Cases

Nakba Day Killings

NAKBA DAY KILLINGS

The Killing of Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Abu Daher in a Nakba Day protest outside of Beitunia on May 15th, 2014



Every year on May 15th, acts of memorialization and resistance take place throughout Palestine to commemorate the Nakba catastrophe of 1948, when Palestinian people were violently displaced from the land that subsequently became Israel. On Nakba Day 2014, a protest culminated in clashes with Israeli security forces outside of the Ofer Prison in the town of Beitunia, next to Ramallah. Two teenagers, Nadeem Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Abu Daher, 16 were shot dead in front of security cameras and TV film crews. The videos showed that the two Palestinian teens were shot while walking unarmed and posing no threat. One video, shot by CNN, captured two different members of the Israeli security forces on site discharging their weapons in the protestor’s direction, and then panning to show Nawara’s body being carried towards an ambulance. Despite this footage, the Israeli security forces denied committing this massacre.

Defence for Children International (DCI) Palestine, acting on behalf of the teenagers’ parents, commissioned Forensic Architecture to investigate all available material in relation to both killings and produce a body of evidence that can be used to hold the perpetrators accountable. The report focused on establishing the definitive account of who shot and killed the two teenagers and whether it was intentional or not. We identified the border policeman who killed Nawara and proved beyond reasonable doubt that his action was intentional.

Nawara was killed by live fire shot through a rubber-coated steel bullet attachment. The analysis demonstrates that the border policeman was aware of the fact he was shooting live rounds and tried to conceal his actions. By conducting cutting-edge audio forensics, we established that the same act of occlusion was used to kill Abu Daher too. While there is not enough material to determine the identity of the border policeman who shot and killed Abu Daher, we believe he was killed by the same border policeman or one of his colleagues operating in a similar manner.

On November 23, 2014, the Israeli military indicted the border policeman they took into custody earlier that month for the manslaughter of Nadeem Nawara. Charges brought against Israel’s security personnel are extremely rare. The fact that there was a charge at all in this case is due to the existence of the videos. Yet despite the fact that there were cameras filming at the time of his death, no responsibility has been admitted in the killing of Abu Daher on that day. Based on our findings we support Siam Nawara’s (Nadeem’s father) claim for the border policeman to be charged with murder, and that Israeli public campaigns to exonerate the killer must be resisted. We also call for charges to be brought for the killing of Abu Daher.

Methodology

Our investigation was conducted in four stages.

1: Video Analysis

One publicly available video, shot by a local CNN crew, shows Israeli soldiers discharging their weapons twice in the direction of protestors, and a security camera video shows Nawara being mortally wounded. Our analysis identified a key moment captured in both videos to establish a synchronisation point. Videos have a consistent amount of frames every second. To establish who shot Nawara we needed to find the same moment in both videos and to rewind the footage to see which of the soldiers shoots at the moment when Nawara was hit. By synchronising the videos we determined that the Israeli soldier discharged his weapon at the precise moment when Nawara was shot.



2: Architectural Analysis

A two-dimensional plan of the site was drawn based on geographical data obtained from public sources and survey plans provided by the Bitunia municipality A three-dimensional model was built based on measurements and a detailed photographic survey conducted on site. The locations of the security cameras and the CNN camera were positioned in this three-dimensional space. The locations of each of the Israeli soldiers shown shooting at the protestors and the location of Nawara were identified and positioned within the model. Two soldiers were identified as having discharged their weapon in the CNN video. Using the three-dimensional model, we drew the lines of sight for both soldiers and found that only one had a clear view to Nawara’s position when he was shot. This soldier is the same soldier who was identified in our video synchronisation as shooting at the exact moment Nawara was mortally wounded.



3. Weapon Analysis

By comparing videos of other soldiers firing M16 rifles, we found that when firing live ammunition the empty cartridge is automatically ejected from the chamber; however, when rubber coated steel bullets are fired the empty cartridge is not automatically ejected. By identifying the immediate discharge of an empty cartridge after an Israeli soldier shoots, we demonstrated that the border policeman fired live ammunition.



4: Sound Analysis

For the Audio Forensics, we engaged the services of sound specialist Lawrence Abu Hamdan to undertake a comparison of the different sounds of the gunshots in the video. By analysing the shot’s sonic signature, it was possible to identify the acoustic characteristics of live ammunition being fired through a rubber bullet extension. Firing live ammunition through a rubber bullet extension suppresses the shot’s sound in a comparable, yet distinct way to using a silencer. By comparing the sound signature of Nawara’s shooting to Abu Daher’s, a pattern emerged which showed that both deaths were the result of Israeli security personnel masking the firing of live ammunition through a rubber coated extension.



Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Nick Axel (Research and Coordination)
  • Steffen Kraemer (Video Compositing and Montage)
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Audio Forensics)
  • Jacob Burns (Research)

Collaborating organization

Interactive Report

Press

 

 

 

Drone Strikes

DRONE STRIKES

Investigating covert operations through spatial media

Although armed drones have been used in Afghanistan from the start of the US campaign in October 2001, the first known targeted assassination by the US outside a theatre of war took place in Yemen on November 3, 2002. Since June 2004 the main focus of the drone campaign has been in the frontier regions of Pakistan. The first Israeli drone strikes in Gaza also started around the same time in 2004, while in Somalia drone strikes began in 2007. The areas most imperilled by drone warfare are generally outside of the effective control of states but are still subject to the worst of their violence.

Waziristan, part of a region of Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is also effectively under a media blackout due to a siege that forbids the entry and exit of nonresidents, including journalists, and the taking of images or bringing out of recording devices. The targeted areas of Yemen and Somalia are likewise difficult for nonresidents to enter. Consequently, few images of the damage caused by drones and even fewer eyewitness accounts and survivors’ testimonies are available outside of these regions. News reporting has also been uneven and sometimes contradictory. This has meant that some aspects of drone warfare have been more present within public discourse than others.

One of the most under-researched aspects of drone warfare has been the spatial; that is, the territorial, urban, and architectural dimensions of these campaigns. Forensic Architecture has investigated several issues relating to the spatial mapping of drone warfare; for example, the geographical patterns of strikes in relationship to the kind of settlements (towns or villages) targeted and types of buildings targeted. Our aim was to explore what potential connections there might be between these spatial patterns and the numbers of casualties, especially civilian casualties.

