Landmines – ban the technology

Certain technological artefacts should never have been designed, manufactured or used. Among these is the landmine. Its horrible impact is not only on the combatants but rather on the civil population which needs to live with the slowly decaying lethal devices for decades after the land was sown with them. Organisations such as the No More Landmines in the UK are working to ban them as legitimate weapons. These organisations need all the support that they can get.

The problem is that people are interested in a conflict while it is active and making headlines. When “peace” is achieved public interest declines considerably. This is unfortunate as the landmines remain. The cost of removing landmines is extremely high and almost impossible to meet for worn torn countries.

So how does one attempt to ensure that people’s interest remains focused on the landmine problem? Well artist & activist Will St. Leger came up with a novel and shocking approach. On Sunday 1st April he placed 100 fake ‘landmines’ made from stenciled metal plates in park around Dublin, Ireland.

Will explains: “The reason for doing this was to get people asking themselves “what if the world I walked in was littered with landmines?” They’re nearly all gone now, the Police took away most of them when a tourist called the emergency number to report ‘Landmines’. Afterwards, I wondered who the people of Laos, Cambodia and Iraq gonna call when they step on real landmine?”


 (via Wooster Collective)

Torture and the Future

Torture and the Future: Perspectives from the humanities ( Critical Issues in America, January 2007 – June 2007) is a companion website to an exhibition at the UC Santa Barbara. The exhibition is filled with interesting events which unfortunately all take place over there. I would have loved to listen to some of the lectures and it is unfortunate that they are not available online. However the site also contains a very good links section filled with online recommended reading and other material of interest. This alone is well worth the visit.

You can't say Prison

Say Guantanamo, and most people will think of human rights abuses and prisoners in orange clothes being mistreated, maltreated, denied basic human rights and denied legal representation. All this by a free democratic country. Karen Greenberg (Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law and is the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib and editor of The Torture Debate in America.) writes an interesting note on the blog TomDispatch about how Gunatanamo may be addressed by the media.

It is very difficult not to think Orwellian thoughts about the control of language being the control of society.

  1. Guantanamo is not a prison.
  2. Consistent with not being a prison, Guantanamo has no prisoners, only enemies.
  3. Guantanamo is not about guilt and innocence — or, once an enemy combatant, always an enemy combatant.
  4. No trustworthy lawyers come to Guantanamo.
  5. Recently, at least, few if any reliable journalists have been reporting on Guantanamo.
  6. After years of isolation, the detainees still possess valuable information — especially today.
  7. Guantanamo contains no individuals — inside the wire or out.
  8. Guantanamo’s deep respect for Islam is unappreciated.
  9. At Guantanamo, hard facts are scarce.
  10. Guantanamo houses no contradictions.
  11. Those who fail to reproduce the official narrative are not welcome back.

Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside – knowing that these are the people claiming to be fighting for freedom and democracy worldwide…

(via Markmedia)

Australian Immigration Policy

This is an excerpt from a recent post on Subtopia about an Australian immigration detention center being built on Christmas Island. I was particularly attracted to the technology involved in detaining immigrants. This is not exactly pleasant reading…

Since 2005 Australiaâ??s Department of Immigration has been constructing an “Immigration Reception and Processing Centre.” 2,400 km from Perth, 360 km from Jakarta and nearly 2000 km from Darwin, this deteniton complex is at the far end of the island which, according to this dispatch, is a narrow strip 24 km long and 7 km wide.

Keep in mind, as Angela tells us, â??under Australian law it is possible to intern people extra-judicially (without trial or charge) and, since 2004, to do so indefinitely. Migration detention is, therefore, a wholly administrative matter.â??

So just what exactly are they building out there in them pristine jungles?

Well, it turns out itâ??s not just some rinky dink detention outfit with some barbed-wire fencing and ramshackle barracks cliff-side. No, this is a $396 million tropical prison paradise. Thatâ??s right. For what the government refers to as a â??deterrent to illegal immigrationâ??, it is a state of the art 800-bed prison complex, with electric fences, movement detectors, hundreds of surveillance cameras, hidden microphones in the trees, the works.

[Image: “Camp Howard” – Australia’s very own Guantanamo Bay on Christmas Island, Feb. 2007.]â??The camp on Christmas Island has CCTV linked to a RCR [Remote Control Room] so guards in Canberra can watch detainees around the clock.â?? And planners arenâ??t leaving any thing out for this rugged remote little island prison either. â??Detainees will wear electronic ID tags or cards, identifying them wherever they are.â?? While the place crawls with guards wandering in between a perimeter of checkpoint cubicles, there is a hospital, operating theatre and visiting rooms, solitary cells, and even family units and a nursery. â??Everything can be controlled remotely â?? doors, TV, radio.â??

