CCC_2.3

ARCHITECTURAL FORENSICS

Forensic architecture refers to the practice of building surveyors who assess building damage and structural integrity in legal contexts. For these analysts, a building is not a static entity. Rather, its form is continuously undergoing transformations that register external influences. The various material components of a building—steel, plaster, concrete, or wood—move at different speeds in response to the constant force of gravity, the influence of the climate, changing patterns of inhabitation and use, and the unique force of blast. Surveyors see buildings as matter undergoing complex processes of formation—as matter in formation, in other words as information. Buildings are media forms because they register the effects of force fields, they contain or store these forces in material deformations, and, with the help of other mediating technologies and the forum, their interpretation can transmit this information further.

Related Projects

 

“A Verification of Building-Destruction Resulting from Attacks by the Israeli Occupation”

In the spring of 2009, following the Israeli winter attack, the Gaza-based and Hamas-run Ministry of Public Works and Housing started compiling an archive entitled A Verification of Building-Destruction Resulting from Attacks by the Israeli Occupation. This “book of destruction” contains thousands of entries, each documenting a single building that had been totally or partially destroyed, from cracked walls in houses that are still standing to those completely reduced to piles of rubble. Each photograph displays a catalogue number spray-painted onto the walls or onto the rubble itself. Sometimes, the building had been so badly pulverized that the numbers had to be jotted down on paper and held up in front of the camera while the photograph was being taken. In the code the first letter stands for the location: “G” is Gaza City, “N” the northern sector of the Strip, “K” is for Khan Younis and “R” for Rafah. The digits following the letters designate the relevant neighborhood, road, and plot. The classification is based on an area grid system that covers the entire Gaza Strip. Each existing and potential building site in Gaza—those ruined and those still intact—have thus been designated as a possible site of destruction.

Aesthetics Sensors

For a building surveyor, architecture is a sensor aestheticized to its environment. Its form of aesthetics is, however, primer for and primary to human judgment. Aesthetics is originally understood as that which pertains to the senses, but in this context it designates not the human senses but rather the sensorial capacity of matter itself. Matter can be regarded as an aesthetic sensorium inasmuch as its mutations register minute transformations, fluctuations, variations, and differences within force fields.

But the aesthetic dimension of forensics is not simply a reversal of Kant’s concept of aesthetics, in which the sensing object is now prioritized over the sensing subject. It rather involves a combination of the two. Material aesthetics is merely the first layer of a forensic aesthetics that relies firstly on material findings being brought into a forum, and secondly on the techniques and technologies by which they are interpreted, presented, and mediated there.

Human Rights Watch’s munitions expert Marc Garlasco presenting a photograph that he took in the aftermath of the 2008–2009 Gaza attack (Cast Lead) at the Human Rights Project, Bard College, in April 2010. In the image a woman stands steadfast in front of the ruins of her house. This photo encapsulates the shift, sometimes problematic, in emphasis from victim testimony to forensic architecture. In narrating this image Garlasco shifts his attention from figure to ground, interrogating the rubble of the house behind the witness his shadow fully masks. Photo: Human Rights Project, Bard College, 2010.

Human Rights Watch’s munitions expert Marc Garlasco presenting a photograph that he took in the aftermath of the 2008–2009 Gaza attack (Cast Lead) at the Human Rights Project, Bard College, in April 2010. In the image a woman stands steadfast in front of the ruins of her house. This photo encapsulates the shift, sometimes problematic, in emphasis from victim testimony to forensic architecture. In narrating this image Garlasco shifts his attention from figure to ground, interrogating the rubble of the house behind the witness his shadow fully masks. Photo: Human Rights Project, Bard College, 2010.

Photo: Human Rights Project, Bard College, 2010.

Human Rights Watch’s munitions expert Marc Garlasco presenting a photograph that he took in the aftermath of the 2008–2009 Gaza attack (Cast Lead) at the Human Rights Project, Bard College, in April 2010. Photo: Human Rights Project, Bard College, 2010.

In 1999, after the end of the armed conflicts in Kosovo, art historian András Riedlmayer and architect Andrew Herscher assembled a report titled Kosovo Cultural Heritage Project. In it they constructed a large database of the destruction of architectural heritage and mapped out the patterns of destruction in order to provide evidence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where their report and Riedlmayer’s testimony in support of it were presented several times. This video includes Slobodan Milošević’s cross-examination of András Riedlmayer on his expert testimony in The Hague in April 2002. The footage was assembled with material gathered from the Milošević Trial Public Archive hosted by Bard College Human Rights Project.

Excerpts from United Nations v. Slobodan Milošević. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, April 9, 2002. Film edited by Paulo Tavares.

