War criminal notes.
Someone scratched out his eyes.
NDTV have a record on this topic which is, erm, unenviable. For example, they had run a phone in poll to see if their audience wanted Afzal Mohammed Guru hanged, held before the court gave its verdict, on what was a frame-up according to many, and the ‘torturer for the nation’ proudly proclaiming his role in getting Afzal’s confession… So it is deeply troubling that even now Police action cracks down on legitimate dissent. Cultural event! Maybe there is more to it, but it looks dubious to me – what threat was this demonstration to the nation? Kanhiya Kumar zindabad.
Full story here.
Jing-Mei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, Taipei, December 2015
Co-written with John Hutnyk
Although this will no doubt change in years to come, Jing-Mei currently seems to occupy a tricky position as both memorial site, prison museum and cultural park. It is missing from the current edition of the Taiwan Lonely Planet whose maps of Taipei narrowly crop it off. Both the 2-28 Memorial Park and Museum and the Chiayi Prison museum are given decent attention.
Visiting Jing-Mai on New Year’s Eve (31 December 2015), it was almost completely deserted bar a woman exercising her border collie. Although it was a damp, grey afternoon which over-emphasized the new brutalism of some of the sites architecture, it was still difficult to imagine the appeal of the space as a cultural park in better weather given the proliferation of creative and cultural parks throughout Taipei and Taiwan. The logic of defining the space in relation to other restoration and repurposing also seems problematic given many of these parks such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park (a former winery turned into a series of design-concept stores, cafes, galleries and an arthouse cinema) celebrate culture as consumerism first and foremost.
So who exactly is Jing-Mei aimed at?
The history of the site is documented in the park brochure. Its military education, military prison and military court uses are the stuff of the exhibitions, but especially the ongoing court functions (until 2007) also fold into the emerging story the museum. As with the first displays at Abashiri prison museum in Hokkaido, a portion of the work of the brochure is to document the efforts made to preserve artefacts and buildings for the prison museum – a narrative about itself, which is revealing in its frankly told tale of political manoeuvres. In 2001 the vice president of Taiwan, Annette Lu Hsui-Lin visited and learning that the Ministry of Defence proposed to reconstruct the site, she recommended preservation, and in July 2002 the Human Rights Advisory Panel under the Office of the President tasked the Council of Cultural Affairs to preserve the site as a park. Relocating the Ministry of Defence court functions was largely completed by 2007, and this very valuable and large urban area was renamed, from the ‘Memorial Park of Court Martial During the Communist rebellion’ to, on Human Rights Day, 10th December 2007, as ‘Taiwan Human Rights Jing-mei Park’. Change of Government in Taiwan in 2008 meant another change of name ‘after much deliberation’, with ‘opposition from various human rights groups’ and a public hearing in April 2009 so that in 2010 the park and the facility at Green Island in the south were made a part of the newly announced ‘Taiwan Human Rights Museum’. The brochure ends with a flourish: ‘The objectives of the museum were to preserve the two historic sites and to promote human rights education by fully utilizing the four major functions of museum: to preform studies and research, to handle collections and preservation work, to organise exhibitions and publications, and to educate the public and promote knowledge’ (Brochure of preparatory Office of the National Human Rights Museum, middle pages).
Having visited Jing-Mei a few days after Chiayi prison museum, it was difficult not to draw direct comparisons between the two sites and to reflect on the ways in which different forms of prison museum underpinned by apparently very different ideologies and political objectives re: audience and narrative might nevertheless be complicit in reproducing dominant discourses on incarceration. The Chiayi inmates were absent but in Jing-Mei they are very much present as dissidents, readers, mistaken identities, unjustly jailed or otherwise put upon victims. They are referred to throughout as ‘victims’ by the English language audio-guide. The narrative of their everyday experience structures the layout of the displays in the buildings, from courtroom and lawyer consultation room (though lawyers are de-emphasized as court appointed) through health and shopping, living quarters (bugs), eating, reading, washing and relaxing. Guards are absent in this case.