{Image: Floor plan for the Detention Facility at Christmas Island.]In addition to developing this offshore island-chain barrier against migration, the Australian government has launched its border patrol ship, the Triton, dubbed the â??prison shipâ?? by critics. This â??98-metre trimaranâ?? is said to be capable of detaining â??30 people for up to a month” on board and is “armed with twin machine guns.â??

[Image: The ACV Triton Australian Border Patrol Ship.]While officially deployed to patrol and intercept illegal fisherman, others are more concerned what the Triton could mean for migrants stranded at sea already facing one of the most conservative immigration-tolerant nations in the world.

Update: The last line should probably read immigration-intolerant…

Sweden wants cluster bombs

Todayâ??s op-ed piece in the local newspaper Göteborgs Posten is written by Frida Blom the chairperson for Svenska Freds- och Skiljedomsföreningen which is Swedenâ??s largest organization for piece peace. The reason for her article is the Norwegian conference beginning today aimed at bringing about a reduction in the use of cluster bombs.

Apparently Sweden is going to back away from earlier promises to lead and call for reductions in the use of cluster bombs. In December 2006 the Swedish Minister of Defence replied to questions in parliament stating that the governments was going to play an active role in international work against cluster bombs including working for an international ban and actively participated in the coming Norwegian conference on banning cluster bombs. The minister also stated that he was going to do away with Swedenâ??s supply of a (all?) cluster bombs (bombkapsel 90), create a Swedish ban on cluster bombs, and stop the production of bombkapsel 90 for the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighter.

Now it seems that the Minister has discovered that Sweden needs cluster bombs to defend Sweden. So he unfortunately cannot keep his word.

The latter position is either ignorance or bullshit on a higher level. Cluster bombs are not useful defensive tools. They are small bombs which spread over a large area. Many do not detonate, which has the effect of making re-building society after a war a costly and painfully slow process.

Dr. Strangelove

So why would the minister change his mind? Cash is king. No point in trying to sell the fighter planes if you also cannot sell the messy stuff.

Aaa â?? Swedish neutrality. Hypocrisy on a higher level.

Depiction of Resistance

Ever wondered who gets to be portrayed as a brave resistance fighter and why? The role of the media in bringing â??the storyâ?? to the attention of the public is crucial. Unfortunately the public (thatâ??s us) is too occupied to carry out real investigations so we generally tend to accept anything the media tells us. Naturally with varying degrees of skepticism.

The skepticism depends to a large degree on several factors: the trustworthiness of the source, the importance of what is being said, the personal impact on our lives, our beliefs and cultures. But mostly we (the public) tend to accept what is being presented before us. Sad, but true.

The first main barrier is the choice to tell the story or not. Certain stories get a great deal of press attention while others get little or none. The next barrier is the presentation of the story. Will those resisting be described as the white or the black hats? Will resistance be legitimized or criminalized? The third barrier is the reconstruction after the fact. What will the victor say of the vanquished? What will be the persistent historic truth once the conflict is over?

Julius Caesar vanquished all of Gaul. After the task he wrote his account of the wars. Generations of children have since then learned their basic Latin language by reading exciting excerpts from his book. Even if we no longer learn Latin Caesars version of the truth remains the dominant story. He was â??forcedâ?? to attack the Gaul in order to protect the Gallic friends of Rome. The fact that he achieved personal fame, an enormous fortune and eventually sole power of Rome was beside the point.

The ability to resist does not build upon the ability to control the dominant truth â?? but no resistance (from a local protest to outright war) can afford to ignore it.

An exciting example of this is the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers from wikipedia:

The film depicts an episode in the war of independence in the then French Algeria, in the capital city of Algiers. It is loosely based on the account of one of the military commanders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), Saadi Yacef, in his memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger. The book, written by Yacef while a prisoner of the French, was meant as propaganda to boost morale among FLN militants. After independence, Yacef was released and became a part of the new government. The Algerian government gave its backing to have a film of his memoirs made and he approached the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas with the project. The two dismissed Yacef’s initial treatment as biased toward the Algerian side. While sympathetic with the cause of Algerian nationalism, they insisted on dealing with the events from a distanced point-of-view.

Monbiot on Torture

If my conscience were to have a name, then among the choices [for such a name] would be Monbiot. The author George Monbiot regularly publishes articles in The Guardian but even better he often (always?) posts these articles on his blog after a short while.

In his latest post â??The Darkest Corner of the Mindâ?? Monbiot writes about the effects of an innovative form of torture. The use of total sensory deprivation, in many cases, causes what Monbiot calls a social lobotomy. He describes it as the erasing of the human mind.

This â??newâ?? form of torture is practiced widely in larger American prisons and has found new practitioners among the interrogators employed in the war (another malapropism!) on terrorism.

Its chilling reading â?? it should be required reading.