The investigation has, to date, primarily consisted in mapping, modelling, and visually animating the data in order to explore this question. Our research and analysis were divided between two primary scales of drone warfare respectively; that is, on the one hand, studying the spatial and temporal patterns of drone strikes on the territorial level, and, on the other, a very detailed architectural examination of a few specific strikes in Pakistan, Gaza, and Yemen.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Susan Schuppli (research & coordination)
  • Jacob Burns (research)
  • Steffen Krämer (video compositing & editing)
  • Reiner Beelitz (architectural modeling)
  • Samir Harb (architectural modeling)
  • Zahra Hussain (research assistance)
  • Francesco Sebregondi (research assistance)
  • Blake Fisher (research assistance)

SITU Research team

  • Bradley Samuels (Managing Partner)
  • Akshay Mehra (research)
  • Charles Perrault (research)
  • Xiaowei Wang (research)
  • McKenna Cole (research)

Collaborating Organizations & Individuals

  • Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights (Ben Emmerson QC, Annie O’Reilly, Sarika Arya)
  • Foundation for Fundamental Rights (Mirza Shahzad Akbar)
  • European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (Andreas Schüller)
  • Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Nuriya Oswald)
  • Reprieve (Jennifer Gibson)
  • Amnesty International (Mustafa Qadri)
  • One World Research (Bridget Prince, Nasser Arrabyee, Anis Mansour)
  • Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Alice Ross, Jack Serle)
  • Al Jazeera English (Ana Naomi de Sousa)
  • New York Times (Sergio Pecanha, Declan Walsh)
  • Chris Woods (freelance journalist)
  • Edmund Clark (photographer)
  • Chris Cobb-Smith (munitions expert & consultant)
  • Myra MacDonald (freelance journalist)

The Architecture of Hellfire Romeo: Drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan, 2012
Case No. 1: Datta Khel (full report)
Case No. 3: Miranshah (full report)
Case No. 2: Mir Ali (full report)
Case No. 4: Gaza (full report)

Geo-Platform

The first part of our investigation focused upon the production, together with our research partners SITU Research and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), of an interactive online platform that plots information regarding the geographical and temporal distribution of drone strikes, the number of people reported killed, and the kinds of targets reported hit. The first stage of the platform, which dealt with strikes in Pakistan from 2004 onwards, was launched in early 2014. It will be expanded to include information on strikes in Yemen, Gaza, and Somalia later in the year. This work was undertaken by trawling through the TBIJ’s archive of thousands of news reports that detailed strikes in both the global and local media. By looking again at this information—it had already been examined several times by BIJ staff in order to generate a number of their own reports and statistics—we found new data, specifically spatial, that had slipped through the cracks because it was not recorded by the prevailing categories used to classify strikes.

Countries subject to drone strikes since 2002. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Countries subject to drone strikes since 2002. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.


Civilian deaths from drone strikes in North and South Waziristan. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Civilian deaths from drone strikes in North and South Waziristan. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Target types and casualty numbers from drone strikes in FATA, Pakistan, 2004–2013. Mir Ali, Miranshah and Datta Khel, the locations of strikes investigated in this report are marked on the image. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), Forensic Architecture and Situ Research mapped the geographical and temporal distribution of drone strikes, the number of people killed, and the kinds of targets hit. Trawling through thousands of news reports in both the global and local media we found spatial data, previously unaccounted for. We discovered that most drone strikes took place on houses, and consequently it is in buildings that most people died. On March 11, 2014, the map was presented in the UN Human Rights Council as a part of the report on Drone Warfare by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism.

Case Study Analyses

Forensic Architecture undertook detailed case study analyses of five specific drone strikes. These have been created from the perspectives of survivors and on-site witnesses, as well as those who visited the aftermath of the strikes. The aim was to describe, in as detailed a manner as possible, the effects of these strikes on the ground, on architecture, and on the people within them. Each of our investigations is paradigmatic of a different way of working with scarce data. In each case, we cross-referenced the different types of data available to us, including satellite imagery, local and international media reports, witness statements, and on-the-ground images when and if we could obtain them. Through these analyses we were able to demonstrate that, despite all inhibiting circumstances, investigating specific drone strikes is in fact possible. Crucially, by using a different methodology in each case study and demonstrating how these innovative ways of analysis may be carried out even when confronted with limited information and research materials, our work may help other investigators working on drone warfare.

We provided this analysis to different groups who were seeking accountability for drone strikes or involved in pursuing legal processes against states using or aiding drone warfare. The research was used in a multiplicity of forums: it was provided to Shahzad Akbar of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights in Pakistan who is litigating the Datta Khel strike on behalf of the family of one of the victims; it also constitutes part of an international investigation by Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights (UN SRCT) on drone warfare in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Palestine, and was presented as part of his interim report to the UN General Assembly in New York on October 25, 2013. Other groups with whom we worked closely in developing the research, as well as disseminating it, include B’Tselem (Israel/Palestine) and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (UK). Our work also featured in various television documentaries on drone warfare, such as Töten per Joystick, a German production, as well as on Al-Jazeera.

Case study no. 1: Datta Khel, North Waziristan, March 16–17, 2011

On the morning of March 16, 2011, a jirga was convened at Datta Khel in North Waziristan, to debate the ownership of a local chromite mine. A jirga is a traditional community gathering that meets to resolve disputes. Reportedly at issue was the method of payment of Rs8.8 million ($100,000) for the mining rights. This particular meeting took place in an open field in the vicinity of the Nomada bus station, in Datta Khel’s bazaar. The jirga lasted two days. It consisted of two large adjacent circles of men seated on the ground. These discussion circles were positioned 3.6 meters apart according to one of the witnesses. On the first day of the meeting, a US drone struck in the vicinity of Datta Khel, killing 4 to 5 people. Very little is known about this strike. At approximately 10:45am on the morning of the second day, missiles fired from a US drone struck one of the two jirga circles. Upwards of 43 civilians were immediately killed. The convening of the jirga had been authorized by the Pakistani military 10 days previously and was thus an officially sanctioned meeting. Members of the local tribal police were also present. Surely the drones loitering over the tiny area of Datta Khel for two days must have observed the jirga in action. If so, why was a large community gathering targeted on the second day?

A jirga. Source: pukhtoogle.com

A jirga. Source: pukhtoogle.com


We proceeded by identifying key structures mentioned in witness statements. These statements were cross-referenced with other information and compared with before and after satellite imagery.

We proceeded by identifying key structures mentioned in witness statements. These statements were cross-referenced with other information and compared with before and after satellite imagery.


This diagram provides a detailed understanding of the potential explosive force of the multiple Hellfire missiles that struck the jirga. As indicated, the force would have also been intensified in the areas of overlap between the two points of impact from the missiles. This would have dramatically increased their capacity for killing and maiming jirga attendees.

This diagram provides a detailed understanding of the potential explosive force of the multiple Hellfire missiles that struck the jirga. As indicated, the force would have also been intensified in the areas of overlap between the two points of impact from the missiles. This would have dramatically increased their capacity for killing and maiming jirga attendees.

Trying to pinpoint the location of the drone strike itself was particularly difficult to verify due to the lack of photographic documentation, limited access to survivors, conflicting press reports, and the fact that the strike occurred in an open area, leaving minimal impact damage that can be revealed through satellite image analysis.