There is a strange tension at work where the careful reconstruction of the various living spaces of the prison facilities ‘humanizes’ the experience of those detained there and, as such, does more perhaps to affirm a well-regulated carceral state which includes a prison library, provisions store and visitor room than spaces (such as Chiayi prison museum) now devoid of such markers or in which such referents have been repositioned within glass cabinets.
There is an attempt to ‘reconstruct’ objects within the space in which they were used, arrangements on a doctor’s desk, packets and tins on shelves which despite being ‘under glass’ are focused less on the authenticity of the objects (many are replicas or ‘imagined’ as representative of the time and space) and more on creating scenes of snapshots of how life was for those incarcerated under the White Terror than a celebration of relics and fragments taken out of context.
The yard outside the cellblocks which it is possible to walk around was where the inmates were allowed to exercise for 15 minutes, 3 times a week. Although the yard is compact in line with the small size of the prison itself, it is difficult not to draw comparison with the cages where those kept in solitary confinement in today’s U.S. supermaxes (but elsewhere too) get their exercise. In this respect, the role of memorials such as Jing-Mei but also places like Robben Island and Camp des Milles should not simply be about collective memory of human rights violations associated with now defunct political regimes. Calling to mind the notion of ‘human rights’ in this way seems to echo Slavoj Žižek’s now dated but no less relevant ‘Against Human Rights’ paper in New Left Review. In it he claims that human rights are evoked to designate those who have lost all possibility of their ‘humanity’, stripped of personal, national, religious and cultural identity. Human rights only come into play when there is nothing left of what makes us more than biologically human. Might not the same be true of human rights memorials if they only work to ‘remember’. If once again ‘human rights’ only come into play after a moment is past? Instead, we might look at how such spaces permit a questioning of the ongoing techniques of exclusion, punishment (torture) and surveillance which rely on extra-judicial acts regardless of whether those subject to such techniques have been sentences via judicial or non-judicial procedures and, in turn, consider the ways in which the domestic criminal ‘other’ is constructed and framed within contemporary sites of detention according to the same or comparable discourses of fear associated with notions of global terror.
Coming out into the yard from the cells was itself something like a role-play. It was, I think, inevitable to look up and imagine what life within the courtyard, with only a rectangle of sky, despite being in the middle of a large city, would be like. Immediately sound became more important, and the sight was of either walls and security towers, or the distant but small sky. Isolation cell – an experience often depicted in cinema and literature, but here for the first time in my experience enacted thought the sequence of leaving the oppressive close cells and moving into the yard. And these cells were nowhere near as small or as claustrophobia inducing as the ones at Chiayi.
This too was perhaps set up through the earlier role-play with the telephone. We have long been aware that the issue of prisoner or detainee presence in the narrative is an important marker, perhaps something taught by the critique of older histories by the subalterns school and other modes of counter-privilege discourse, that of course then fetishise and celebrate resistance narratives in a kind of mirror exoticism way, but in this case the prisoner experience foregrounding the narrative is seductive. It sets up experiences of albeit remote but empathetic connection. The phone connects the ‘victims’ to the visitors. But the central place for victim narratives just also be considered with its filters. No prisoner, convict or detainee narrative is not recorded under duress. Even where such records are admitted as interrogation transcripts, the intervening screen of perspex and perspective sits between the visitor and the inmates. Role-play with the telephone does not invoke this dilemma, but rather pretends towards accessing unmediated experience – what is it like to talk with my son on an old black telephone through a mediating glass, with security camera by the ceiling corner looking down at us recording? The screen does not convey the duress that was always, to some degree is always, the undertone of prisoner testimony.
Do such sites via both role-playing and their status as ‘exceptional’ sites allow a persistent ‘bracketing’ out which encourages complicity and passivity on the part of those who visit and attempt to engage at whatever level, from whatever background? Or do they demonstrate the difficulty of calling into question the carceral within contemporary society?
