Imperial War Museum, Duxford, 20th December 2016

Some fantastic pictures taken at IWM Duxford of the following: Merlin engine, Avro Lancaster, XH558, Tornado GR18, Hawker Fury, V1 rocket, Handley Paige Victor, USAF A10 Thunderbolt, C47 “Dakota”, SR71 Blackbird, Mustang P51D, B25 Mitchell, B52, USAF Spad VII, USAF F15 Eagle, WWI transport truck, British 17″ gun, Soviet T34 tank, Monty’s tank, Axis half track and British Chieftain tank. Courtesy of Rob at MyCreativeHeadspace.

My Creative Headspace

Owing to a number of things that have happened this year, I still had a few days leave left to take before the end of December, so I decided to take them.

I recently purchased a new camera, a Nikon D7200, which I have been desperate to try out.

You might remember that last year I went to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. We didn’t get round it all as the weather was a bit pants, so I decided to grab my camera and go back.

I spent about 4 hours there, just wandering casually. It was dead quiet so I was able to play around with my camera more so than I had hoped.

I did visit a lot of the same exhibitions, but also covered more than I did previously. I have done my best to filter out repeats.

The legendary Merlin engine. This provided power to…

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Stolen Childhood in Afghanistan: 15 Years On

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10/11 year-old, Mah Bibi (Nick Danziger, 2001)

As the 15th year anniversary passes of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, officially launched on 7th October 2001, it is worth recalling the circumstances in which it took place. As food aid agencies warned at the time, the US and its partners were attacking a starving, desperate population, in the midst of terrible droughts and ruled by a fanatical Islamist regime. The story of young Afghan girl, Mah Bibi, captured by photographer, Nick Danziger, and videographer, Laura Ashton, and presented early in 2016 at IWM London, provides just one personal insight into many, many thousands.

The Afghanistan invasion took place following the September 11th 2001 attacks in the US that killed nearly 3,000 and injured many thousands more. The majority of the hi-jackers were Saudi nationals and the responsibility was placed on Osama bin Laden, another Saudi national, and his extremist group, al Qaeda.

The US government demanded that the Taliban regime of Afghanistan hand over bin Laden, where he was thought to operate from. The Taliban regime’s response was to demand evidence from the US establishing bin Laden’s connection to the attack. They suggested that should evidence be provided, they would consider turning bin Laden over to a tribunal organised by states in the Middle East.

President George Bush’s response was that there would be “no negotiations.” Bin Laden was thus given a “free pass” to escape into Pakistan as the US began a bombing campaign with no strategy for capturing their supposed target.  Nearly 10 years later, an unarmed bin Laden was captured and assassinated in Pakistan by a team of US Navy SEALs.

It has been suggested that the US did not have sufficient evidence to prove bin Laden’s connection to the attack. In June 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, could say only that “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, the actual plotting was done in Germany, and the financing came through the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan.”

By failing to investigate the Taliban offer, the US and its partners failed to explore, let alone, exhaust, non-violent means to apprehend bin Laden and his accomplices before they launched an attack on Afghanistan. The rush to war in that country and, two years later, in Iraq, was followed by lengthy and bloody occupations that have caused to strengthen the hand of extremist groups like Al Qaeda and now, the even more extremist, so-called Islamic State or ISIS.

Moreover, the US-led rush to attack Afghanistan in 2001 targeted a population already suffering from immense deprivation. A UN estimate suggested that millions of the population relied on food aid for survival. A few days after the 9/11 attacks, the US demanded that neighbouring Pakistan end its food truck envoys into Afghanistan. International aid workers began to evacuate in anticipation of the bombing. “The country was on a lifeline,” one evacuated aid worker reported, “and we just cut the line.” “It’s as if a mass grave has been dug behind millions of people,” an evacuated emergency officer for Christian Aid informed the media: “We can drag them back from it or push them in. We could be looking at millions of deaths.”

Just before bombing commenced at the start of October 2001, the UN warned that military action would likely cause a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Over 7 million Afghanis faced starvation if an attack was not called off, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization warned.

A month into the US-led attack, by the end of October, over a million Afghanis were estimated to have had fled their homes into the countryside where they were exposed to the elements and without meaningful food supplies. Pleas by aid agencies for the US to call off the attacks fell on deaf ears and rejected by Tony Blair.

Mah Bibi

It is in this context that, in 2001, photographer, Nick Danziger, and videographer, Laura Ashton, captured the images and testimony of a 10/11 year old Afghani girl, Mah Bibi and her two brothers that she cared for. Mah Bibi was living in the Ghor Province of western Afghanistan. In 2001, the region was experiencing the effects of a long-term and devastating drought with some people resorting to eating animal fodder to survive.

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Mah Bibi (Nick Danziger, 2001)

“(A) young girl,” Danziger recalled, “simply pushed her way through a massive crowd of men and started telling me her story; it seemed incredible. She grabbed my hand, pushed her way back through the crowd and marched me past all the men to where she was living – a kind of tent cobbled together with disused rags.”

Mah Bibi was trying to claim food as head of the family but was refused as a minor. In her testimony, she explained that she was an orphan, her mother having died in childbirth. Her father had at four years previously gone for food and disappeared. Mah Bibi was caring for her two younger brothers and begging and eating grass to survive.

“We had two cows, ten sheep and land. But since my father went missing we were hungry. So, I sold all of them. For the past four months, I have been begging. This morning, I had no food for breakfast and I ate grass. I don’t have other clothes. These shoes I wear, I have begged for… It is hot during the day and when we are here sitting in the sun, it is unbearable. But at night, we shake from the cold.” Mah Bibi told Danziger and Ashton in a testimony in 2001.