Cracks

A structural crack is an element that is both a sensor and an agent. Cracks progress along the paths of least resistance; they reveal, exploit, and tear through the places where the cohesive forces of aggregate matter are at their weakest.

On April 23, 2013, a crack appeared in the floors and walls of the Rana Plaza factory in Savar near Dhaka, a building filled with garment industry sweatshops. In response, municipal building inspectors ordered the closure of the factory. But a crack is merely the potential for something to occur. Whether it will tear a building apart or just linger there for years is a matter of probability. The next morning the crack expanded, cutting furiously through the building and killing more than a thousand workers who had been forced back to work.

The ensuing legal process involved building surveyors both as witnesses and among the accused, but the trial had the authority to determine the responsibility for the causes of the event only in terms of the construction quality of the building. Left out of the analytical process were the larger forces and actors involved in the collapse: factory owners connected to the ruling party, consumers, and the multinational corporations feeding an endless appetite for cheap fashion.

Forensis must become an analytical frame and a multilayered political practice in which microphysical analysis is an entry point from which to reconstruct larger processes, events and social relations, conjunctions of actors and practices, as well as structures and technologies.

Stills of a video from the Dhaka police showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, Savar, Dhaka area, April 23, 2013 (a day before the collapse). Source: BBC News, Dhaka Building Collapse: Police footage shows cracks, April 26, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-22307589

Stills of a video from the Dhaka police showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, Savar, Dhaka area, April 23, 2013 (a day before the collapse). Source: BBC News, Dhaka Building Collapse: Police footage shows cracks, April 26, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-22307589

Stills showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, April 23, 2013. Source: BBC News.

Stills showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, April 23, 2013. Source: BBC News.

Stills showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, April 23, 2013. Source: BBC News.

Stills showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, April 23, 2013. Source: BBC News.

Stills showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, April 23, 2013. Source: BBC News.

Stills showing building surveyor’s markings over the crack in one of Rana Plaza’s walls, April 23, 2013. Source: BBC News.

Never again, Sujaul Khan, in: The Daily Star, April 30, 2013, Dhaka and Chittagong, Bangladesh. SCREEN SHOT / not real image.

Never again, Sujaul Khan, in: The Daily Star, April 30, 2013, Dhaka and Chittagong, Bangladesh. SCREEN SHOT / not real image.

PARIS, JUNE 25, 1848 / PARIS, JUNE 26, 1848

Eugène Thibault, The Barricade in rue Saint-Maur-Popincourt before and after the attack by General Lamoricière’s troops. June 25 and 26, 1848, daguerrotypes.
Source: Musée d’Orsay / Réunion des musées nationaux.

BEFORE AND AFTER

While photographs are essential for the forensic process, they are themselves also constituted by a complex process of material inscription. The medium on which the trace is registered has specific material characteristics, sensitivity, and grain. It can record some impressions but not others; it can retain them for longer and shorter periods of time; it affects what it accepts.

Before-and-after photographs are the very embodiment of a forensic time. They frame a missing event by showing the states that preceded and followed it. This form of presentation emerged out of the limitations of the early photographic process. The few dozen seconds required for the exposure of a mid-nineteenth-century photograph was too long to record moving figures and sudden events. The result was that people were usually blurred into the background of the image; only buildings and other static elements of the urban fabric or landscape were registered. The absence of the violent event from representation is somewhat analogous to the way in which trauma selectively erases the memory of events that have proven hardest for the subject to experience. But the use of montage, even before the advent of the motion picture, allowed the consequences of battles, uprisings, and urban transformations to be represented as if they were archaeology.

(with Ines Weizman)

PARIS, JUNE 25, 1848 / PARIS, JUNE 26, 1848 Eugène Thibault, The Barricade in rue Saint-Maur-Popincourt before and after the attack by General Lamoricière’s troops. June 25 and 26, 1848, daguerrotypes. Source: Musée d’Orsay / Réunion des musées nationaux.

PARIS, JUNE 25, 1848 / PARIS, JUNE 26, 1848
Eugène Thibault, The Barricade in rue Saint-Maur-Popincourt before and after the attack by General Lamoricière’s troops. June 25 and 26, 1848, daguerrotypes. Source: Musée d’Orsay / Réunion des musées nationaux.

June 25/26, 1848: Saint-Maur-Popincourt, Paris, France

The “before” image shows a sequence of barricades blocking the road. Although the workers’ neighborhoods of the time were undergoing an unprecedented population explosion, we can see nobody in the street. People might have been moving too fast to be captured in the daguerreotype’s lengthy exposure time. In the “after” image the National Guard seems to have broken through. Artillery and other military equipment is positioned in the area previously held by the defenders.

