Speaking Out On Behalf Of The Forgotten: Bagram: The Other Guantanamo Washington D.C. & New York @ The Fridge Gallery 12 September 2013

I have already written about this work – the last three months spent traveling across Pakistan to meet with and photograph the families of the men who remain trapped in America’s other dark prison – Bagram. 40 pakistan men, some who have been there for over 11 years, have been thrown into this dark hole and are being held illegally, indefinitely and unjustly. These men are the detritus of the great ‘War Against Terror’, the forgotten hundreds who languish in prisons and torture centers across the globe and our thirst for revenge remains unsatiated. Today it is politics and not evidence of crimes, that keeps the men imprisoned there. US Exhibit Flyer V 1.0 testA Kafkaesque regime of imprisonment based on bounties offered to allies, secret evidence, military tribunal, denial of access to legal representation, and a clear denial of access to common-sense and rational argument, the US legal and judicial practices have become a shameful blot on the nation’s character and reputation. Bagram represents perhaps one of the worst such situations today, and there is great danger that as the Americans prepare to leave Afghanistan, these 40 men will be forever left in a legal and territorial limbo from which their only respite will be death.

Writing about this work earlier I said that:

The intense scrutiny and criticism of the conditions of imprisonment at Guantanamo resulted in the prisoners there being granted a semblance of a legal process – access to a lawyer, trials in domestic courts, occasional but carefully censored visits by the press, and the periodic statement by the authorities desperate to show that the prisoners were being treated ‘well’ and in accordance ‘of the law. Of course, all this is a lie. The series of hunger strikes, and suicides, has offered a shameful and shocking reality check, revealing the lies that the US military has been feeding the servile American press corp about the situation in the prison. The men, aware that there is no hope for a fair trial, and worse, of them being released, are desperate to kill themselves to end their suffering, humiliation and sense of hopelessness. Death is their only release.

All this is taking place in a prison that has come degree of visibility and over-sight. We can only surmise what is happening inside a prison like Bagram where there is absolutely no over-sight or evidence of the treatment, physical and mental condition of the prisoners. No journalists are allowed to go there, and none of the lawyers representing or fighting cases on behalf of the prisoners are allowed to meet with or communicate with the prisoners. The families are given limited, carefully monitored telephone and video access every few months. During these conversations – which can last up to about an hour, each word and statement is carefully monitored and the connection can be immediately severed if anything related to the prisoners health, state of incarceration or reasons for it are discussed.

Bagram is a true ‘black hole’ of American justice and sense of the law. It is a living evidence of the collapse of morality, humanity, and civilized discourse that has become so much of the post 9/11 United States of America. It is also an evidence of the deep racism and bigotry that underpins so much of America’s judicial policies in the wake of the ‘War Against Terror’. The continued imprisonment of these innocent men is evidence of the venality, cowardice and irresponsibility of the Pakistani government that has been an open and overt collaborator in the American war in Afghanistan and the frontiers of Pakistan, and whose intelligence agencies and military establishment sold Pakistani nationals to the Americans claiming they were ‘terror’ suspects.

I am traveling in September with Barrister Sarah Belal to Washington D.C. and New York to speak to as many people as possibe and make an argument for the release of these men. They have not been accused of any crimes, they have never been tried in a court of law. A recent report prepared by Sarah Belal’s legal firm lays out a clear argument for why it is absolutely necessary, and just, to let the men go. It also highlights the many legal and other structures Pakistan already has in place to ensure the monitoring and policing of the returned men. An irrational fear of recidivism compels the Americans to insist on guarantees that are part of the reason why the men remain trapped in a bureaucratic black hole, and continue to suffer the indignities and humiliations of the American gulag.

I don’t expect a warm welcome. It is taking a lot of strength for me to even stand alongside Sarah and place myself in the daylight. I have always preferred to work from behind my images, and avoid any sort of public statements or presentations about or related to my images. I have a particular sense of doubt about the value of exhibitions, and I have avoided them for the last five years at least. But it is the effort and commitment of the lawyers – in Pakistan, USA and the UK, who are fighting for the rights of these forgotten men, that reminds me that there is more at stake here than my ego or paranoia. That in the end if there is anything that gives the mere photographs I have made for this issue then it is the end that you are fighting for. The work is purely supportive – it supports and is being used to create greater awareness of the work that the lawyers are doing, and the fights that they are fighting in the court rooms and in the corridors of opinion. And so I in my small way have joined their fight and made my small contribution to their amazing efforts.

Please join us in D.C on the 12th and in NYC on the 13th if you can. The NYC event will be announced soon and is being sponsored by the Open Society Institute at their main offices near Columbus Circle. The stories you will hear, the lives that you will get to know, have been largely absent from our conscience and our concern. The situation of the men is dire, and the forces determined to hold them in indefinite detention far stronger, and better organized than anything that a handful of lawyers and a photographer can muster. But we are speaking out, and we will continue to do so. We need you to join your voice to ours.

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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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