Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Great Wall 6?

[Image: Beijing, China, via the the New York Times in an article Beijing Hides Dilapidated Buildings. Photo by Doug Kanter, 2008.]

Let me just quickly mention, in what is claimed to be part of an urban beautification plan for the Olympics, Chinese officials in Beijing have taken now to walling off parts of the city that could not be 'razed and remade' in time, and where mostly migrant families and poor communities struggle to survive in a shabby commercial part of town that has so far managed to avoid the claw of redevelopment.
The New York Times writes, “along Beijing’s central axis in neighborhoods that have been gutted to make the city look clean and orderly for the Olympics” veils of green plastic netting and 10-foot tall brick walls have essentially become the black markers for an exercise in urban censorship. If Beijing were a book being written for the Olympics, entire chapters have been selectively inked out. But, come on, this is the least bit surprising.

[Image: Beijing, China, via the the New York Times in an article Beijing Hides Dilapidated Buildings. Photo by Doug Kanter, 2008.]

I wrote about an image a couple of weeks ago, of the Chinese military practicing an anti-terror tactic on a small inflatable house for allegedly a hostage rescue exercise. The Olympic security dills are officially known as “Great Wall 5,” but I found the image curious in light of the massive forced evictions that have taken place in order to transform the topology of Beijing for the Olympics.
Now, we read about this new patchwork of walls and makeshift barriers curbing over parts of the city to cover up the “eyesores” and rundown neighborhoods from foreign visitor’s views, and that would somehow detract from the Olympic experience. Whatever, as if China could actually fool the world into thinking it is immune to urban poverty.
But, as the article rightly points out, it’s also preventing the migrants from not only being able to see anything themselves in terms of the fanfare and parade except for the face of perhaps what we may as well call Great Wall 6, but it also appears to be part of a government strategy to starve the area of its commerce in order to force the real estate moguls to cave in to giving up the land for a certain price.

[Image: Beijing, China, via the the New York Times in an article Beijing Hides Dilapidated Buildings. Photo by Doug Kanter, 2008.]

After receiving “a mysterious notice” that appeared beside one shop, that read “In keeping with the government’s request to rectify the Olympic environment, a wall will need to be built around No. 93 South Tianqiao Road,” amidst rains, protests and police escorts, that's just what locals found, and just what the government did.

[Image: Beijing, China, via the the New York Times in an article Beijing Hides Dilapidated Buildings. Photo by Doug Kanter, 2008.]

Obvious questions: how long will the walls last? What will be their eventual impact on the migrant neighborhoods, will it be fatal? What do these walls really have to do with the real estate wars between the government and developers? Will the walls incite uprisings, political violence, during, before, and after the Olympics? What are the human rights implications of walling off poor neighborhoods like this?
Is this just another installation of the greatest show on earth - Fenceland?
Well, regardless, China’s pedigree and reputation as the greatest wall builders through out history will surely get to live on.

[View the New York Times slideshow here. Photos were taken by Doug Kanter.]

"Prisoner Boxes"

Thanks to one of our readers, some freaky images have come our way. Omar sent me a link to these “wooden imprisonment crates” used in Iraq by American forces to detain insurgents and terrorist suspects.
They were published by Russ Rick at Memory Hole only a few days ago. After he spotted a mention of these crates -- referred to as “prisoner boxes” -- in a February 2005 issue of Vanity Fair (which unfortunately I cannot locate online), he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Central Command demanding photographs of the boxes. And it’s kind of amazing, actually. Nine and a half months later, CentCom came through and sent him what you see here.


First and foremost, the prisoner boxes, in my opinion, are another stark reminder that torture is, in and of itself, a space; that is, that torture happens within a space as much as it defines a space – even if it is out in the open for all to see. Sometimes, however, only the simplest rudimentary unit of space is all that is required to constitute torture.
The prisoner box is anything but elaborate. Look at it, looks like a campsite outhouse. It is far from a specialized torture module of any kind. It does not have the sadistic anatomical engineering of an iron maiden, or even the spectacular proximity of a public thrashing where civic space has been converted into an arena for the collective participation in cruelty. It is very simply and adequately, a box made of plywood. It could be useful for so many things. However, when a person is made to sit inside one in the 100+ degree summer heat of Iraq all day long, week after week – it is then probably the cheapest human oven ever designed. It becomes torture space in its simplest form, reduced to its barest essence; the prisoner box as a minimal cubic space of biopolitics.


