Edmund Clark: War of Terror – Review


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.


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.


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.


Loyalist Murder Weapon Found at IWM

VZ58 assault gun found at the Imperial War Museum (BBC)

VZ58 assault gun found at the Imperial War Museum (BBC)

A potentially important piece of evidence of British participation in loyalist paramilitary terrorism in Northern Ireland has been discovered in a display case in the Imperial War Museum London.

A BBC panorama show has revealed that a VZ58 automatic assault gun, until recently held on display by the Museum, has been identified by investigators as a weapon used in the loyalist paramilitary attack on a bookmakers in south Belfast. On 5th February 1992, two gunmen entered Sean Graham Bookmakers’ on Lower Ormeau Road and gunned down five civilians, including a fifteen year old who died from his injuries in hospital.

The unsolved killings have long been suspected as a case of collusion by state forces, including the Royal Ulster Constabularly (RUC) and British Army military intelligence, with the paramilitary force that claimed the killing, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), also known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Investigations by Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Stevens Inquiry III  had discovered that, in 1989, RUC Special Branch had received a 5mm Browning handgun from an agent who operated in the UDA, only to return it to the group, supposedly in a deactivated state. However, the gun was then used in two further attacks which killed six people, including the five innocent civilians in Sean Graham Bookmakers’ on Lower Ormeau Road.

The other murder weapon, the VZ58 Czech-made assault gun was allegedly destroyed by the RUC. However, Darragh McIntyre in his BBC Panorama show reveals that the gun has been on display in the Imperial War Museum in London. Officers from Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman have reportedly taken possession of the weapon for tests.

The gun could directly connect British intelligence to the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ killings, as well as the murders of two Catholic men in 1988 to which the gun is linked. British military intelligence are known to have hired a UDA operative, Brian Nelson, to travel to South Africa in 1985 to meet an arms dealer. Two years later, in December 1987, a shipment of weapons, including a large quantity of VZ58s, arrived at Belfast.

British sources say that the shipment slipped through the radar of their surveillance. Whilst some of the weapons were recovered by the RUC, the rearmament intensified loyalist attacks. According to The Guardian, in the six years before the shipment, loyalists had killed around 70 people. In the subsequent six years around 230 were killed.

The VZ58 assault gun found at IWM is also linked to the 1988 murders of Seamus Morris and Peter Dolan by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), as well as the attempted murder of Gerard Burns in March of that year. The UDA were in possession of the weapon when their members carried out the Bookmakers killings before the RUC supposedly destroyed it.

As in a number of other cases, it is suspected that not only was at least one of the murder weapons procured with direct British assistance but that a British agent was amongst the murderers. One of prime suspects in the Bookmakers killings was never arrested or publicly identified, despite being known to intelligence.

In 2012, relatives of the six victims of the 1994 loyalist attack in Loughinisland, County Down, brought legal action against the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI) over collusion in the deaths. A VZ58 assault gun was used in the shootings and part of the families’ claim focuses on British involvement in arming the killers.

This year, families of more than 100 victims have brought a challenge to the chief constable of the PSNI in the courts. The High Court heard from a HET senior investigating officer that a draft report into collusion during the 1970s between state forces and loyalist paramilitary groups had been shelved without explanation.

The discovery of the gun at IWM could support such cases, as well as justify the re-opening of the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ killings case. The position of the victims’ families has also been strengthened by the legal victory last year that forced the handing over of intelligence files on informers by the PSNI to the Police Ombudsman.

Amnesty International have called for an independent investigation into a “policy where the police, army and MI5 worked with illegal paramilitary groups, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of people.”


Imperial War Museums’ Funding Cuts and Real Horrible Histories


A suspected ‘Mau Mau’ fighter is taken away by a private of the 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry for interrogation. © IWM (MAU 864)

Imperial War Museums’ Funding Cuts and Real Horrible Histories:

The brainchild behind the Imperial War Museum, Sir Alfred Mond, said on its launch in June 1920: “The Museum was not conceived as a monument of military glory, but rather as a record of toil and sacrifice.” He included in this dedication, “the people of the Empire, as a record of their toil and sacrifice through these fateful years” of the First World War. And, yet, the new Museum’s Board of Trustees was filled with government appointees and a handful of representatives from colonial or dominion governments. The ‘people’, whether of the Empire or Britain, had no direct say in how their toil and sacrifice was depicted. Ninety-three years on, IWM now spans five branches and a remit of covering all conflict involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War – but the challenge remains as to how the Museum accurately and openly records peoples’ experiences of conflict.