Poisoning Hearts and Minds

You must have seen the books or heard the complaints about the US trying to figure out why they are so disliked (not only in Iraq). The US believed that they were liberators and were surprised how quickly they lost their liberation status. The operation to win the heats and minds of the people of Iraq has not worked and many wonder why.

But reading about the abuses caused by the military makes it easy to understand why the situation is going so badly. OK, so itâ??s a few bad apples you might argue. But unfortunately the few bad apples theory is wrong.

In a recent video posted to YouTube (watch it here) you can watch a scene where soldiers on a truck make children run for a bottle of water.  The scene is being filmed by one of the soldiers on the truck. Both the cameraman and the soldier holding the water are laughing and commenting on how far the children will run for water. Itâ??s a great joke for them.

The soldiers conduct, while not illegal was most definitely immoral and seemingly oblivious to the reality that these children actually live in, a reality that was largely caused by them.

It also yet another severe contradiction to our so called image as “liberators” of the middle east.

The mainstream media has yet to pick up on the story though the Pentagon is investigating the videos and the evidence is in the videos the soldiers posted themselves online that anyone can see, for the time being.

Not only did the soldiers involved behave in an unacceptable manner they thought their conduct was so acceptable and so humorous that they posted it online for the entire world to see.

(Dreams of Liberty)

OK so you still want to claim that it’s a few bad apples. No it is not. The soldiers thought the scene was so funny and that their prank would be appreciated by so many that they posted it on YouTube themselves. This is not a case of people doing something wrong and attempting to hide it.

The poison that is being spread in the minds of these children will not wash away easily. It makes you wonder what their feelings towards the west will be in thirty years from now.

Spineless Human Rights in Sweden

There was a time when the Swedish government dared to look any power straight in the eye and state loudly and clearly that crimes against humanity were wrong. Maybe our best time for this was when, in the Christmas of 1972, the Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke out against the US bombing of Hanoi comparing it with other great crimes against humanity. A position such as this led to a freeze in diplomatic relations. Since then the relations have been mended but not at the cost of our honour (a dangerous word, I know).

Today we sell whatever we can. And no matter whether the politicians are on the right or left the thought of taking a stand for that which is morally right is nowhere near the agenda.

On the 18 December 2001 Mohammed Alzery an Egyptian national seeking asylum in Sweden was picked up by Swedish Security Police and informed that his application for asylum had been rejected a few hours earlier. He was not allows to communicate with his lawyer or family, and within hours he was transported to Bromma airport. He was then handed over to some ten foreign (US and Egyptian) agents in civilian clothes and hoods and forcibly sent back to Egypt.

All this despite the fact that he had obviously been tortured and had reason to fear for his life.

How could the government do this? Well easy the asked the Egyptians to promise not to torture or kill him. When they agreed (all this in writing). The Swedes washed their hands of the affair.

The Swedes wrote: â??It is further the understanding of the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden that these persons will not be subjected to inhuman treatment or punishment of any kindâ?¦and further that they will not be sentenced to deathâ?¦â??The Egyptian Government responded in writing: â??We herewith assert our full understanding to all items of this memoire, concerning the way of treatment upon repatriate from your government, with full respect to their personal and human rights. This will be done according to what the Egyptian constitution and law stipulates.â??

How civilised. Its bullshit, everyone must have known it was bullshit, but so civilised. Which spineless Swedish civil servant typed this crap? Do you sleep at night? Or do you (I wish I could ask you – whoever you are – these questions in person one day) wake up screaming? You should you know…

Naturally he was tortured. He was then tortured again for telling the world he had been tortured. How can a state write the letter Sweden wrote? Simply by asking a state not to torture a specific individual is an admission that this kind of treatment occurs. Sweden played an active part in the torture – no Swedes actually did the dirty work, we simply outsourced it.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee says Sweden broke the international ban on torture for its actions. The Swedish government had already been criticised for the deportations, including the by the UNâ??s Torture Committee.

We have come a long, long way from when we looked superpowers in the eye armed only with our morality – and won.

Robot Machine Gun Sentry

Samsung together with Korea university has developed the machine-gun equipped robotic sentry.

It is equipped with two cameras with zooming capabilities one for day time and one for infrared night vision. It has a sophisticated pattern recognition which can detect the difference between humans and trees, and a 5.5mm machine-gun. The robot also has a speaker to warn the intruder to surrender or get a perfect headshot. The robots will go on sale by 2007 for $ 200,000 and will be deployed on the border between North and South Korea. (Gizmondo).

The promotional video reflects a great deal of the lack of reflection among designers and developers – loud music and effects.

A machine is created to kill. No moral dimension – the machine executes commands (sorry bad pun). But what will happen when the software fails? Or even worse when the software works but a situation requiring tact and judgment occurs?

Obviously such a machine will do as it is told. It will be unable to interpret new situations and it will open fire.