In some ways, it is the perfect architectural co-conspirator with that of the space of waterboarding. Whereas in that scenario, all that is necessary is a wooden plank with shackles to rest the body so that an appropriate dousing of water can be poured over the face to simulate the effect of drowning. Here, the wooden planks minus the shackles enforce the total absence of water, instead increasing dehydration and the cooking of the brain. They are both torture products of the same barebones ilk. Although, with the prisoner box there are no other props needed. Torture is the space itself.
And the fact that they’re “boxes” – I mean, the anonymous and ephemeral implications of “torture crates” are even more harrowing than any elaborate torture architecture, if you ask me. Because, as sick as a sophisticated torture chamber may be, at least it still perceives the subjects of torture as something worthy of greater attention. But to just file people away inside these desert closets to idly rot in the sun – in the basest form of torment – is to suggest the body is not even worth a dignified torture, if such dignity could exist.
There is also something about "torture crates" in the age of a global economy, too, that is particularly creepy. It hints at a kind of industry, torture in the form of shipping and receiving; an import/export business. But, I’ve gone over this thought already before.
I can’t think of any nature of space being more political than torture space -- except for perhaps the womb.


Anyway, I guess what I find just as spooky as the existence of the boxes themselves is the ease of their potential erasure from the landscape. When I think about a spatial legacy of the ‘war on terror’, architectural objects and relics that we may look back upon, say, 200 years from now, as a forensic geography of the ‘war on terror’’s narrative of torture, perhaps the way we look back upon the ancient remains of war from the Dark Ages as artifacts of barbarism; or even the more modern ruins of the Cold War as living museums of institutional paranoia – these “prisoner boxes” probably won’t last. They are this way the perfect epitome of the ‘war on terror’’s environmental imprint, or the lack thereof, in that they are made fleeting, detached, improvised, totally exceptional, politically and physically; meaning, they are designed to technically no longer exist once they've fulfilled their usefulness. Unlike the colossal shells of megaprisons, they are disappearing acts, blips on the future radars of human rights organizations around the world; collapsible serial boxes for an evidenceless trace of the ‘war on terror’ architectural secrecy.
I don’t’ know, you must forgive the excessive overspeak here, but perhaps they may try to look back one day and say, without these grainy images, that torture never truly existed, or just extend the debate about torture’s definition ad nauseam. And certainly, these images alone are not evidence of torture, per se, but at least they help undermine the politics of visuality that keeps the spaces of torture hidden; at least they enable us to see all that is required, or not as the case may be, to spatialize torture. So, well done Russ.

[All Images were obtained and published by Russ Rick on July 23, 2008. Technical note: These photographs were released as black and white print-outs by the US Central Command on 10 Nov 2005 in fulfillment of FOIA request #2005-085, filed by Russ Kick on 27 Jan 2005.]

(And thanks again to Omar for bringing this to our attention.)

Related: Torture Space: Architecture in Black; Shipping Justice; Carceral Wombs ; In the Business of Blast Walls.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Peripheral Milit_Urb 25

[Image: Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, via this article, Iraq City Has Brittle Calm and War Scars. Photo by Moses Saman, NYT 2008.]


Armed and Humanitarian // Billions of Dollars Unaccounted For in Iraq, Pentagon IG Reports // Blackwater: From the Nisour Square Massacre to the Future of the Mercenary Industry // Is KBR Defenseless? // A General's False Testimony on KBR // Army Overseer Tells of Ouster Over KBR Stir // First International Labor Conference in Iraq // Byron Dorgan's Contracting Fraud Crusade // Indicted Saudi gets $80 million US contract // The Pentagon's Billion-Dollar Babies // Top Engineers Shun Military; Concern Grows // US 'to scrap' contractor immunity // Iraq's electricity-starved capital goes solar // Baghdad Base's New Generators Run on Trash // MI5 asks architects to keep plans secret // Building Terror Through Design // Retooling Homeland Security Grants for IEDs: Enlist the Building Industry // Left of Boom: The Struggle to Defeat Roadside Bombs // Revealed: Secret Plan to Keep Iraq Under U.S. Control // Occupation Plan for Iraq Faulted in Army History // On Language - Irregular Warfare // Simulating Urban Warfare // Spatial Syntax of Insurgency in Iraq // Is the Global System a Frontier? // Why We Can't See America's Ziggurats in Iraq // What Exactly Is a Permanent Base? // Electrical Risks at Iraq Bases Are Worse Than Said // "More than 100 terror camps" in operation in northwestern Pakistan // Iraq City Has Brittle Calm and War Scars // Baghdad Embassy Has Its Hands Full With Hill Visitors // Oh, well, how about a new casino for Baghdad's Green Zone? // While they’re at it, why not hand out cash to people on the streets, that should help the situation.