Trying to pinpoint the location of the drone strike itself was particularly difficult to verify due to the lack of photographic documentation, limited access to survivors, conflicting press reports, and the fact that the strike occurred in an open area, leaving minimal impact damage that can be revealed through satellite image analysis.


A comparison of satellite images taken before (23 January 2011) and after (5 April 2011) a strike that killed 43 people on 17 March 2011. In the after image, there are two subtle surface disturbance and discoloration, which could indicate the presence of two impact craters approximately 3.6 meters (12’) apart.

A comparison of satellite images taken before (23 January 2011) and after (5 April 2011) a strike that killed 43 people on 17 March 2011. In the after image, there are two subtle surface disturbance and discolouration, which could indicate the presence of two impact craters approximately 3.6 meters (12’) apart.


Unlike most drone strikes that had occurred up to this point, the attack on the jirga was roundly condemned by Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister and the Head of the Army. Twenty-seven days later, American drone strikes resumed with an attack in South Waziristan. The CIA continues to deny that any civilians were killed in the attack of March 17, 2011.

Protesters in Datta Khel holding pictures of the victims of the strike. Photo: Anjum Naveed/AP Photo. Unlike most drone strikes that had occurred up to this point, the attack on the jirga was roundly condemned by Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister and the Head of the Army. Twenty-seven days later, American drone strikes resumed with an attack in South Waziristan. The CIA continues to deny that any civilians were killed in the attack of March 17, 2011.

Case study no. 2: Mir Ali, North Waziristan, October 4, 2010

On October 4, 2010, a US drone struck a home in the town of Mir Ali, North Waziristan, in Pakistan, killing five people. One of the surviving witnesses to this attack is a German woman, who lived in the house at the time with her two-year-old boy and her husband. Together with Forensic Architecture, this witness built a digital model of her home, which no longer exists. During a day-long process of computer modelling, the witness slowly reconstructed every architectural element of her house. Placed virtually within the space and time of the attack, the witness was able to recollect and recount the events around the strike.

Our meeting with the witness took place in Düsseldorf, Germany, on May 21, 2013. The witness sat with her lawyer and Forensic Architecture’s model maker . The woman—who prefers to remain anonymous—is hoping to communicate the realities of life under drones, and the experience of surviving a strike in which she also lost her brother-in-law.

Our meeting with the witness took place in Düsseldorf, Germany, on May 21, 2013. The witness sat with her lawyer and Forensic Architecture’s model maker. The woman—who prefers to remain anonymous—is hoping to communicate the realities of life under drones, and the experience of surviving a strike in which she also lost her brother-in-law.


Our meeting took place in Düsseldorf, Germany, on May 21, 2013. The witness sat with her lawyer and Forensic Architecture’s model maker . The woman—who prefers to remain anonymous—is hoping to communicate the realities of life under drones, and the experience of surviving a strike in which she also lost her brother-in-law.

Digital reconstruction of the scene of the strike in a 3D-model. Düsseldorf, May 21, 2013. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

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Digital reconstruction of the scene of the strike in a 3D-model. Düsseldorf, May 21, 2013. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

A sketch of a residential house targeted by a drone strike in Mir Ali (4 October 2010). It was prepared by a German survivor at the request of the European Center for Constitutional and Human and Forensic Architecture.

A sketch of a residential house targeted by a drone strike in Mir Ali (4 October 2010). It was prepared by a German survivor at the request of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Forensic Architecture.


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Digital reconstruction of the scene of the strike in a 3D-model. Düsseldorf, May 21, 2013. Photo: Forensic Architecture.


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Digital reconstruction of the scene of the strike in a 3D-model. Düsseldorf, May 21, 2013. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

Case study no. 3: Miranshah, North Waziristan, March 30, 2012

This case analysed video testimony smuggled out of North Waziristan, in order to reconstruct the space of the strike and interrogate the event. The video was originally aired by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on June 22, 2012. This footage revealed a great deal beyond what appeared to be chaotic images of rubble and ruin. In particular, it also shed light on the conditions involved in documenting such violent events in Waziristan.


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Still from the video testimony smuggled out of North Waziristan, originally aired on the Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, June 22, 2012.

Next we undertook a detailed comparison between the satellite image and the news footage. On the left side of the building we noticed a series of beams that fanned out in a radial pattern, and found the same radiating beams at the newly identified location on the satellite image.

Next we undertook a detailed comparison between the satellite image and the news footage. On the left side of the building we noticed a series of beams that fanned out in a radial pattern, and found the same radiating beams at the newly identified location on the satellite image.

 Sketch made after looking at satellite and aerial images and video footage, representing a stage in the construction of a 3D model.

Sketch made after looking at satellite and aerial images and video footage, representing a stage in the construction of a 3D model.

Using a collage pieced together from individual frames extracted from the footage, we eventually found the building within a satellite image of Miranshah, with the morphology of the streets as a guide.

Using a collage pieced together from individual frames extracted from the footage, we eventually found the building within a satellite image of Miranshah, with the morphology of the streets as a guide.

Both images depicted a tower to the left side of the building near the bend in the road. We could also make out a higher structure on the other side of the street from the tower. These spatial indicators allowed us to identify and match the location to the destroyed buildings depicted in the news footage.

Both images depicted a tower to the left side of the building near the bend in the road. We could also make out a higher structure on the other side of the street from the tower. These spatial indicators allowed us to identify and match the location to the destroyed buildings depicted in the news footage.

Sketch made after looking at satellite and aerial images and video footage, representing a stage in the construction of a 3D model.

Sketch made after looking at satellite and aerial images and video footage, representing a stage in the construction of a 3D model.

Animating the shadows cast on different days and at different times enabled us to compare our model with the shadows visible in the satellite and video images, to corroborate its volumes as well as to determine the approximate time-3pm-that the video was shot.

Animating the shadows cast on different days and at different times enabled us to compare our model with the shadows visible in the satellite and video images, to corroborate its volumes as well as to determine the approximate time-3pm-that the video was shot.

The MSNBC video footage also depicted other locations. In particular, it also showed the destruction of a still unidentified empty room. The MSNBC video footage also depicted other locations. In particular, it also showed the destruction of a still unidentified empty room.

The MSNBC video footage also depicted other locations. In particular, it also showed the destruction of a still-unidentified empty room.

The missile is designed to penetrate through a ceiling, and detonate when inside a room, spraying hundreds of steel fragments and killing everybody in proximity. Each fragment was studied and mapped. Where the distribution of fragments is in lower density, it is likely that something absorbed them. Although we could not be certain, it is possible that the absence of the fragments indicated the places where people died.

The missile was designed to penetrate through a ceiling, and detonate when inside a room, spraying hundreds of steel fragments and killing everybody in proximity. Each fragment was studied and mapped. Where the distribution of fragments is in lower density, it is likely that something absorbed them. Although we could not be certain, it is possible that the absence of the fragments indicated the places where people died.