Satellite Imaging

Today, some of the most common before-and-after images come from satellites. The orbital path of satellites circling the planet means that they can only capture data about the same place at regular intervals. Because there is a time lag between each image, specific events are often missed. In addition, the resolution of publicly available satellite imagery is limited to 50 cm per pixel, which means that a single pixel masks the human body (long shadows or large crowds can, however, sometimes be discerned). This limitation on resolution means that, 150 years after the invention of photography, the original condition before-and-after images persists: The human figure and events are dissolved into the ground of buildings, cities, or territories. Where images are concerned, forensis must attend not only to what is shown but also to the matter in which it is registered. These images indeed demand a form of interpretation analogous to archaeology—not an earthly archaeology, but rather one that relates to the materiality of images, or grain, silver salt, and pixels.

January 3, 1973 / December 14, 1985: Northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In January 1973, less than five months after Landsat 1 went into orbit, the first photographic survey of Cambodia was undertaken from outer space. That year also saw the culmination of an escalating campaign of “secret” bombing unleashed by the Nixon administration. The widespread carpet bombing transformed the surface of the territory, ravaging villages, fields, and forests, and reorienting waterways. However, the 1973 image became known for providing the “before” image—the supposedly neutral baseline—against which another crime would be registered: the atrocities perpetrated by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. A satellite survey undertaken in 1985, six years after the Khmer Rouge regime was eliminated, shows a huge orthogonal grid—vast canal systems dug along the gridlines covering one square kilometer on the Chinese military maps. These were the “killing fields.” But the US bombing is still the lesser known episode because there was no “before” image with which to compare it.

January 3, 1973 Landsat 1 (path / row 135 / 52) Northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. These are false color images in which red represents vegetation. Visible in the "after” image is an orthogonal grid of canals. January 3, 1973, Landsat 1 (path/row 135/52); and December 14, 1985, Landsat 5 (path/row 126/52). Image: Courtesy of US Geological Survey.

January 3, 1973
Landsat 1 (path / row 135 / 52)
Northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. These are false color images in which red represents vegetation. Visible in the “after” image is an orthogonal grid of canals. January 3, 1973, Landsat 1 (path/row 135/52); and December 14, 1985, Landsat 5 (path/row 126/52). Image: Courtesy of US Geological Survey.

December 14, 1985 Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52

December 14, 1985
Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52)

February 25, 1995 / January 14, 2009: Near Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The third major force of destruction to have been inflicted on Cambodia is climate change. Cambodia is one of the countries contributing least to climate change but paying the highest price for it. In 2011, the worst flood in Cambodia’s recorded history saw three-quarters of its land area inundated and about eighty percent of the harvest destroyed.

The sequence of three catastrophes suffered by Cambodians demands a shift in the frame of analysis, from a notion of human rights in relation to the acts of repressive regimes, towards a frame that combines human conflict with environmental transformation and climate change.

February 25, 1995, Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52) The area near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, before and after massive flooding. February 25, 1995 and January 14, 2009. Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52). Image: Courtesy of US Geological Survey.

February 25, 1995, Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52)
The area near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, before and after massive flooding. February 25, 1995 and January 14, 2009. Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52). Image: Courtesy of US Geological Survey.

January 14, 2009 Landsat 5 (path / row 126/52)

January 14, 2009
Landsat 5 (path / row 126 / 52)

2003/2007: Darfur, Sudan

Studying the transformation of the natural environment in Darfur, the Yale University Genocide Studies Program employed a technique for analyzing remote sensing data called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). This is a graphical indicator used to visualize the vigor of vegetation cover. When two or more satellite photographs are juxtaposed or superimposed, the NDVI data can demonstrate changes in the natural environment between the dates of capture. Each pixel on the image has a color on a scale that indicates whether the area within the pixel has lost or gained vegetation cover.

Several years after being abandoned, fields display a random distribution of plant varieties, representing the robust return of “natural” (uncultivated) vegetation, as can be seen in the images. This, the Yale report claims, is an indication of the decrease in the number of livestock and the intensity of farming activity and thus a decrease in population that followed the ethnic cleansing of these areas.

In this and similar analytical work, human rights violations are made visible by visualizing some of the previously invisible domains of the electromagnetic spectrum. In contemporary human rights advocacy, the exclusion of the human figure from some forms of representation is thus complemented by the gradual exclusion of humans from the increasingly automated process of viewing, and from the algorithmic process of data interpretation.