Working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Nick Danziger went in search of 11 women caught up in conflicts that he had photographed 5 years before to see how their lives had changed and to take new portraits. He found 10 alive – but he found no trace of Mah Bibi. He was told by locals in Ghor Province that she was thought to have got married but died, aged 16.

Photographs and video footage that Nick Danziger and Laura Ashton took of Mah Bibi in 2001 were put on display at the Imperial War Museum in early 2016, in conjunction with the ICRC, in an exhibition called, “11 Women Facing War,” part of the IWM Contemporary series of cutting-edge war art.

A record number of civilians were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in 2015, according to the UN. The over 11,000 killed and wounded was a 4% increase on the previous high, in 2014. One in four of the casualties were children and one in ten was female. Deprivation haunts the population; doctors said in 2014 that over half of Afghani boys and girls were suffering irreparable damage to their brains and bodies due to malnutrition during the first two years of life.

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Mah Bibi and Brothers (Nick Danziger, 2001)

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Mah Bibi (Nick Danzger, 2001)

More:

Video testimony of Mah Bibi for “Eleven Women Facing War” (dubbed in English, video by Laura Ashton, 2001) presented by Canadian War Museum Youtube channel)

– Interview with Nick Danziger about 2016 Imperial War Museum exhibition, 11 Women Facing War – with Pressreader, 2016.

Interview with Nick Danziger about Imperial War Museum exhibition, with Amateur Photographer, 2016

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.

Are We Ready to Hear from the Drone Victims?

Syed Wali Shah killed in August 2009 by a US strike on the village of Dande Darpa Khel. Photo by Noor Behram, 2009 via Wired

IWM London’s forthcoming video art exhibition, ‘5,000 feet is the best’ by Omer Fast, will present the functioning and psychological suffering of drone operators killing remotely. Is it not right that the British public is also given the chance to view the other perspective – that of the people who live with the terror, night and day, of being murdered or maimed by drone missile?

Noor Behram is a Pakistani photojournalist from the remote tribal region, North Waziristan, who has spent several years capturing images of Pakistani drone victims, particularly, children. The US has been firing drones in the remote regions of North West Pakistan for nearly ten years as part of what White House spokesman, Jay Carney, described “as exceptionally precise, exceptionally surgical and exceptionally targeted” counter-terrorism operations.

The photographs of murdered Pakistani children captured by Noor Behram, like the investigations by the British-based, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, undermine the US claim. In nine years, an estimated 411-884 civilians in Pakistan have been killed and up to a total of 1,472 people injured. The remoteness of the region, its lawlessness and Taliban presence means that verifying the figures is difficult and the figures could possibly be higher.

In June 2011, the US’s counter-terrorism chief, John Brennan, falsely asserted that “in the last year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” He claimed that, “if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.” Investigations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism discovered 40 civilian deaths that year – the Bureau’s count only including individuals they could verify by name.

Noor Behram has worked with Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer representing families of drone victims, and the British charity, Reprieve, to get his images out to a wider international audience. Behram’s photographs have featured in Wired.com, the Huffington Post US, the Guardian, in Robert Greenwald’s documentary, “UNMANNED: America’s Drone Wars” and been previously exhibited in the UK at the Beaconsfield in an exhibition titled, “Gaming in Waziristan“.

If the British public is to be genuinely informed about the consequences of it’s government’s support for the US drone assassination campaign, they must hear and read the stories of the drone victims. Perhaps, the public will decide that they approve of drone assassinations against the terrorist threat, despite the civilian terror inflicted, despite the radicalising effect and potentially counter-productive nature of the strikes and, their use in indiscriminate “double-tap” follow-up strikes that hit rescuers and funeral-goers.

It might be argued that Behram’s pictures of dead children and destroyed homes are exploitative propaganda. Before publishing a selection of the images, Wired.com, undertook investigations to verify their authenticity to justify the feature but warned: “We don’t know for sure if the destruction and casualties shown in the photos were caused by CIA drones or Pakistani militants. Even Behram, who drives at great personal risk to the scenes of the strikes, has little choice but to rely on the accounts of alleged eyewitnesses to learn what happened.”

Nonetheless, Wired, like the Guardian, MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show and the Huffington Post, concluded in deciding to publish that many of the images were authentic depictions of civilian casualties of US drone attacks. One photograph showing Pakistani children holding fragments of an apparent drone was examined by three US ordnance experts who concluded that the pieces belonged to a Hellfire missile, fired from US drones and helicopters, according to Wired.com

Behram and his supporters have an agenda, Wired warned, however: “Also be aware that (they) came to us with an agenda: discrediting the drone war. ‘I want to show taxpayers in the Western world what their tax money is doing to people in another part of the world: killing civilians, innocent victims, children,’ Behram says.”

This is the agenda of all true war journalists, to produce authentic evidence and reporting of the consequences of war. An exhibition of Behram’s photographs of death and destruction needs to be contextualised, of course. We need to put it alongside the claims made by the US and British government about drones – as well as the findings made by individuals and entites such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the law schools of New York and Stanford universities.

We cannot go on without looking at the full spectrum of evidence on drone attacks if we are to understand what is being done in our name. Noor Behram’s photography would be ideal for a slot in “IWM Contemporary”, the Imperial War Museum’s upcoming art programme.

Residents of Datta Khel, Pakistan, hold up wreckage from a US strike which killed 6 people. Photo by Noor Behram, 2010 via Wired.