As an aside, I also wanted to include a reference within this post to a slightly bizarre collection of laminated posters stuck to the toilet doors in the female restrooms. The stock images of famous, primarily European monuments with short maxims printed below in English and Mandarin seem both at odds with the site’s curated narratives and exhibits but also lacking in an obvious objective as either affirmation or critique of the official curation. I have no idea who posted these here, why or how long they had been there for. Nevertheless, there was clearly some intentionality behind them even if this was simply to provide some amusement to those based at the site.
Without trying to read anything into their existence or the choice of images (celebrated monuments from elsewhere), they did make me think about the potential to disrupt or subvert curated historical narratives evoking in some sense (despite the intentionality) Barthes’ idea of the punctum. Although the punctum is, precisely, not something we can actively seek out, it does strike me that there will always be something, an object, a reaction, an act, occurring within the space of the prison museum that doesn’t fit the intended narrative, curation or guided visit. In future I’m going to pay more attention to these. SF
3 Days of Mass Resistance
Oct 22-24 NYC:
STOP Police Terror
Which Side Are You On?
Thurs, October 22, No More Stolen Lives, Say Their Names
Fri, October 23 “Shut Down Rikers!
Sat, October 24: National March to STOP Police Terror: Which Side are You On?
Initiated by Carl Dix and Cornel West, #RiseUpOctober will bring together 100 families who’ve lost loved ones to police violence, prominent voices of conscience, students, clergy, artists, and more. These 3 days, and the massive Saturday Oct 24 march, will launch a more defiant, more determined resistance aimed at nothing less than stopping
the epidemic of illegitimate police terror and murder targeting Black and Brown people. This is a resistance that refuses to turn a blind eye to the thousands of lives stolen and families shattered, that will not be cowed by media and government vilification or pacified by empty promises of change, but insists Stop Police Terror! Which Side Are You On?
The 3 Days:
Thursday, October 22:
No More Stolen Lives, Say Their Names
A Public Reading and Remembrance: A Demand for Justice.
Over 40 families of people killed by police will gather to tell their stories, accompanied by prominent voices of conscience reading the names of just some of the 1000s of lives stolen.
2:00 pm, Borough Hall, Brooklyn: National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Murder, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
Friday, October 23 9:00 am
“Shut Down Rikers!”
A mass, nonviolent direct action. People of conscience are putting their bodies on the line to call for this torture chamber to be shut down. Details here.
Saturday, October 24
National March to STOP Police Terror: Which Side are You On?
11:00am – Washington Square Park, NYC 11 am DETAILS HERE
1:00pm – March
4:00pm – Closing Rally at Bryant Park
Students, religious congregations, contingents from housing projects, and people from all across the country – we will gather in the thousands and tens of thousands with the demand: Terror and Murder By Police Must STOP.
#RiseUpOctober Advisory Board:
Carl Dix, Cornel West, Gina Belafonte, Eve Ensler, Jamal Joseph,
Arturo O’Farrill, Rev. Stephen Phelps
Many prominent voices of conscience have endorsed the Call for #RiseUpOctober including:
Ed Asner; educator Bill Ayers; Harry Belafonte; actor Ty Burrell; actor Mark Ruffalo; Noam Chomsky; theologian James Cone; actor Peter Coyote; lawyer Martin Garbus; Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Bernard Lown; activist Cindy Sheehan; Green Party candidate Jill Stein; David Strathairn; Quentin Tarantino; artist Hank Willis Thomas; singer Dan Zanes, and many others.
Artists and writers: Ken Burns, Shepard Fairey, Alice Walker, Cornel West, and Gilbert Young have donated their work to the $100,000 Indiegogo campaign to bring 100 families from across the country to NYC.
Many dozens of faith leaders from across the country are organizing with hundreds of students, grassroots activists and organizations.
Statement from physicians: challenge to donate to Rise Up October:
Confronting the cancer of racism, silence is intolerable if we wish to remain human. Since the founding of our nation, this malignancy has been eating away at our pretensions of democracy. The reason for its persistence is not merely a cultural and social legacy of slavery. It relates to a system of governance that appropriates wealth to a few while ignoring the dire needs of the many who produce the wealth. As Dr. Martin Luther King, in his memorable speech at the Riverside Church in New York City nearly 40 years ago stated, “The time comes when silence is betrayal.”