March 10, 2003 Damage to a village to the east of Shangil Tobay, North Darfur, Sudan. March 10, 2003 and December 18, 2006. Image: © DigitalGlobe, Inc. Original source: AAAS, High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Chad and Sudan, http://www.aaas.org/ZzU

March 10, 2003
Damage to a village to the east of Shangil Tobay, North Darfur, Sudan. March 10, 2003 and December 18, 2006. Image: © DigitalGlobe, Inc. Original source: AAAS, High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Chad and Sudan, http://www.aaas.org/ZzU

December 18, 2006

December 18, 2006

2003 Darfur, Sudan. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) showing the increasing vigor of (predominantly) grasses and shrubs between 2003 and 2007. Image: © Russell F. Schimmer. Original source: Russell F. Schimmer, Tracking the Genocide in Darfur: Population Displacement as Recorded by Remote Sensing, Genocide Studies Program, Working Paper no. 36, Yale University, 2008.

2003
Darfur, Sudan. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) showing the increasing vigor of (predominantly) grasses and shrubs between 2003 and 2007. Image: © Russell F. Schimmer. Original source: Russell F. Schimmer, Tracking the Genocide in Darfur: Population Displacement as Recorded by Remote Sensing, Genocide Studies Program, Working Paper no. 36, Yale University, 2008.

2007

2007

 

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DRIFT

If geography expresses in its very etymology the possibility to write and therefore read the surface of the earth for the actions that have been played out on it, the liquid territory of the sea challenges both representation and spatial analysis in maritime spaces. As a result, the sea is often perceived as the ultimate frontier beyond visibility and law. The deaths of illegalized migrants at sea seem to demonstrate this ongoing reality.

Governing migration at sea constitutes one of the prime examples of biopolitical power today. It is exercised not only through tracking people using remote sensing technologies and intercepting them with mobile patrols, but also through causing death by abstaining from rescue action—a form of passive, remote killing. Because these deaths are largely unknowable they are also unaccountable. Furthermore, the oceans have increasingly become a dense sensorium composed of optical and thermal cameras, sea-, air- and land-borne radars, vessel-tracking technologies, and satellites, in which all movements leave traces in digital form. The principle of the “freedom of the high seas” comes under threat as the sea becomes more intensely policed than ever.

But paradoxically, the more extensive the surveillance of the sea becomes, the more states become vulnerable to legal activism that seeks to render them liable for avoidable death. If states can see boats in distress they are obligated to intervene. As a result, the sea has become a laboratory not only for new techniques of state control and surveillance but for new practices of transnational citizenship and human rights.
(Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani)

Related Projects

Digital navigation system onboard one of the trawlers of the Mazara del Vallo fleet (Southern Sicily). The map shows the various trawling paths and the presence of obstacles (rocks and shipwrecks) around the island of Lampedusa.

Digital navigation system onboard one of the trawlers of the Mazara del Vallo fleet (Southern Sicily). The map shows the various trawling paths and the presence of obstacles (rocks and shipwrecks) around the island of Lampedusa.

Screenshot of one of the live online vessel tracking portals which gathers and presents live AIS data.

Screenshot of one of the live online vessel tracking portals which gathers and presents live AIS data.

Brookes

The methodologies of contemporary human rights organizations owe much to the eighteenth-century British movement to end the slave trade. The 1789 drawing of the slave ship Brookes, made by an anonymous Plymouth abolitionist and perfected by Thomas Clarkson, featured a straightforward descriptiveness that differed starkly from previous moralizing tracts against slavery. The drawing spread quickly through the media and in pamphlets, and was included in Clarkson’s An Abstract of the Evidence, delivered before the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791. Its rhetoric of empirical precision and measurement makes it a powerful antecedent of human rights forensics. (Adam Hochschild and Thomas Keenan)

Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788. Source: Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Washington DC.

Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788.
Source: Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Washington DC.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851 Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), 1840 Oil on canvas, 90.8 ×122.6 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Henry Lillie Pierce Fund, 99.22

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851
Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), 1840
Oil on canvas, 90.8 ×122.6 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Henry Lillie Pierce Fund, 99.22

Zong

Eight years earlier in 1781 it was an event on the Caribbean Sea that fuelled the abolitionist movement. The crew of the English slave ship Zong threw 132 slaves overboard, having calculated that the insurance money for their death was worth more than the profit gained from selling them alive. As ships crossed the Atlantic it was a common practice for the captain and crew to jettison cargo in storms, but in a few instances such as on the Zong, it was slaves who were thrown overboard. An ensuing legal dispute was brought by the owners to claim £ 30 per head for each slave jettisoned, by invoking necessity, one of the criteria for the “Perils of the Sea” clause. At the time this was not considered a significant court case, as there were few other instances of jettisoning slaves and so there was little if any legal precedents. Outside the court, a storm of controversy erupted, spearheaded by the abolitionist Granville Sharp’s chronicle of the trial, which mobilized public indignation about the massacre. The event was represented in Turner’s 1840 painting of the scene. (Ayesha Hameed)