[Image: Photo by Mandar Marathe.]


Government May Have Massive Surveillance Program for Use in "National Emergency" // "Terrorist" Watch-List Hits One Million Names // Camera system to track eye movements of shoppers // The War on Photography // UK Home Secretary green-lights harassment of photographers in public places // Militarizing Your Cyberspace // Would a virtual 'scramble suit' protect us from CCTV? // New Spy Cam Software Blurs Faces of the Innocent // Cities Gone Wireless: Safety Or Surveillance? // Sonar enters the third dimension // NYPD water warrior // Experts unveil 'cloak of silence'

[Image: See and Avoid Map of Military Bases and Military Operation Areas Along US/Mexico Border, 2008.]


Every Military Base in Google Earth Mash-Up // A BRAC for Generals? // Obama: Blackwater Troubling, Here to Stay // Does the White House Have a Secret Laser Defense? // Air Force Demonstrates 'Ghost Imaging' // U.S. Military Gets Newest Kill-Bot // $100K Homeland Security Prize // Iraqi Extremists' New Weapon: 'Flying IED' // How To: Visit a Secret Nuclear Bunker // Nation's Spies: Climate Change Could Spark War // U.S. Capitol Bomb Squad: Green, Looking to Quit // Australia's Top Secret 'Plan Mercator' // Umbrellas vs. Suicide Bombers // Chad's Budding Roadblock Entrepreneurs // Inside Africa's 'PlayStation War'

[Image: Albania still has tens of thousands of concrete bunkers sprouting like mushrooms across the country, remnants from the Cold War. Photo by Bill Fink.]


On the Democratic Sublime // Geopolitics to Geopoetics / articulating the cracks in the worlds of power // US car dealer in free gun offer // Brazil sees rise in bulletproof cars // Rule Change Would Permit Weapons in National Parks // My Haunted House // Pentagon Memorial Previews to Families // Islamabad's Red Mosque // Killed reporters' memorial opens // Emotional hunt for WWI remains // Colossus Mark II rebuild // Mexicans dig for 'disappeared' // Travelling into Korea's demilitarized zone at Panmunjom // South Korean tourist shot dead by North soldier // Monumentalising Defeat II // 17/5001 – The Honecker Bunker // Abandoned Embassies // New US embassy seen as barbarian at Berlin's gate // The U.S. Embassy in Berlin // The Akwizgran Discrepancy

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

An Olympic Distraction

[Image: Chinese paramilitary officers and a police officer surround a mockup house where "suspects" are held up in Xuchang, central China's Henan province, on Friday June 20, 2008. (AP Photo/EyePress.]

This is old news for you by now for sure but, as I am currently stuck in my own holding pattern, I need to throw something up here so you don't think Subtopia got mysteriously detained and interrogated for no legal reason whatsoever. Bottom line is, I’ve gone a little awol struggling with some health issues, but hope to rebound sooner than later. So, enough of that, just bare with me.
Some quotes on China's Olympic Security Preparations.

Via The Big Picture, Earlier in June, China launched a week-long series of anti-terrorist drills called "Great Wall 5", in preparation for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games.” The drills involved emergency responders, "police forces, the People's Armed Police, the People's Liberation Army and the health, environmental protection, meteorology and transportation departments." according to China's Xinhua News Agency

