibition features an image of the bomb-damaged Abu Salim prison, Libya, where a CIA captive Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was held and died in mysterious circumstances. Information extracted from him by the US, having undergone torture, was used by Colin Powell in the case for invading Iraq.  Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi later retracted the claim that Al Qaida was working with Saddam Hussein to attack the US and it indeed proved to be untrue.

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Home Office Control Orders

When Barack Obama came into office, in January 2009, he sought to rein in torture at Guantanamo and the global abduction programme. However, Guantanamo remains open and Obama has stepped up the drone assassination programme, with assistance from the British government and security services.

Drone assassination is yet another policy notorious for legal unaccountability – and even more of a human rights violation than the Bush Administration’s preference for abduction and torture. The President is not only prosecutor, judge and jury – but, also, executioner.

Edmund Clark’s exhibition, however, brings us home, to Britain, and the confines of a suburban home. Clark was given exclusive access in December 2011 and January 2012 to examine and take photographs of the house and shed some light on the policy of control orders first introduced in 2005

“Be sure he stays inside and that you go straight in. He’ll be in breach of his conditions if he steps outside the front door. And be careful what you ask him. Remember, the house is almost certainly bugged.”

That was how Edmund Clark was introduced to the life of someone living under a control order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The outcome of the meeting is a series of photos, drawings and videos giving a sense of some of the constraints that the individual, known only as CE, was living under.

CE had been held for eight months when Clark was given permission by the Home Office to visit him for the project. Control ordered suspects were subject to a 16 hour curfew, tagged, obliged to report to a police station daily and to contact a security switchboard every time they left and returned home and restricted geographically.

CE had been relocated under the order, unable to have internet access, restricted from meeting certain persons and had to seek permission before many actions, including social gatherings. Clark stayed with CE for a number of days, experiencing his daily schedule.

These restrictions were all imposed on the basis of suspicion and secret evidence. In his book, Control Order House, accompanying the exhibit, Clark sets out the High Court judgment that imposed the order on CE.

The importance of this judgment is that it clearly sets out how much the decision relied on secret evidence that CE’s lawyers were not allowed to know and challenge. The government’s reliance on this trial secrecy enabled them to use evidence that would not normally be admissible in an open court because, for example, it came from a paid informant, bugging, hearsay or a foreign intelligence source they did not want to compromise.

A security-cleared barrister, known as a Special Advocate, representing CE was allowed to view the restricted evidence but then barred from any contact with CE or his lawyers, despite still representing CE.

The result is that CE’s order was legally imposed on the basis of suspicion and secret evidence, rather than proof of guilt. In 2012, control orders were replaced by Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs). It has been suggested that the restrictions they impose are less harsh and the evidential test of “reasonable belief” rather than “reasonable suspicion” is more rigorous.

Nonetheless, secret evidence can still be used and the orders are still not based on proof of guilt. CE subsequently lived under TPIM conditions in a new home. In March 2013, Clark wrote:  “CE is now living under TPIM conditions in a house closer to his family. His future is uncertain. If, after two years, the home secretary has reasonable belief of new terrorist-related activity, a further TPIM could be served. If not, he will be released.”

War of Terror is a testimony on the world of counter-terrorism and detention without trial. It reminds us of the true scale of the extraordinary rendition and torture programme and the continuation of detention without trial in Britain, in the form of control orders. A highly expansive and challenging exhibition which warns of how the apparently ordinary can become the extraordinary.

More on the War of Terror by Edmund Clark

“Throughout the exhibition, Clark impressively demonstrates the agency of the artist as an individual capable of moving between political spaces, gaining both extraordinary access and a poignant forum for public exhibition, presumably through the ambiguous notion of creative subjectivity. In doing so, War of Terror instigates a conversation that Chilcot failed to interrogate: that is, the experience of individuals that suffered as a consequence of the war in Iraq.”

War of Terror, Edmund Clark at the Imperial War Museum, London by Joy Stacey, a researcher, artist and curator based in Brighton, writing for Ibraaz.org.

– Youtube interview of Edmund Clark talking to IWM London.

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