Cap Anamur

The Cap Anamur was leased in 1979 by independent humanitarian groups to respond to the plight of the Vietnamese boat people in the China Sea. Not only did the ship serve as a floating hospital and safe haven—its organizers claimed that in 1979 alone it helped to rescue 9,057 people from death—but it also became a media forum, populated with journalists of all kinds, for the collection and transmission of images of the boat people’s plight. The broadcast of distant suffering came thereafter to be regarded as one of the defining features of contemporary humanitarian interventions. In 2004, this time in the Mediterranean, a second ship named Cap Anamur rescued thirty-seven sub-Saharan migrants on their way to the southern shores of Europe. The Cap Anamur was later denied permission for the migrants to disembark and was kept off the coast of Sicily for eleven days, during which time it was reached by lawyers, journalists, politicians, and activists. Despite the courageous effort to bring the violence routinely perpetrated against migrants at the maritime borders of Europe into the public eye, most of the crew and the migrants were immediately arrested upon landing. (Lorenzo Pezzani)

Naples, Italy, January 15, 2012. A boat with approximately sixty-eight Somali migrants off the Maltese coast. These migrants had the good fortune to be rescued by the Pa-namanian-flagged M / V Verona who turned them over to a Maltese patrol vessel. US Navy photo / released.

Naples, Italy, January 15, 2012. A boat with approximately sixty-eight Somali migrants off the Maltese coast. These migrants had the good fortune to be rescued by the Pa-namanian-flagged M / V Verona who turned them over to a Maltese patrol vessel. US Navy photo / released.

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FIGURE / GROUND

Related Projects

Field Causalities

Exhumations are acts of “figuration” in that they seek to recover the human body from undifferentiated grounds. Equally, human rights work produces figurations when it concentrates on individual testimonies, while tending to avoid complex political backgrounds.

But as forensics shifts from figure to ground, from the human to the environment, explanatory models and structures of causation must also shift. The increasingly destructive entanglement of human and natural forces poses major challenges to the classical figurations inherent to law and to human rights. Whereas criminal law seeks to establish a linear or causal relation between perpetrator and victim, between violent actions and material traces, “field causalities” are inherently relational, non-linear, and diffused over space and time.

Staro Sajmište (Old Fairground) / former Semlin concentration camp, Belgrade. 3D laser scan integrated with ground penetrating radar data. The low foundations seen between the trees held the posts of barbed wire fence that marked the eastern edge of the camp. The subterranean scan was undertaken in search of archaeological remains and potential graves but no object could be identified in the ground. Image: Forensic Architecture / ScanLAB/ Caroline Sturdy Colls, 2013

Staro Sajmište (Old Fairground) / former Semlin concentration camp, Belgrade. 3D laser scan integrated with ground penetrating radar data. The low foundations seen between the trees held the posts of barbed wire fence that marked the eastern edge of the camp. The subterranean scan was undertaken in search of archaeological remains and potential graves but no object could be identified in the ground. Image: Forensic Architecture / ScanLAB/ Caroline Sturdy Colls, 2013

Violence in the Anthropocene

The concept of the Anthropocene names the way human history is inscribed into the materiality of the Earth. As such it undoes the classic figure / ground gestalt. The ground can no longer be seen as a neutral background against which human action takes place, or a passive medium upon which it leaves its traces; rather, it is remade by human action and also acts as an agent in entangled natural / historical processes. The adequate forums for dealing with field causalities are not juridical but political. To establish field causalities for environmental violence is to articulate the material basis for the imperative to fundamentally reconfigure the political, economical, natural field—as opposed to the tendency of international justice to punish a few culpable individuals.

United Nations Environmental Program Map: Areas affected by vegetative drought, 2010. This image correlates the intensity of drought (dark brown) with civil conflict (gray hatch) and population growth (black dots). Human-induced climate change has been destabilizing the climate in the Sahel for decades. Years of consecutive drought drastically reduced land available for cultivation, placing increased stress on already fragile livelihoods. This has exacerbated existing conflicts in the region, leading to a displacement of people to coastal cities such as Lagos. (Adrian Lahoud)

United Nations Environmental Program Map: Areas affected by vegetative drought, 2010. This image correlates the intensity of drought (dark brown) with civil conflict (gray hatch) and population growth (black dots). Human-induced climate change has been destabilizing the climate in the Sahel for decades. Years of consecutive drought drastically reduced land available for cultivation, placing increased stress on already fragile livelihoods. This has exacerbated existing conflicts in the region, leading to a displacement of people to coastal cities such as Lagos.
(Adrian Lahoud)

radul court

FORUMS

A distinctive feature of the forums of international tribunals is that, unlike domestic criminal courts where evidence is presented in established forums, they must instead “gather around the evidence,” as it were. In other words, the traces of the crime give rise to the space in which it can be judged. Almost fifty years after the Nuremberg Trials, it was the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that reintroduced the processes of international justice. Currently these forums are multiplying and expanding to include national courts exercising universal jurisdiction, new institutions, and human rights commissions and councils. The maps show however that “international justice” is still largely a European export.