IWM’s ability to fulfil its role is coming under severe pressure from cuts to its annual public grant – its main source of income as a national museum. Whilst the government has done much to publicise its financial support for IWM London’s new First World War galleries, in preparation for next year’s WW1 national centenary events, what is barely mentioned, however, is the 21% cut to IWM’s real value total grant that is planned by 2014-15, compared to 2011-12.

Despite these cuts, David Cameron, wants IWM London to be, “a centrepiece of our commemorations for the Centenary of the First World War”, and to inspire new generations with the “incredible stories of courage, toil and sacrifice that have brought so many of us here over the past century.” Thus, IWM is clearly not only under increasing financial pressure but, also, real political pressure as to how to portray conflict.

The IWM has set its own independent agenda in its Annual Report 2011/12: “to be recognised as the world’s leading authority on conflict and its impact – focusing on Britain, its former Empire and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present… IWM should be a place where, regardless of knowledge or experience, our audiences can make sense of conflict, understand its causes, course and consequences and see how it affects human behaviour for good or for bad.”

To meet this vision IWM must have the editorial independence to examine the historical record critically. The Museum Associations’ , states that museums should “strive for editorial integrity and remain alert to the pressure that can be exerted by particular interest groups, including lenders and funders.” (Code 9.10). [Now, expressed more strongly in the updated Code of Ethics as: “Ensure editorial integrity in programming and interpretation. Resist attempts to influence interpretation or content by particular interest groups, including lenders, donors and funders.” (Code, 1.2)]

IWM insists it has this independence – decision-makers are ‘neutral’ and funders have no influence over how they exhibit their subject matter. Yet, whether the Museum has enough of an accountable democratic senior management structure to be able to preserve editorial integrity itself is highly doubtful. The IWM Board of Trustees is highly unrepresentative of British society, appointed by Cabinet ministers with wealthy figures from the military and corporate sectors. Of the 22 trustees, only two are women – former corporate director and current journalist, Bronwen Maddox, and the lawyer and academic, Dame Judith Mayhew. In terms of political, social and professional backgrounds, the Board of Trustees has more in common with IWM’s state and corporate sponsors than the visitor to the Museums.

IWM’s choices of subject matter casts doubt upon its editorial integrity and independence. There is a distinct lack of critical analysis of British military activity, demonstrated by the lack of inclusion of the perspectives of the victims and dissidents of militarism. IWM London will re-open this year (29th July) with a new photography and art programme called ‘IWM Contemporary‘. This will be kicked off by Omer Fast’s video piece, ‘5,000 Feet is the Best,’ based around the experiences of a former US drone operator. Following this will be an exhibition of reportage and photographs taken by US and UK soldiers in Iraq 1991 – 2012 (Mike Moore and Lee Craker) and an exhibition on the “personal and environmental legacy of military structures” by the British photographer and film maker, Donovan Wylie. IWM London’s new family exhibiton will be Horrible Histories: Spies.

There will continue to be few spaces for the voices of the victims and dissenters of British military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the new IWM London. IWM North has featured an exhibition of powerful photographs by the Guardian’s Sean Smith that does depict some of the devastation of Iraq – but this exhibition is certainly in the minority across IWM’s five national branches.

Coverage of past British military activity tends to be similarly edited. A revealing example comes from an online collection of personal stories about “conflict, belonging and identity” put together a few years ago by IWM called “Through My Eyes.” The collection included three stories from ‘Kenya in Conflict’ – Britain’s merciless repression of the rebelling Kikuyu tribe, known as the Mau Mau uprising. The British government only recently paid a limited amount of compensation to the surviving victims. None of the three stories told in the Kenyan part of IWM’s exhibition were from the Kikuyu. Thus, the primary Kenyan victims of incredible British imperial brutality, including tens of thousands killed and virtually the entire 1.5 million Kikuyu detained, were not given the chance to tell their story.