Using the entry hole of the missile, and the light that streams through it as a compass, we found the orientation of the room, and calibrated the model to the time when the interior video was shot.

Using the entry hole of the missile, and the light that streams through it as a compass, we found the orientation of the room, and calibrated the model to the time when the interior video was shot.

 

Case study no. 4: Beit Lahiya, Gaza, January 9, 2009

In the early hours of January 9, 2009, an antitank missile was fired at the Salha family home in Beit Lahiya, Northern Gaza. Its hollow charge penetrated the roof, entered one of the rooms, and impacted the floor leaving a small hole. Three minutes later a bomb struck and destroyed the house. Six people were killed, all women and children. This strike exemplifies a new strategy adopted by the Israeli military referred to as “knock on the roof.” It is one of several methods used to alert residents of an imminent attack. Israel makes much of the fact that it tries to warn civilians of impending bombings. Warnings take the form of telephone calls or text messages, informing the inhabitants of the imminent destruction of their home. They can also take the form of leaflets dropped from airplanes; warning shots; or the firing of a nonexplosive missile. On August 28, 2013, Forensic Architecture interviewed two of the surviving members of the Salha family in Gaza by live satellite link from the Al Jazeera English studios in London. Fayez Salha and Noor Salha, his son, have been attempting to bring their story to public attention and obtain redress for their loss. With the family’s help, we built a detailed model of their home.


Map of Gaza, with the location of Beit Lahiya marked.

Map of Gaza, with the location of Beit Lahiya marked.

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On August 28, 2013, Forensic Architecture interviewed two of the surviving members of the Salha family in Gaza by live satellite link from the Al Jazeera English studios in London. Fayez Salha and Noor Salha, his son, have been attempting to bring their story to public attention and obtain redress for their loss. With the family’s help, we built a detailed model of their home.

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Annotations on the model of the Salha home.

View of the roof of the Salha house, as surveyed by munitions expert Chris Cobb-Smith in the aftermath of the lethal strike. The hole measuring only 4cm in diameter approximatively, is likely to be the entry point of the first "knock-on-the-roof", nonexplosive missile. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International.

View of the roof of the Salha house, as surveyed by munitions expert Chris Cobb-Smith in the aftermath of the lethal strike. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International.

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Still from footage of the ruins of the house hit. Source: Al-Mezan.

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Annotations on the model of the Salha home.

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View of the 3D reconstruction of the Salha home. Image: Forensic Architecture

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The hole measuring only 4cm in diameter approximatively, is likely to be the entry point of the first “knock-on-the-roof”, nonexplosive missile. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International.

Case study no. 5: Jaar and al Wade’a, Abyan Province, Yemen, 2011

July 14, 2011. In al Wade’a, Abyan province, up to fifty were killed, including up to thirty civilians, in a targeted strike on a police station, according to local officials, the Yemen Interior Ministry, CNN, and other media sources. An eyewitness told Al Jazeera that while six bodies of killed gunmen were pulled from the ruins of the police station, the death toll could “climb with ongoing rescue operations.” The New York Times claimed the strike killed eight militants, while witnesses told CNN that “at least 30 civilians” were among the dead. According to CNN, the US government denied that a US drone was involved in the attack. However, Yemeni officials told the Associated Press that the strike must have been carried out by an American plane “because Yemeni planes aren’t equipped for night-time strikes.” Journalist Nasser Arrabyee reported that “some 20 al Qaeda fighters were killed … including leaders Hadi Mohammed Ali and Abu Bilal.” (Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

Forensic Architecture commissioned One World Research Services to work with their on-the-ground investigators in Yemen to document the aftermath of two drone strikes and interview witnesses. Under the direction of local journalist Nasser Arrabyee, Anis Mansour travelled from Aden to al Wade’a district, Abyan province, via Jaar, to film and photograph the strikes which occurred on July 14, 2011, and May 15, 2012.


Al Wade’a/Yemen: Before (5 May 2011) and after (21 July 2011) satellite images of a strike in Al Wade’a. Source: Digital Globe. Without specific coordinates for this strike, Forensic Architecture scoured a large portion of Al Wade’a District using Google Earth, identifying several potential sites prior to acquiring before-and-after satellite images. According to munitions expert Chris Cobb-Smith, whom we commissioned to interpret the after-image, which clearly indicates the building in ruin, the two lighter spots in the dusty courtyard are likely the result of an airburst bomb. These bombs detonate a few meters above the surface to maximize blast force. He noted that the level of destruction was likely due to bombs of at least 500 pounds each.

Al Wade’a/Yemen: Before (5 May 2011) and after (21 July 2011) satellite images of a strike in Al Wade’a. Source: Digital Globe.
Without specific coordinates for this strike, Forensic Architecture scoured a large portion of Al Wade’a District using Google Earth, identifying several potential sites prior to acquiring before-and-after satellite images. According to munitions expert Chris Cobb-Smith, whom we commissioned to interpret the after-image, which clearly indicates the building in ruin, the two lighter spots in the dusty courtyard are likely the result of an airburst bomb. These bombs detonate a few meters above the surface to maximize blast force. He noted that the level of destruction was likely due to bombs of at least 500 pounds each.

A memorandum sent from One World Research to Forensic Architecture describing the journey and work undertaken by Anis Mansour, the researcher who had been contracted to carry out investigations into drone strikes in Jaar (15 May 2012) and Al Wade’a (14 July 2011).

A memorandum sent from One World Research to Forensic Architecture describing the journey and work undertaken by Anis Mansour, the researcher who had been contracted to carry out investigations into drone strikes in Jaar (15 May 2012) and Al Wade’a (14 July 2011).


Satellite images after a strike in Al Wade’a (July 21, 2011). Source: Digital Globe.

Satellite images after a strike in Al Wade’a (July 21, 2011). Source: Digital Globe.

By extracting stills from the footage of the strike site broadcast by Aden News Agency TV, Forensic Architecture created a panoramic image of the building hit in the strike. This helped us both to identify the location of the strike on a satellite image, and to identify with the help of Chris Cobb Smith the two lighter circles in front of the ruin which indicate the place above which the air-burst munitions detonated.

By extracting stills from the footage of the strike site broadcast by Aden News Agency TV, Forensic Architecture created a panoramic image of the building hit in the strike. This helped us both to identify the location of the strike on a satellite image, and to identify with the help of Chris Cobb Smith the two lighter circles in front of the ruin which indicate the place above which the air-burst munitions detonated.

Interviews conducted with eye witnesses of the 15 May 2012 strike on a house in Jaar, Yemen. Ansi Mansour / Forensic Architecture 

Footage broadcast by Aden News Agency TV showing the aftermath of the strike on the police station in Al Wade'a, Yemen. Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81KjC-kQDbs

 

Living Death Camps

LIVING DEATH CAMPS

Staro Sajmište / Omarska, former Yugoslavia

Living Death Camps describes the condition of two former concentration camps located in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia: the World War II-era camp of Staro Sajmište, and the camp of Omarska, dating from the Yugoslav war. Both are presently inhabited and used for other purposes.