Featured Image: from Judy Radul, “World Rehearsal Court,” 2009.

International judicial network: compulsory jurisdiction across the globe. Data: Karen J. Alter, Cesare P. R. Romano (as of July 1, 2013)

International judicial network: compulsory jurisdiction across the globe. Data: Karen J. Alter, Cesare P. R. Romano (as of July 1, 2013). Visualization: Francesco Sebregondi.

International judicial network: taxonomic timeline. Data: Karen J. Alter, Cesare P. R. Romano (as of July 1, 2013)

International judicial network: taxonomic timeline. Data: Karen J. Alter, Cesare P. R. Romano (as of July 1, 2013). Visualization: Francesco Sebregondi.

International judicial network: universal jurisdiction. Data: International Crimes Database (as of February 1, 2014). Visualization: Francesco Sebregondi.

International judicial network: universal jurisdiction. Data: International Crimes Database (as of February 1, 2014). Visualization: Francesco Sebregondi.

Agoracentrism

The physical architecture of the forums of “international justice” can often be unassuming. Some of them inhabit improvised or rented offices, community and sports halls, and this ad hoc quality demonstrates the extent to which their physical setting is secondary to their function as media environments. The “agoracentrism” of these international tribunals means that they have emerged as media spaces in a way traditional courts—still largely allergic to the presence of the media—are not yet allowed to be. The architecture and physical arrangement of tribunals respond to the media by which they operate. Face-to-face interaction is replaced by face-to-screen and screen-to-screen interrogation. The legal process proceeds much like the work of broadcast studios, using a comparable array of facilities to record, store, archive, and transmit the images and sounds on which it depends.

The forums of international justice are not objective in the simple sense of the word; each is located within a complex political reality that operates according to a different set of protocols, and is prone to different forms of manipulations. Each ultimately draws different limits around what can be shown and said.

The Forensic Triangle

Forensics mediates between two sites of operation, namely fields and forums. The field is the site of investigation and the forum is the place where the results of an investigation are presented and contested. However, both these sites must be understood to be more than mere locational designations. The field is not only an abstract grid on which traces of a crime can be plotted out, but is itself a dynamic and elastic territory, a force field that is not only shaped by conflict but also shapes it. The forum, in turn, is a composite apparatus. It is constituted as a shifting triangulation between three elements: a contested object or site, an interpreter tasked with translating “the language of things,” and the assembly of a public gathering. Forensis thus establishes a relation between the animation of material objects and the gathering of political collectives.

clyde-snow-at-the-trial-of-the-argentinean-junta-1985

OSTEOBIOGRAPHIES

THE FORENSIC TURN

In recent decades, forensic exhumations of war victims have become a powerful historical, political, and legal resource. Starting in Argentina in the mid-1980s with efforts to identify the disappeared victims of the “dirty war” and provide evidence in the trials that followed the end of the juntas, the investigative work of forensic anthropology teams spread over subsequent decades to Chile, Spain, Guatemala, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, honduras, Iraqi Kurdistan, Cyprus, and elsewhere. Yet the turn to forensics did not produce a scenario in which the solid object provided a stable and fixed alternative to human uncertainties and ambiguities. Forensic findings were often inconclusive; they were subject, as is the case with science, to degrees of probability and margins of error—and the practice itself is invariably politicized. Conviction was contingent on the forces and techniques of presentation and demonstration, as well as on politics and rhetoric.
(with Thomas Keenan)

Forensic anthropologist William Haglund with an investigative team from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, at the Pilica Farm mass grave near Srebrenica, Bosnia, Fall 1996. Photo: Gilles Peress / Magnum Photos.

Forensic anthropologist William Haglund with an investigative team from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, at the Pilica Farm mass grave near Srebrenica, Bosnia, Fall 1996. Photo: Gilles Peress / Magnum Photos.

 

Related Projects

Exhumation of Leaders

It is not only the identification of anonymized victims in mass graves that has rewritten the space of contemporary politics. Recent years have seen a wave of symbolically charged exhumations of political leaders—mainly anticolonial or antifascist leaders—whose deaths have remained contested.