Corporate Vested Interests

The British government is IWM’s most powerful interest group as provider of public funds and selector of most of the positions on the Board of Trustees. This dual influence by one interest group hampers the possibility editorial integrity, making reform of the Board essential. However, the government is at least elected by voters and its decisions are open to influence by the general public. The same cannot be said for private corporations who are filling the void left by growing cuts to IWM’s public funding.

The Museums major source of income has been the annual ‘grant in aid’ from the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Last financial year, IWM received £21.96 million, down from £23.91 million in 2011. The cuts will continue; by 2014-15, the Museum expects its total grant to suffer a real reduction of 21.4%. The Museum will become predominantly privately funded, with 53% of its income planned to come from self-generated commercial activities.

These quiet cuts, behind the fanfare of the First World War Centenary, will ensure that IWM becomes ever more dependent on corporate sponsors, partners and donors, such as those from the arms trade, including BAE Systems and Boeing UK, who both feature in IWM’s 2011/12 Annual Report as donors of at least £10,000.

The arms industry, or ‘defence industry’, are, along with the Ministry of Defence (MOD), already deeply entwined with the Museum. The “Annual Defence Dinner”, a major networking event for arms manufacturers, MOD officials and foreign defence attachés has been held annually at IWM London for several years now. The most recent sponsor of the event, Chemring Group, is a supplier of explosive ingredients for US Hellfire drone rockets. And, the key speaker of their event is the government’s defence secretary – it was Philip Hammond MP in 2012 – demonstrating the interchangeable nature of the corporate defence industry and the Ministry of Defence. Recently, the MOD secured for IWM a Honda motorbike allegedly used by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. The motorbike will go on show in the Museum’s ‘War Story’ exhibition, which tells the modern service stories of British forces.

Editorial Integrity

If IWM had editorial independence and a critical scholarly approach it would use the WW1 centenary to examine the warring nations’ motives. It would also look at the evidence and arguments produced by those who say that it was a bloodbath occasioned by government and business leaders’ competing for wealth and power – a claim supported by the sharing of the colonial ‘spoils’ by the victors afterwards. It would certainly not engage in any ‘celebration’ of Britain’s role in what Harry Patch, the British WW1 veteran who outlived his peers, described as “legalised mass murder”, and instead would critically reflect on the war and its consequences.

A critical record of the ‘war to end war’ that cost millions of lives would recognise in it the germs of bloodshed to come – the real ‘horrible histories’ from Britain’s recent past. Not just WW2 but the more immediate repression against reviving independence movements that followed in Ireland, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China, giving rise to horrors such as the ‘Amritsar massacre’ of hundreds of defenceless Indian protestors in 1919; or the 1920 ‘Bloody Sunday’ random shooting into the crowd at a Croke Park football game in Ireland; or the ‘Egyptian Revolt’ of 1919 in which 1,000 Egyptians were killed, more than 1,500 imprisoned and 50 Britons killed as Britain fought fiercely to maintain ownership of Egyptian resources and prevent independence.

We should know of the atrocities suffered by the British and their commonwealth mercenaries, as much as the atrocities committed and authorised by Britain. In this knowledge, we should see how imperial exploitation is a repression that is unsustainable and makes inevitable bouts of bloodshed and inhumanity – with the subjugated people enduring the bulk. Knowledge of the dynamics of imperialism will enable us to understand more clearly the arguments made today that British support for the US in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and drone attacks follow the pattern.

The absent voices

The most important voices for our understanding of British imperial history are those that are kept quietest – the voices and stories of the victims and the dissidents. IWM London will re-open this year with exhibitions that largely exclude these voices. Highly suggestive from this is that the Museum is not, as it claims, editorially independent from its funders and trustees, nor a true authority on the course and effects of conflict. If cuts to its public funding are permitted to be enforced, this situation will only get worse.The onus is on us, the public, to support the Museum to assert its independence. We can do this by challenging the government’s damaging cuts to its public funding, upon which any hope of editorial integrity rests. At the same time, we must demand that the Museum justify its public funding by opening up to the voices of victims and dissidents of British military action.