The Image and Terror

Did American citizens in the spring of 2004 notice the resemblance of Lynndie England leading an Iraqi on a leash to Tintoretto’s treatment of a similar moment in the Passion? Did they notice the uncanny coincidence in the release of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ at the very time the Abu Ghraib images were made public in the spring of 2004? Did they notice the resemblance between Gibson’s portrayal of the pleasure and glee that the Roman soldiers take in torture and the grinning faces of American soldiers mocking their Iraqi victims? Did they ask themselves what has become of Christianity in a time when its major cinematic expression completely eliminates its positive message in favor of an obsessive concentration on the minute details of the tortured human body, from beatings, to a scourging that literally flays the flesh from the victim, to agonizingly slow death by that “stress position” known as crucifixion? Did they notice that Arabs and Muslims have now assumed the position of the sacrificial victims in a Christian crusade against evil?

Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present by W. J. T. Mitchell

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Re-presenting Pakistan | Upcoming Talk

Re-presenting Pakistan: Journalism, Justice and the “War on Terror”

Pakistan has been called a failing state and the most dangerous country on earth. Yet, stories about the Pakistani victims of the “war on terror” remain scant even though thousands of Pakistanis have been bombed, disappeared, detained and displaced. This panel will examine the relationship between representation, media and war in the context of Pakistan. It will discuss alternative models to pursue and publish ethical journalism.

PLACE: Columbia University | Journalism School |  3rd Flr, Lecture Hall
TIME: 7pm – 8:30pm

MODERATED by: Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and dean of Columbia Journalism School

Madiha Tahir is an independent journalist who recently produced a short documentary, Wounds of Waziristan, about survivors of drone attacks in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. She is co-editor of a collection of essays, Dispatches from Pakistan and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University.

Asim Rafiqui is a photojournalist who has been investigating human rights issues in Pakistan. His most recent project covers the lives and stories of Pakistani prisoners in the US prison at Bagram. Rafiqui is also a fellow at the Open Society Foundation

Sarah Belal is a prominent Pakistani human rights lawyer who has been working to get Bagram prisoners released. Her organization Justice Project Pakistan has been litigating on behalf of families of prisoners. Belal is also a fellow with the UK based human rights organization, Reprieve.

Saadia Toor is the author of State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan. She is an associate professor of sociology at CUNY and works on populist movements and feminism and religion, in Pakistan.

Presented by The Sevellon Brown Fund, Columbia Journalism School Photojournalism Dept., & Center for International History

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On Nov 08.2013, Steve Cannane interviewed me about Wounds of Waziristan on Australia’s national primetime show:


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The Takeaway | NPR

Nov 04.2013, an interview on The Takeaway on the significance of Hakimullah Mehsud’s death:

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What It’s Like to Live With Drones | Policy Mic

Full article HERE. Nov 01.2013:

These stories show immense human suffering that we, as Americans, need to acknowledge and be sensitive to if we hope to effectively combat terrorism. By ignoring the deaths of these civilians, we tacitly imply that their lives are worth nothing, that they are less human than American citizens.

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Views from the Ground: Investigating U.S. Drone Strikes

Event took place on Tues, October 29, 2013. Event description:

Hosted by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYU School of Law) & the Open Society Foundations

Under President Obama, the US dramatically expanded targeted killing outside traditional battlefields. Over 400 strikes since 2009 have killed thousands of people. Yet rarely do American audiences hear directly from victims, or about investigations into civilian deaths. Experts at this event discussed soon-to-be released, groundbreaking reports, a new film, and legal actions that reveal serious concerns around US strikes and—for the first time—a victim of a US drone strike will speak directly to an American audience.