In Chile, former president Salvador Allende and poet Pablo Neruda were exhumed to ascertain whether their deaths had been the work of Pinochet’s troops. Simon Bolívar’s televised exhumation in 2010 was orchestrated by hugo Chávez, who wanted to prove that Colombian oligarchs had poisoned the liberator of Latin America. Yet these exhumations all failed to confirm that the subjects had been murdered. In Brazil, the body of João Goulart, the president top- pled in the US-backed coup of 1964, was exhumed in an attempt to establish if he had been poisoned while in exile in Argentina 1976. In Spain, exhumations have recently begun in order to find and identify the remains of the poet Federico García Lorca and others killed during the Spanish civil war.

That the heroes of the left are being dug up suggests that their politics might be in short supply among the living.

((VIDEO HERE))

The Exhumation of Simón Bolívar. Excerpts of footage captured in the National Pantheon, broadcast by VTV (Venezolana de Televisión), July 15, 2010. Godofredo Pereira, 2010. 7 minutes

Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was the most recent in this series to be exhumed, based on suspicions that his death had been caused by radioactive polonium-210, thereby implicating Israel (and its nuclear reactor). Like the relics of a medieval saint, sixty separate samples of his body are now scattered across Europe, the subject of an ongoing political and scientific battle in which the credibility and expertise of diverse forensic pathologists and toxicologists is regularly challenged.

Labeling and location of the collected specimens taken from Yasser Arafat’s body upon his exhumation on November 26, 2012. Source: “Swiss forensic report on Arafat’s death,” Al Jazeera, last updated November 6, 2013, Image: Courtesy of University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) and Al Jazeera.

Labeling and location of the collected specimens taken from Yasser Arafat’s body upon his exhumation on November 26, 2012. Source: “Swiss forensic report on Arafat’s death,” Al Jazeera, last updated November 6, 2013, Image: Courtesy of University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) and Al Jazeera.

Subject / Object

To the untrained eye, all bones look similar—skulls are devoid of the expression and the gestures of a human face. But bones are exposed to the myriad forces of life—labor, location, nutrition, habit, disease, and violence—in a manner similar to the exposure of photographic film to light. Like any photograph, the inscriptions imaged on bones are ever unequivocal. To be persuasive and effective they need interpretation. Whereas DNA analysis can lead to the positive identification of victims, the morphological process of bone analysis (referred to as osteobiography) searches for the way in which the entire process of life is recorded—or fossilized—in the form and texture of the skeleton. The “biography” of bones, just like their “testimony,” demonstrates the way in which the forensic combination of science and law can animate objects and treat them as if they were human subjects. Human remains are the hinge on which our forensic sensibility turns because the trace of the living subject cannot easily be erased from them; it lingers and haunts them.

Clyde Snow presents evidence gathered by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (here, a slide of the skull of Liliana Pereyra) during the trial of members of the Argentine junta, Buenos Aires, April 24, 1985. Photo: Daniel Muzio / AFP / Getty Images.

Clyde Snow presents evidence gathered by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (here, a slide of the skull of Liliana Pereyra) during the trial of members of the Argentine junta, Buenos Aires, April 24, 1985. Photo: Daniel Muzio / AFP / Getty Images.

Forensic archaeologists assemble and examine the skeletal remains of victims of the Guatemalan Civil War, Escuintla Forensic Laboratory (FAFG), Escuintla, Guatemala, 2011. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

Forensic archaeologists assemble and examine the skeletal remains of victims of the Guatemalan Civil War, Escuintla Forensic Laboratory (FAFG), Escuintla, Guatemala, 2011. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

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PREDICTIVE FORENSICS

Predictive forensics is a mode of investigation concerned with evidence of an event that has not yet taken place. The trace is still in the future and the future is the product of computational models.

Predictive forensics is employed in the context of two seemingly unrelated fields: environmental science, which employs sophisticated models to map the risks associated with planetary-scale climate change, and security analysis, concerned with predicting the risks encountered in the “global war on terror.”

Related Projects

Model Futures

A climate model is a mathematical construction conceived to predict probable future scenarios based on past data, but it is also an image, a visual representation in a time-based cartography drawn on various scales. While a photograph documents events in the past, the model produces image representations of possible futures; however, in an analogous manner to a photograph, the model has a resolution, created by the distribution of climate data sensors placed across the surface of the Earth, in oceans, and in the different layers of the atmosphere. Because the sensors are not evenly spaced apart, the model has variable resolutions across its extent.