Bernard Lown, M.D. (winner 1985 Nobel Prize for Peace)
We are physicians who join with Dr. Lown in this match challenge. With love and solidarity with these Stolen Lives families who have suffered so much and are so courageous. Rise Up October!
The film “Zero Dark Thirty”, directed by Katherine Bigilow, written by Mark Boal, was careful to doctor any non-sponsored ads from the side of (some of) the buses shown – number 10, not number 30 – in the recreation of the July 7 2005 London bombings.
This first image of the erased cola ad is un-clear enough. You can see its a bottle, but cola did not have the bottle to go through with name association here. We can of course understand why, since 7/7 was a terrible event, and its consequences extend on and on. From the death of the day, to that of Jean Charles de Menezes and literally thousands and thousands in the horrific ongoing aftermath.
Even then, when the bus is trundling along London’s streets, to a Londoner I guess, it does look a little strange – the empty red panel like the stain of naked (undercover corporate) terror on our screens:
And it of course gets you to thinking of all the coincidences that are associated with this bus. Having written about the buses in the intro to PANTOMIME TERROR, I am still weirded out by the uncanny aspects, that sure, I get it, are not conspiracies – such as the Peter Power rehearsal of a terror attack at the same time in the same stations sort of thing. Taking all that in, with the effort that has gone into removing ads from these images that are, yes, surely, bad associations, and indeed painful associations, I am still fascinated by media working. What in the film is called tradecraft – the skills of misdirection in media surveillance.
July 7 is overdetermined. I guess there is reason enough to overspray anything that may reek of ambiguity and mixed messages. You could be forgiven for thinking that effective tradecraft seems to be well honed in Hollywood. And indeed beyond, especially because this front-on shot from the film, which quotes or recreates a shot we all know. Here is the film version, below, but the original seems to not appear all that often anymore – it is no longer the go-to image of the 7/7 atrocity:
Though we do recognise it. Here again we have no ad on the side of the bus. Maybe its worth going back to look at the actual pics of the day. You can see them with commentary that is an earlier version than that offered in the intro to Pantomime Terror, here: Undercover transportsPDF. Or in shorter form, without the essay, here. Or let’s have it from the newspaper on July 8 2005:
I’ve also written about the cropping of the image in articles that illustrate studies of tradecraft by the state authorities- I think cropping also does a certain duty to edit out critical thinking,as we cannot handle ambiguity. What I cannot handle is being managed, being taken as someone who needs a clear message, full frontal. I think that is the atrocity too – plus the wider bombing campaign justified by this propaganda, this tradecraft. See and example of such cropping here:
So its not at all, not at all new, to say it as there is plenty of reason to rethink the film – Zero Tark Dhirty – is wholly fiction, and as all the Seymour Hersh stuff attests to as well, there is plenty here. But mostly I am wondering if the Cola corporation had originally been on the side of the bus in the film and later pulled out, or what happened? How did the bus used in the film go from cola ad to no ad, and the actual ad – bold and brilliant, total film – has been erased as well, while the film itself worked pretty much as an ad from beginning to end for the CIA.
Funny how the backdrop here of the last scene of the film, as the heroic secret agent flies off in the transport, looks sort of like a (false) flag. Just saying.
It has often been noted that war is hell, or ‘heck’ in the old 1970s ‘M*A*S*H’ anti-war comedy version, but the cold war too has its unwelcome replays as austerity today, this time as grotesque rerun of terror and economic malaise.
For many in the West, a first look at ‘Asia’ came with Altman’s 1970 film M*A*S*H following the adventures of a front line medical unit in the Korean war, but the Vietnam War was the allegorical context. The long-running television series featured Alan Alda as Hawkeye and his bumbling foil Major Frank Burns, an incompetent officer and surgeon played by Larry Lindville, who offered the mortal paraphrase – ‘war is heck’. An occasional character, the paranoid Colonel Flag, played by Edward Winter, should also be remembered for his surrealist reinforcement of the absolute winning incoherence of the phrase ‘military intelligence’.