Living Death Camps names a collaborative project that seeks to investigate the complex material and political issues currently unfolding around these two sites, and to understand the politics of commemoration in which each of them is embroiled.

Each of these sites has a complex and singular history, which we have undertaken to expose in our research. It is by addressing the specificity of each site that we sought to understand and intervene in the respective transformation of each place into a post-conflict site of commemoration. Starting from the acknowledgment that these two former death camps are presently inhabited and used, that they are places upon which the lives of many depend, we argued that it is a necessity for each of these sites to develop a project of commemoration that would remain responsive to the demands of ongoing life.

In an attempt to engage with this need and the difficult questions surrounding it, our research turned to some of the methods of contemporary archaeology. Our forensics have surveyed and explored the multiplicity of events registered in the materiality of each site, without an a priori focus on the historical layer that the death camp has left behind. The material entanglement of historical layers in each site forms the ground upon which a call for a simultaneous attention to its present and pasts can be made.

An inverted symmetry emerges from the research we have conducted in each of the two sites. In both cases our research culminated in the assembly of a public forum, however in Staro Sajmište we opposed plans for commemoration that involved the eviction of its current residents, while in Omarska we demanded that the local community be granted the right to commemorate the tragic events that took place on the site, which is today occupied by a commercial mine in operation.

Forensic Architecture Team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Susan Schuppli (research and coordination – Omarska)
  • Francesco Sebregondi (research and coordination – Staro Sajmište)
  • Steffen Krämer (videography & video editing)
  • Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (research – Staro Sajmište)

In Partnership With

  • Grupa Spomenik
  • Working Group Four Faces of Omarska
  • Caroline Sturdy Colls, Centre of Archaeology at Staffordshire University
  • ScanLAB Projects

Press

“Burden of Proof” by Tom Holert, Artforum March 2013

“A memorial in exile in London’s Olympics: orbits of responsibility,” Susan Schuppli, openDemocracy July 2012



Staro Sajmište: The Inverted Horizon

Staro Sajmište, or the Old Fairground, was built in 1938 on the outskirts of Belgrade to host international exhibitions and to present the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as a modern, industrialised, and technologically advanced nation. During World War II, following the German invasion of 1941, the fairground was transformed by the occupying Nazis into a death camp, where Jews, Roma, and political opponents were detained and killed. After the war, the remaining structures of the Sajmište complex became the residence of several generations of people—particularly those from the most vulnerable sections of society—and included artists’ studios, workshops, small industries, and homes for a Roma community. Due to the urban expansion of Belgrade over the past sixty years, Staro Sajmište is now at the centre of the city.

Recently, another transformation of the site was announced. In light of the City of Belgrade’s project to establish a Holocaust memorial in Staro Sajmište, which would necessitate the eviction of some or all the current residents (the first evictions of residents began in the summer 2013), we attempted to highlight what we saw as an unacceptable contradiction: a Holocaust memorial cannot be built on a forcefully cleared ground without immediately compromising its purpose. In order for such a claim to be articulated and heard, it needed to be made on a material basis.

Forensic archaeologist Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls has, in recent years, developed a methodology of investigation that she refers to as “non-invasive.” This involves using a range of complementary techniques, but it largely relies upon the sensing technology of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). This device transmits radar pulses into the ground to a depth of up to fifteen meters, and detects minute differences in the densities of the subsurface by recording the reflected signal. In the fuzzy three-dimensional model of the subsoil it produces, one can identify buried objects, voids and cracks, and other disturbances in the soil structure. Sturdy Colls uses this method to map and digitally explore the subterranean strata of historic sites, in particular those shaped by a history of violence. We approached her in the spring of 2012 to work on an extensive survey of Staro Sajmište, putting her in collaboration with ScanLAB Projects, a London-based practice that specialises in large-scale 3D data capture. A singular image of the site at Staro Sajmište, above and below ground, has emerged from this collaboration.

Our survey has resulted in a report titled An Archaeological Assessment of the Area of the Former Judenlager and Anhaltlager at Staro Sajmište, Belgrade, Serbia, which analyses the different structures, additions, and alterations that have accumulated on the site’s thick ground. The report sought to unpack the history of the site as a process of ongoing transformation; it searched for historical and material continuities as well as ruptures. In this approach, all layers of the site, including and in particular those composed of its recent and present daily use, are regarded as archaeologically significant. Above all, the report demonstrates that Staro Sajmište’s multiple historical layers are inextricably entangled and mutually dependent.

On October 5, 2013, we convened a public forum inside one of Staro Sajmište’s most infamous structures—the former German pavilion, which had served as accommodation for the camp’s inmates during World War II. There we publicly presented our archaeological report, which served to provoke an open discussion about the future of the site.

The report confirms a counterintuitive fact: Staro Sajmište stands today thanks to its ongoing inhabitation, which has sustained it for the past sixty years. As Sturdy Colls put it in her presentation of the report: “The role of the people who have been living here since the war should be duly acknowledged. Because in actual fact, the people who have lived in these buildings have played a role in preserving them. Many of these buildings wouldn’t be here if people hadn’t lived in them.”

Not only did the residents of the site prevent its structures from degenerating into rubble—as happens after the long-term inoccupation of a building—but their number and distribution over the entire site has successfully hindered the realisation of several redevelopment plans during the post-World War II period—which could have meant the destruction of the historical buildings to make room for a denser or more profitable urban quarter. Based on these findings, our claim—which we publicly put forward on the occasion of the public forum—was the following: rather than evict the people living and working in Staro Sajmište, the City of Belgrade has a duty towards them and surely must include them as an active party in any future plan for commemoration.

The first transformation of Staro Sajmište from an exhibition ground into a concentration camp demonstrates a strange continuity between the two very different functions of the same compound—both made use of the same geometry of vision of pavilions around a central tower. The second transformation from a camp into a living neighbourhood illustrates a concept that philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes as “profanation”— “restoring into common use” of those things that have been excluded, separated, bounded, put out of access and touch. Today’s plans for returning the site to its original function—thereby completing a circuit that leads from a fairground through a concentration camp to a museum—would imply the re-sanctification of the site in the meaning of its exclusion from daily life. “Everything today can become a Museum,” Agamben writes, “because this term simply designates the exhibition of an impossibility of using, of dwelling, of experiencing.”

An appropriate commemorative project for Staro Sajmište would include a plan to rehabilitate its homes and modernise its collective infrastructure, in order to support its potential as a common space. The concept of a living death camp would demand that any commemoration plan should see to the improvement of the living conditions of the communities that have turned this place into a neighbourhood, and that have kept its material history alive.