Great Wall 5. There’s something so simple, cliché, and perfect about that name. It’s not at all cryptic like the Pentagon's secret programs, you know -- Ordeal Lancer, Rugged Vortex. No, no. Great Wall 5 is almost just what it says it is, I guess, save the stones – another great wall project in China. The fifth one, in fact; a special non-architectural generation of Great Wall. Interesting. I wonder what 2, 3 and 4 were all about, in what dimensions they served. Further, how many great walls will eventually become a reality, in some form or another, in China? There's probably a perfectly good explanation for #5, but I like it, the catalog nature of it. As if China were actually just getting started in a long profitable future of building many many Great Walls, in different configurations and variations, and this time good old number 5 just happened to fit the bill. The fifth generation Great Wall of China, oh how far it's come. It's numeric tag almost makes it sound like a product; it's the Great Wall of China meets IKEA. Soon other countries will be ordering Great Walls in various models and sizes ready to fit in to their own defensive schemes. They'll become security architecture masterpieces, canonized like Beethoven's symphonies. Dah-Dah-Dah Daaaaaaaaaahhhnnnnn.... Whatever. If there were an Olympic event for babbling, I might have a chance. Since there isn't one, I'll move along.

China has created a special 100,000 anti-terrorist force for the Olympics, reinforcing the impression that the Games will be dominated by tough security measures. They said that an elite commando unit, known as "Snow Wolf", had been practising anti-terror drills. ("The 300-strong unit was tasked with counter-terrorism, riot control and other special tasks, such as hijacking and bomb disposal. Each officer of the unit was outfitted with 300,000 yuan(42,900 U.S. dollars) worth of equipment." - source) The anti-terror squad will be backed up by a 400,000 city volunteers – the neighbourhood committees who are the ears and eyes of the Party and the police in residential streets and compounds – and a million "social volunteers. These include the regular army of bus stop assistants and pedestrian crossing monitors. - Telegraph 500 specific plans for security, transport, fire-fighting, and VIP protection. The capital also has 150,000 security personnel and more than 290,000 volunteers patrolling every corner of the city to ensure a terrorism-free Games.

By now, you've seen all the pics, and they are hilariously and frighteningly amazing. Just as the Chinese government knew the world would find them. It's MOUT as an Olympic Event. The symmetry and choreography of the exercises, the sheer display of militarism has certainly lived up to the rest of the Olympic hype, and it’s not difficult to look at the images, and say, like on so many other occasions -- only in China. Aside from their massive pictorial warning the other power in these images is their ability to distract from other areas of focus they'd probably rather not have us feast our eyes on. China has definitely been undergoing a healthy dose of scrutiny as the world prepares to head over for the Olympics. The spotlight's been wide and bright on issues of Tibet, the vast and mechanical transformation of Beijing, the loss of ancient Hutong neighborhoods, among tons of other issues from pollution to the jailing of activists, human rights violations, and of course -- security.
But another article I just stumbled upon delivers some crazy statistics on the levels of demolition and displacement that have been taking place to build out China's great Olympic moment at the hand of the wrecking ball and forced eviction, putting the above photo (which is a anti-terrorist training exercise) into a different light. Is the military training for a hostage situtation, or just practicing the military art of eviction? The Boston Globe reports:

More than 1.25 million people in Beijing - at times as many as 13,000 people a week - have been evicted since the city won its Olympic bid in 2001, according to the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions.

That's absolutely unfathomable. Unconscionable. It's the equivalent of an exodus. It is a calculated refugee disaster. The government has offered compensation but read on and you'll see it's mere pittances. Not to mention responding to this is a logistical impossibility. In a scathing open letter written by two of China’s most regarded human rights activists, Teng Biao and Hu Jia, entitled “The Real China and the Olympics”:

It has been reported that over 1.25 million people have been forced to move because of Olympic construction; it was estimated that the figure would reach 1.5 million by the end of 2007. No formal resettlement scheme is in place for the over 400,000 migrants who have had their dwelling places demolished. Twenty percent of the demolished households are expected to experience poverty or extreme poverty. In Qingdao, the Olympic sailing city, hundreds of households have been demolished and many human rights activists as well as “civilians” have been imprisoned. Similar stories come from other Olympic cities such as Shenyang, Shanghai and Qinhuangdao.

Needless to say, none of this is truly unique to China, it's just a questions of scale. I guess, my only point here right now is not to let all of the fanfare distract you from the real stories underneath it all. What is the proper measurement of China's Olympic footprint? China's Great Wall 5 might spare the world another tragic moment of global terrorism, but how many lives have already been tossed aside to make room for their Olympic stage?

(Thanks Nick)