Welcome: Sarah Knuckey (NYU Law) and Christopher Rogers (OSF)

Moderator: Steve Coll, Dean, Columbia Journalism School; Staff Writer, The New Yorker

+ Rafiq ur Rehman, whose mother was killed in a 2012 drone strike in Pakistan
+ Robert Greenwald, director of the upcoming documentary “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars,” which documents Rehman’s case, among others
+ Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, speaking on his new UN report on targeted killings and the right to life.
+ Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International Pakistan Researcher, speaking on his recent investigations of strikes in Pakistan.
+ Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, speaking on the ACLU’s litigation challenging targeted killings secrecy and the killing of US citizens in Yemen.
+ Letta Tayler, Human Rights Watch Senior Terrorism/Counterterrorism Researcher, speaking on her new report on drone strikes in Yemen.

This event was presented in memory and honor of Ibrahim Mothana, a Yemeni advocate and writer who made enormous contributions to awareness of the civilian and security impacts of US targeted killings. Mothana died at the age of 24 in September 2013.

This event took place on Tuesday, October 29, 2013.

The most revealing section of this appears towards the end in response to the first question by an audience member. I’m transcribing it roughly here:

1:09:00 Audience member: Based on the evidence we have now – which is a great amount, do you think the United States should stop completely its drone attacks right now? right now?
(Panelists look at each other.  Steve Coll: it’s a clear enough question. laughs from audience.)

1:10:00 Shamsi (ACLU): I think that [pause the answer to that is based not he info we have, it appears clear that several hundred civilian bystanders have died. Mistakes have been made, but i cannot say to you that the use of drones is in itself unlawful or always unlawful. sdrones may be used um and lethal force might be permissible under very restricted circumstances including in the context of human rights as well as the laws of war. i think our position is that the unlawful killing, and we think that killing people far from any battlefield under the circumstances that the Obama administration is currently engaged in results in unlawful killing. That needs to stop. That the president’s promises of reigning and restricting the use of lethal force have to be followed upon.

1:11:16 Tayler (Human Rights Watch): I’ll take a drone over a cluster munition any day but i share all of hina’s concerns about the sue of, secrecy surrounding the drone program, the questions about the legality of the strikes, so what we need is enough basic information, and it’s shocking that this many years later, we do not have it – about how exactly drones are being used, but the weapon itself is — i do not think that we need to stop using drones, and i don’t think we’re in a position to say that we should stop all strikes – uh – there are serious terrorist threats in this world uh theres a lot of debate and discussion that should happen on the best way to address that threat but um – thats a long way from saying stop now.

1:02:06 Heyns (UN Special Rapporteur): I would also say that i also  don’t think that drones are inherently illegal if they are used in a situation of armed conflict within the rules of international humanitarian law. it can be justifiable. I think the problem comes in outside of situations of armed conflict and that is where i think the main focus should be.

Sarah Knuckey remarked on the answers, which kicked off a conversation online.

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Life in the Dronescape | VICE Motherboard

Full interview HERE. Oct 29.2013:

Your film begins with President Obama’s description—that he’s “haunted” by the loss of civilian lives. What moved you to make that that description a guiding motif in the film?

A couple of things. I’ve been trying to think about the ways we can talk about drones beyond the legal reports. So what are the ways that we can think about what it means to experience life under drones. Another aspect is that yes, Obama said he is haunted by loss of civilian life, but that nevertheless we need to continue with our war. I thought that was interesting because there’s a whole literature within academia and in fiction about ghosts and haunting and what that means. If you think about Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The sociologist Avery Gordon has an excellent book on this called Ghostly Matters. Being haunted is about not being able to go on as if you were not being haunted. Even horror films are about this.

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NOS Op 3 | Netherlands

Interview on Oct 29.2013. Starts at 6:19: Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 7.30.02 PM

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Tell Me More | NPR

Oct 25.2013, a discussion with Michel Martin: Do Pakistanis Support Drone Attacks?


TAHIR: I think the people that are actually under attack are not the people in Islamabad and are not the liberal class. The first line of people that are actually under attack are the people in the tribal areas. And there the issue again gets very, very complicated and I think it’s – it’s not critical thinking to think that because political parties are using this issue that it is therefore a sham issue. I mean, it’s true, various political parties have used this issue for their own political ends, but that doesn’t negate the fact that actually people are being killed.

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