Aerial image of the newly built fairground with Belgrade in the background, 1937. The panoptic structure of the camp is clearly identifiable. Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

Aerial image of the newly built fairground with Belgrade in the background, 1937. The panoptic structure of the camp is clearly identifiable.
Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

FA2 - 2-semlin 1941

Semlin camp, circa 1941. Originally constructed as ticket booths for the fairground, the buildings in the foreground later became the gatehouses of the camp, photo circa 1941. Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

German Pavilion in the fairground, 1937. Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

German Pavilion in the fairground, 1937.
Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

Aerial photograph of the Semlin camp in 1944, showing the bomb craters of the Allied raids over Belgrade. Image: courtesy of Jovan Byford.

Aerial photograph of the Semlin camp in 1944, showing the bomb craters of the Allied raids over Belgrade.
Image: courtesy of Jovan Byford.

The Central Tower in its current state (2012). Image: Forensic Architecture.

The Central Tower in its current state (2012).
Image: Forensic Architecture.

Interior of mechanical workshop occupying the former German Pavilion, 2012. 3D-Laser Scan data. Image: ScanLAB Projects / Forensic Architecture.

Interior of mechanical workshop occupying the former German Pavilion, 2012. 3D-Laser Scan data.
Image: ScanLAB Projects / Forensic Architecture.

Plan of Staro Sajmište (the former Semlin death camp) in Belgrade. The survey combined two distinct data-capture technologies: on-site features lying above the ground were recorded via 3D laser scanning, while we searched for buried features using Ground Penetrating Radar. The rectangular surfaces that appear mainly in blue are snapshots of the underground, and the colored elements within them mark disruptions to the soil structure. Image: ScanLAB Projects/Caroline Sturdy Colls/Forensic Architecture, 2013.

Plan of Staro Sajmište (the former Semlin death camp) in Belgrade. The survey combined two distinct data-capture technologies: on-site features lying above the ground were recorded via 3D laser scanning, while we searched for buried features using Ground Penetrating Radar. The rectangular surfaces that appear mainly in blue are snapshots of the underground, and the colored elements within them mark disruptions to the soil structure.
Image: ScanLAB Projects/Caroline Sturdy Colls/Forensic Architecture, 2013.


Survey Area I, 2012. Annotated depth plots of the GPR data viewed in plan. Feature A bisects the survey area from east to west and most likely represents a pipe, probably for sewage. Feature B is a modern path. Feature C is visible from 0.10 m deep and is present as an area of medium reflection until approximately 0.72 m. Strangely, it returns as a low reflection feature at approximately 1.24 m. It seems likely that this feature represents some form of back-filled ditch, but its purpose is unclear. It might also represent a remnant of a historical settlement, predating all other features. Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Survey Area I, 2012. Annotated depth plots of the GPR data viewed in plan. Feature A bisects the survey area from east to west and most likely represents a pipe, probably for sewage. Feature B is a modern path. Feature C is visible from 0.10 m deep and is present as an area of medium reflection until approximately 0.72 m. Strangely, it returns as a low reflection feature at approximately 1.24 m. It seems likely that this feature represents some form of back-filled ditch, but its purpose is unclear. It might also represent a remnant of a historical settlement, predating all other features.
Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Survey Area I, 2012. Depth of GPR data as visualized in GSSI RADAN® software. The elliptical feature C is visible. This strange feature, defiantly located amongst all the other historical layers, complicates the history of the site. Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Survey Area I, 2012. Depth of GPR data as visualized in GSSI RADAN® software. The elliptical feature C is visible. This strange feature, defiantly located amongst all the other historical layers, complicates the history of the site.
Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Omarska: Memorial in Exile

In 2005 ArcelorMittal made a commitment to finance and build a memorial on the grounds of Omarska, the site of the most notorious concentration camp of the Bosnian war. Two decades later, no resolution as to how to commemorate the tragic events that took place on its grounds have been found.

In a chance meeting near the mine, Director of ArcelorMittal, Prijedor Mladen Jelača, proudly confirmed to us that the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the towering symbol of the London 2012 Olympics, was being fabricated with iron ore that came from the Omarska mine. This material link between London and Omarska—between a site where crimes against humanity were committed and another that celebrated that same universal humanity—formed the basis of our collective project. On July 2, 2012, shortly before the opening of the Olympics, we hosted a press conference in the immediate vicinity of the Olympic park. With the participation of survivors from the Omarska and Prijedor camps, we reclaimed the ArcelorMittal Orbit as the Omarska Memorial in exile.

Prijedor is in the region that is referred to, after the Dayton Peace Agreement, as Republika Srpska—an area whose demographics were dramatically affected by the war and where ethnic cleansing was the most intense and successful. Bosnian Muslims we spoke to, who had returned under the agreement, complained of daily harassment and continued discrimination. While ArcelorMittal claims it is fully aware of its responsibilities towards the local community and its employees, the mine’s postwar workforce is comprised almost exclusively of Bosnian Serbs.

ArcelorMittal insists on “not taking sides in this debate without engagement or prior agreement of the local communities and local/international stakeholders concerned.” Not taking sides in an area where persecution and injustice continue is not an act of neutrality but constitutes a political position by default. Not taking sides maintains the impasse of the present and forecloses the possibility of moving forward. Through the Memorial in Exile project, we aimed to raise public awareness of this material amnesia, and to put continued pressure on ArcelorMittal—demanding that it use its enormous influence to facilitate the entrance into public discourse of the history of the Omarska death camp.

Twenty years after it first emerged in the public sphere, the case of Omarska regained considerable public attention through our project. It may be that this contributed to bringing about a significant softening in ArcelorMittal’s policy regarding public access to the site. As a consequence, our team was granted access to the Omarska mine on October 3, 2012 to conduct a detailed photographic and 3D laser-scanning survey of the notorious White House. In 1992, this rather banal-looking one-story pitched-roof house functioned as a place for the torture and execution of inmates. Witnesses who testified in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) described an accumulating pile of bodies rising in a deadly mound beside it. The White House was also the site chosen by ArcelorMittal to build a memorial in a 2005 project that was later abandoned.

3D laser-scanning technology allowed us to capture a millimeter-perfect model of the interior, exterior, and immediate surroundings of the White House. The level of detail it provides allows one to identify features that are hardly visible to the naked eye, such as the footprint of a boot on an interior wall, but also remnants of improvised attempts at commemoration. The capture of this model constitutes a future-oriented archive. Considering the planned cessation of the ICTY’s activities at the end of 2016, the fate of the White House in the coming years is uncertain. Access to such a significant place of mourning for the relatives of the camp’s victims still remains highly restricted today. In the context of the ongoing negotiation of a commemorative project for Omarska, this singular three-dimensional archive has the potential to be mobilised in unexpected ways.

The Omarska mine and its surrounding landscape. According to recent geological assessments there are still some 347 metric tons of limonite and carbon-ore reserves in the river valleys of the Sana, Una, and Gomjenica, between the mountains of Kozara and Grmec. Limonite has been mined for more than two thousand years in this region of Bosnia.

