A Valentine’s Day / Guantanamo Bay Love Story

“You are the soul of my life. You are the best of my heart. You are the light of my eyes. You are the oxygen in my lungs, you are the sun on my back, the sweetest taste of my mouth you are everything you are everything I need to live, to love, to be… Do you know how much you are important for my life. If you break I will break, if you become weak I will become weak and if you go I will go. You are my soul twin. I need you to be strong.”

From a letter written by Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer to his wife / family

Shaker Aamer has been held at Guantanao Bay for nearly 10 years. He has never faced trial, or even been accused of any crimes. A story by The Independent revealed that the UK Government has spent £274,345 fighting Aamer in court, including preventing his lawyers viewing evidence that may prove his innocence and end more than a decade in US custody.

What I love about these Aamer’s words is that they help me cut past the tacky, commercial nature of this faux-holiday and be reminded that the emotion of ‘love’ can hold such a powerful meaning for a person and that it can literarily become a life line. It is easy to forget all this as we simply go through the motions and gestures of acts of love. It is easy to loose sight and feeling for the feelings of love, a longing and gentle openness to another, a memory – imaginary, fictitious, but nevertheless concrete in the emotions it creates, the heartbeats it inspires, the courage it gives birth to. Here, in the midst of our American made horror, live and breath souls that feel love and hold onto it every day simply to remain sane, and alive. How many of us can claim to feel such a love?

Shaker Aamer’s only crime seems to have been that he was what Daryl Li has called ‘…Muslim out of place…’ i.e. an Arab man in a country he ‘should not’ be in and hence suspected of being there for ‘terrorism’ activities. A Li explains in his paper A Universal Enemy? Legal Regimes of Exclusion and Exemption Under the ‘Global War on Terror’ that:

The application of a poorly defined category such as “foreign fighter” to a complex empirical reality of many different “foreign” Muslims necessarily occasions a set of particularly thorny, if not outright confused, problems of governance. Just as the standard refrain that one must distinguish between “moderate” (good) Muslims and “radical” (bad) Muslims presupposes the need to know all Muslims, the concern over foreign (Muslim) fighters necessarily renders (Muslim) foreigners into a categorical object that needs to be known and appropriately dealt with. Before long, however, the object of knowledge as constructed – Muslim foreigners – becomes a source of anxiety in itself. This is the problem of what can be called “Muslims out of place.”

The regime of detentions and torture is an extra-territorial one. It is outsourced, globalized and well funded. It is self-sustaining and self-fulfilling i.e. it finds the people it needs to find to keep it alive and breathing. It is a system that compensates for its mistakes with even more mistakes simply to avoid admitting its earlier mistakes. It seeks its demons and claims to find them, but fears to reveal the basis of that discovery. It inflicts concrete inhumanity (torture, or death, or both) on individuals it accuses of inhumanity, while vehemently denying us a right to see evidence, or even bothering to offer it. It takes messages of love, and transforms them into coordinates for murder.

A quick glimpse into its most efficient international face was given to us a few days ago when the Pakistani supreme court finally remembered its responsibilities to the citizenry and ordered the Pakistani intelligence services to produce and explain its detention of hundreds of Pakistani men. In a small news item on CNN we were told that:

Seven men detained by Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, appeared in court Monday in a landmark case that places one of the nation’s most powerful institutions under the scrutiny of its highest court.

The men — who appeared to be in pain and poor health — hobbled into the courthouse, surrounded by dozens of armed police officers and family members. Several of the detainees covered their faces. At least two carried urine drainage bags in their hands.

These are seven of hundreds who have gone missing since 2001 all in the rush to demonstrate Pakistan’s allegiance to the GWOT. Taking a note right our of Dick Cheney’s public admission of having ordered the torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and the USA, Pakistan’s President Musharraf bragged about selling Pakistanis to the Americans.

Writer Malcolm Garcia, in a piece called The Missing, described and the fear that surrounds the people of Pakistan living under the shadow of the great war. And the life and work of Amina Junjua, the courageous woman who heads the Defence of Human Rights organization in Pakistan, and who has single handedly been fighting for the release of hundreds of illegally detained Pakistani men and women, including her own husband Masood Junjua, who disappeared in July of 2005 and has not been heard of since.

Two years ago while working on my own project on the human cost of GWOT, I met with Amina Junjua. At one point during our discussions she reached into her bag and produced a family photo album and handed it to me. As I turned the pages and looked at photographs of scenes from family birthday parties, vacation trips, family visits and weddings, some papers fell to the floor. As I reached to pick them up I noticed that one was a card, with a small hand written note. It said:

To My Loveliest Amina, From Massod

It was a Valentine’s Day card, from the years when they were courting.

And we are complicit in all this. We Americans. An Amnesty International report titled Denying The Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan explicitly points out that:

Many of those unlawfully held at the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, and those who have been held in secret CIA custody were arrested in Pakistan. Others were unlawfully transferred from Pakistan to countries where they faced torture and other ill treatment.

Many people who have been secretly held in detention centres in Pakistan say they were interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agencies, but also by foreign intelligence agents.

As I read about Aamer Shakur, and his brutal treatment in our gulag in Guantanamo Bay, I could not help wonder how it had all come to this. I could not help wonder how fear and paranoia, mixed with religious and ethnic bigotry (Do we not protests because our drones are only killing ‘foreign’ American citizens, and other foreigners!), came together to create this mess of a situation. I could not help but think how easily it had all slipped from high ideals (rule of law, our values, Geneva conventions, liberty, democracy etc. etc.) to low farce, with dozens of otherwise civilized nations collaborating and participating in this theatre of the ridiculous.

In an powerful Op-Ed piece in (the otherwise pusilanimous New York Times) Eric Lewis demanded an end to these practices, and an end to collabration with the lawless USA, pointing to the case of two Pakistani rice merchants picked up in Iraq and held, without charge, trial or access to legal advice, for seven years (more Muslims Out of Place!)

The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits prisoners from being shuttled around like cattle into and out of occupied territories and zones of active combat. “Unlawful deportation or transfer” or “unlawful confinement” of a protected person violates the Convention — so does rendition of detainees into a zone of active combat.

These men were transferred from one war zone to another, yet the United States has cynically pointed to the fact that they are being held in a war zone to preclude any oversight by courts into the detention of these, and hundreds of other, prisoners. America’s treatment of these men violated the Geneva Conventions, and Britain has aided and abetted those violations.

The Independent has published excerpts of letters that Shaker Aamer wrote home. Despite a near decade of torture and a daily regime meant to break his soul, he writes:

My sweetheart, yes I lost a lot of weight, yes I have a lot of sickness, yes I got short sight, yes my bones are aching, yes I got white hair, yes I got old but I love to tell you my heart is still young, my mind still strong, stronger than ever.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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