The Omarska mine and its surrounding landscape. According to recent geological assessments there are still some 347 metric tons of limonite and carbon-ore reserves in the river valleys of the Sana, Una, and Gomjenica, between the mountains of Kozara and Grmec. Limonite has been mined for more than two thousand years in this region of Bosnia.

IT-99-36: Brdjanin. Picture of the Omarska Camp Model (0400-9592). Exhibit P1128.4. Date: 30 / 10 / 2002. Submitted by the Prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Image: ICTY Court Records.

IT-99-36: Brdjanin. Picture of the Omarska Camp Model (0400-9592). Exhibit P1128.4. Date: 30 / 10 / 2002. Submitted by the Prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Image: ICTY Court Records.

Twenty years after the war crimes committed there, still no space of public commemoration exists. Ground, buildings, and equipment once used for extermination now serve a commercial enterprise run by the world’s largest steel producer.

Twenty years after the war crimes committed there, still no space of public commemoration exists. Ground, buildings, and equipment once used for extermination now serve a commercial enterprise run by the world’s largest steel producer.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, London Olympic Stadium, 2012. Image: Courtesy of ArcelorMittal.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, London Olympic Stadium, 2012. Image: Courtesy of ArcelorMittal. Rising to the soaring height of 114.5 meters and outstripping even the Statue of liberty by two meters, the ArcelorMittal Orbit boasts an impressive compendium of statistics: 1,500 tons of steel, 35,000 bolts, 19,000 liters of paint, 770 visitors per hour and 5,000 per day, vistas stretching 20 miles into the distance, and a overall price tag of £22.7 million, £19.6 million of which was funded by ArcelorMittal.

The facts and figures of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the showpiece of london’s 2012 Olympics, are tragically intertwined with the history of war crimes that took place on the very grounds from which ArcelorMittal subsequently began to extract not only its soaring global profits, but the very iron ore that the director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor boasts has been used in the construction of the Orbit.

The facts and figures of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the showpiece of London’s 2012 Olympics, are tragically intertwined with the history of war crimes that took place on the very grounds from which ArcelorMittal subsequently began to extract not only its soaring global profits, but the very iron ore that the director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor boasts has been used in the construction of the Orbit.

Aerial view of Omarska mine. From the Four Faces of Omarska Archive, source unknown.

Aerial view of Omarska mine. From the Four Faces of Omarska Archive, source unknown.

New battle breaks out over Serb death camp, The Guardian, December 2, 2004.

New battle breaks out over Serb death camp, The Guardian, December 2, 2004.

The story that links london to Omarska forcefully came to our attention when a group of us, including survivors of the conentration camp, drove around the perimeter of the Omarska mining complex in April 2012. At a certain point we pulled off to the side of the road where a white building was barely visible in the distance. Anxiety mounted as we lingered to talk and take some pictures, the survivors fearful that this unauthorized stop might make future access to the site even more difficult.

The story that links London to Omarska forcefully came to our attention when a group of us, including survivors of the concentration camp, drove around the perimeter of the Omarska mining complex in April 2012. At a certain point we pulled off to the side of the road where a white building was barely visible in the distance. Anxiety mounted as we lingered to talk and take some pictures, the survivors fearful that this unauthorised stop might make future access to the site even more difficult.

Another series of facts: 3,400 Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor went missing or were killed during 1992, the summer of the massacre. At least 3,334 were imprisoned in the camp at Omarska, 700 to 800 were exterminated, 37 female detainees were repeatedly raped and tortured, upwards of 150 men singled out daily for execution. One thousand men, women, and children from the Prijedor region are still missing.

Another series of facts: 3,400 Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor went missing or were killed during 1992, the summer of the massacre. At least 3,334 were imprisoned in the camp at Omarska, 700 to 800 were exterminated, 37 female detainees were repeatedly raped and tortured, upwards of 150 men singled out daily for execution. One thousand men, women, and children from the Prijedor region are still missing.

n the absence of a promised memorial, london’s Olympic landmark, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, was reclaimed as the Omarska Memorial in exile on July 2, 2012. Anirban Gupta Nigam: An act of reclaiming made possible because of the material power of steel to forge a connection between two disparate localities, events, and times. Between two geographies where corporate power, aesthetic practice, and large-scale mining are colliding in interesting and danger- ous ways: the camp in Omarska, and the Olympic Tower in london.

In the absence of a promised memorial, London’s Olympic landmark, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, was reclaimed as the Omarska Memorial in Exile on July 2, 2012. Anirban Gupta Nigam: An act of reclaiming made possible because of the material power of steel to forge a connection between two disparate localities, events, and times. Between two geographies where corporate power, aesthetic practice, and large-scale mining are colliding in interesting and dangerous ways: the camp in Omarska, and the Olympic Tower in London.


 

For a more in-depth account of this project, see the book FORENSIS: The Architecture of Public Truth.

 

White Phosphorus

WHITE PHOSPHORUS

The effects of airburst WP munitions in urban environments

During and in the aftermath of the Israeli attack on Gaza of December 2008–January 2009, known as “Operation Cast Lead,” news reports have repeatedly shown images of a hitherto little known type of weapon. These images displayed airborne explosions releasing tentacles of smoking fragments onto densely inhabited parts of the Gaza strip. Alongside other images of the large-scale destruction of buildings and infrastructure, representations of these airbursts were some of the defining images of “Cast Lead.” Research by several human rights organisations, based on military expertise, witness testimonies, projectile debris found on sites, and medical reports of burn injuries, confirmed that the Israeli military were using white phosphorus munitions.

Because of its incendiary and toxic effects, the use of white phosphorus in populated areas is highly controversial. According to many international legal experts and scholars, it constitutes an illegal act as it effectively acts like a chemical weapon. Israel initially denied the use of such munitions. When confronted with indisputable evidence to the contrary, the Israeli military changed its position and confirmed the use of white phosphorus, but claimed that it only used it “in compliance with international law.”

In March 2011, as part of a concerted civil society action, the Israeli human rights group Yesh Gvul, represented by attorneys Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer, submitted a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice demanding the complete ban of the use of white phosphorus munitions in populated areas by the Israeli military. It was in this context that the office of Michael Sfard asked Forensic Architecture to investigate the behaviour and effects of such weapons. The outcome of our investigation was a report titled “The Use of White Phosphorus Munitions in Urban Environments: An Effects-Based Analysis.”

The report was first presented in the UN Office at Geneva, during the Annual Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (November 12–16, 2012). It was later submitted to Israel’s High Court of Justice, within the framework of Yesh Gvul’s petition. With the material in the petition generating a strong adverse public opinion, the Israeli military—prior to the final hearing of the case in the High Court—declared on April 25, 2013 that it would stop using white phosphorus munitions in populated areas.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Francesco Sebregondi (research and coordination)

SITU Research team

  • Bradley Samuels (Managing Partner)
  • Akshay Mehra (research)
  • Charles Perrault (research)

Collaborating organizations

  • Michael Sfard Law Office (Michael Sfard, Emily Schaeffer)
  • Human Rights Watch – Arms Division (Stephen Goose, Bonnie Docherty, Mary Wareham)
  • Chris Cobb-Smith (munitions expert & consultant)
White Phosphorus – video summary of the investigation

Methodology

Among the variety of white phosphorus munitions that exist in military arsenals, this study focuses on the M825 WP projectile. In recent history, in addition to being used by the Israeli military in Gaza, it was also employed by the United States mili- tary in 2004 during operations in Fallujah, Iraq—another densely populated urban environment. At a pre-calculated height above its target, a charge at the front of the M825 WP shell is activated and the projectile separates into two parts releasing its contents: 116 felt wedges soaked in white phosphorus. Once released, the wedges fall to the ground in an elliptical pattern with a long axis of up to 200 meters. Immediately upon coming into contact with oxygen, white phosphorus begins to burn and produce a dense white smoke.

There are three distinct ways in which white phosphorus can cause harm to civilians. Direct contact with the felt wedges can cause severe injury, penetrating clothing and burning directly through skin and bone. The smoke is toxic and can cause severe irritation to the lungs if directly inhaled. But by far the most dan- gerous aspect of this projectile is its incendiary effect, as wedg- es become ignition sources that can start fires throughout the areas where they are deployed.

Our investigation focused on an Effects-Based Analysis of the M825 WP projectile as it interacts with a series of typical urban environments. The effects on urban environments are the result of the specific characteristics of the projectile itself, on the one hand, and the built environment impacted on the other. The methods employed to produce this report therefore combined ballistic simulation with spatial analysis and urban reconstruction. The report analyses the relation between the projectile and the built environment at both the urban scale and the architectural scale. The reconstruction of the behaviour of the projectile was implemented both in order to determine its coverage area, and to catalog the types of damage to objects and persons in a range of contexts.

In producing the report, Forensic Architecture consulted military manuals and sought expert testimony—particularly that of weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith. However, a crucial source of information for this research was the visual material already available in the public domain: mainstream news media footage and reporters’ photographs documenting the firing of airburst white phosphorus over Fallujah and Gaza. With the help of 3D-modeling software, spatial data was extracted from the still and moving images in an effort to reconstruct both specific events and the general characteristics of the projectile. This data was ultimately integrated into a parametric model that simulated the burst of the M825 WP projectile over typical urban environments, allowing us to analyse its effects, and the resulting civilian damage that can be expected.

Outcomes

On November 12, 2012, in the frame of an advocacy event on Incendiary Weapons organized by Human Rights Watch during the Annual Meeting of State Parties to Convention on Con- ventional Weapons (CCW), Forensic Architecture was invited to present the report to the diplomatic delegates of State Parties to the CCW in the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Notwithstanding the vivid interest manifested by several delegates after the presentation, and in spite of a week-long lobbying process led by Human Rights Watch, no agreement was reached among State Parties with regard to re-opening Protocol III. Notable opposing States were Japan, Israel, and the United States. Given the current configuration of geopolitical power relations, the persistent opposition of such influential States means that it may be long before an amendment of Proto- col III becomes a realistic possibility.

On March 5, 2013, Forensic Architecture’s report was submitted to Israel’s High Court of Justice as a supporting doc- ument for the petition demanding the ban of the use of white phosphorus munitions in urban environments by the Israeli military. Its admission as evidence encountered strong objec- tions by the Israeli military/State Attorney, who questioned the competence of a team of architects to provide expertise on the military matters at stake in the case.

On April 25, 2013, while the question of the admissibility of the report was still being debated in court, the Israeli military issued a declaration stating that it would cease to use white phosphorus shells in populated areas—thereby yielding to the demand of the petition before the Court had to rule on it. The decision was taken “in the shadow of the court”—that is, as a consequence of a legal process but without a verdict—and, arguably, as a direct consequence of the Israeli military’s estima- tion that they could not win the case.

A senior military commander explained: “As we learned during Cast Lead, [white phosphorus] doesn’t photograph well, so we are reducing the supply and we will not purchase beyond what we already have.” Subsequently, the military informed the Court that it had ordered a “significant narrowing” of the use of these shells.”

For a more in-depth account of this project, see FORENSIS: The Architecture of Public Truth.

 

 

Files

NATO as Architectural Critic

NATO AS ARCHITECTURAL CRITIC

“NATO as Architectural Critic” is a videotaped conversation about the NATO bombings of Belgrade in the spring of 1999 and its forensic dimensions vis-à-vis architecture and urbanism. Four particular targets, all in Belgrade, are addressed in this video: the Yugoslav Army headquarters; the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party; the headquarters of Radio Television Serbia (RTS); and the Chinese Embassy.

The records used in this video conversation include news articles, legal documents, video clips, architectural drawings, websites, texts, and visual simulations. The objective in this visual investigation is to examine the role of a perpetrator as a cultural critic of the aesthetics of the space of the perpetrated in the process of choosing the targets. It points to the methods used by perpetrators such as the “proportionality principle,” which calculates the legitimate collateral damage committed in strikes. The aesthetics in this video are perceived as a fluid, malleable, susceptible, and yet persistent process illustrating an elastic relationship with international law.

Researcher

Srdjan Jovanović Weiss

"NATO as Architectural Critic" – Video

Newspaper Reporting

During the 1999 NATO bombing of Belgrade, the media⎯ which was under the control of the collapsing socialist state of former Yugoslavia⎯found itself in a real conundrum when faced with the actual threat of bombing: whether to continue media operations and risk the lives of its staff, or simply turn a blind eye. On Monday, April 5, 1999, a daily newspaper from Novi Sad called Dnevnik published an article translating as “Dangerous criminal claws of USA,” with a subtitle “Socialists of Priština warn European public.”

Politika Daily extended its reporting on the bombing on April 26, 1999 with several articles, one of which could be roughly translated as “First time in the history of war since the invention of television: television headquarters deliberately destroyed.” On the same date Politika Daily also ran an article commenting on the strategy for NATO’s “Merciful Angel” operation against Yugoslavia. The editors of Politika Daily were quick to counter the “Merciful Angel” branding of the military operation with a Serbian medieval icon: the “White Angel,” a medieval fresco at the Mileševo monastery. It was the “merciful” against the “white.” The “merciful” angel prevailed.

Spread from Politika Daily, April 5, 1999.

Spread from Politika Daily, April 5, 1999.

Spread from Politika Daily, April 26, 1999, with continuing coverage of NATO bombing of Serbian broadcasting company RTS.

Spread from Politika Daily, April 26, 1999, with continuing coverage of NATO bombing of Serbian broadcasting company RTS.