Anisotropic mesh adaptivity for multiscale ocean modeling,“gyre simulation” M. D. Piggott, P. E. Farrell, C. R. Wilson, G. J. Gorman, and C. C. Pain, 2009 Ocean climate model, using an adaptive mesh rather than a consistent grid. The mesh dynamically adapts its resolution based on the phenomena it is trying to capture, in this case a gyre. The variation in the mesh is based on the fact that some areas have more relevant information than others. (Adrian Lahoud)

Anisotropic mesh adaptivity for multiscale ocean modeling,“gyre simulation” M. D. Piggott, P. E. Farrell, C. R. Wilson, G. J. Gorman, and C. C. Pain, 2009
Ocean climate model, using an adaptive mesh rather than a consistent grid. The mesh dynamically adapts its resolution based on the phenomena it is trying to capture, in this case a gyre. The variation in the mesh is based on the fact that some areas have more relevant information than others. (Adrian Lahoud) — SCREEN SHOT / not real image

The Problem with Holes

The hole in the ozone layer generated by CFC emissions was discovered and negated in close succession in the second half of the 1980s. “Climate change skeptics” claimed that the sequence of operations that had “con- firmed” its existence—involving sensing, processing, and modeling—was prone to error and manipulation and the image created was but one possible scenario amongst others.

Representing ozone levels only during spring in the southern hemisphere was the only way of illustrating the steady decrease in the ozone levels in a stratospheric area as large as north America. But this seasonal phenomenon need not necessarily have been described as a “hole.” The hole was constructed both as a concept and as an image in order to call for action. It was, as Seth Denizen describes it, “a masterstroke of forensic aesthetics.” Meteorologist Jonathan Shanklin, who in 1985 codiscovered the seasonal thinning in the ozone layer over Antarctica, was aware of the power of the “hole” metaphor, commenting: “[T]hat was a really good thing to call it because an ozone hole must be bad. Almost automatically, it meant that people wanted something to be done about it. The hole had to be filled in.”

This model was created by NASA in order to show what would have happened to the levels of ozone over the Antarctic if Chlorofluorocarbons had not been regulated. The darker blue areas in the image are those with the most ozone depletion. These calculations left the science of climate change open to attacks from “climate change skeptics.”

This model was created by NASA in order to show what would have happened to the levels of ozone over the Antarctic if Chlorofluorocarbons had not been regulated. The darker blue areas in the image are those with the most ozone depletion. These calculations left the science of climate change open to attacks from “climate change skeptics.” / SCREEN SHOT (not real image)

Future Crimes

One of the prevalent modes of contemporary security management involves “pre-emptive targeted assassinations”—most often by missiles fired from drones. In these operations people are killed not for crimes they have committed in the past but rather for the attacks they will have committed in the future.

What trace does violence that has not yet happened leave in advance? The “futurology” of contemporary warfare looks for such traces in the analysis of patterns of behavior and movement in space. These are calculations not unlike the technical analysis of stock prices, which attempts to predict the future on the basis of past behavior. The contemporary battlefield has thus become a field of calculations.

SCREEN SHOT / not real image

SCREEN SHOT / not real image

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THRESHOLD OF DETECTABILITY

Some drone-fired missiles can drill a hole through the roof before burrowing their way deep into buildings, where their warheads explode. The size of the hole the missile leaves is smaller than the size of a single pixel in the highest resolution to which publicly-available satellite images are degraded. The hole is thus at the “threshold of visibility” and might appear as nothing more than a slight color variation, a single darker pixel perhaps. This has direct implications for the documentation of drone strikes in satellite imagery, which is often as close to the scene as most investigators can get. When the figure dissolves into the ground of the image, it is the conditions—legal, political, technical—that degrade the image, or that keep it at a lower resolution that become the relevant material for forensic investigations.

A hole is not simply an absence. It is more, not less, information than the matter that surrounds it, be that reinforced concrete or ozone-rich atmosphere. This is because a hole is information both with regard to the materiality it perforates (concrete/ozone) and to the shape of its absence.

Pixels

Rather than the pixelation of publicly-available satellite images being the result of visual or optical constraints, these images are degraded by legal regulations and directives. The resolution of 50 cm/pixel (in which the size of a pixel is half a meter by half a meter) has been established be- cause this is the frame within which the human body fits when seen from above. The size of the pixel masks the body and makes it disappear into the urban and territorial background. This is a useful resolution for satellite image providers because they can avoid the risk of privacy infringement lawsuits when recording people on private rooftops or terraces, for example. But important details of strategic sites are also camouflaged in this resolution, as are the consequences of violence and violations.

The roof of this building in Miranshah, Pakistan has been hit by a US drone-fired missile, but the entry hole of the missile is masked in the photograph’s pixelation. DigitalGlobe, Inc., March 31, 2012.

The roof of this building in Miranshah, Pakistan has been hit by a US drone-fired missile, but the entry hole of the missile is masked in the photograph’s pixelation. DigitalGlobe, Inc., March 31, 2012.

DigitalGlobe, Inc., March 31, 2012.

DigitalGlobe, Inc., March 31, 2012.

Drones

Targeted assassinations have reintroduced the problem of figuration in warfare. Identifying the human body is the very purpose of the optics on board a drone as it aims at singling out individuals for assassination. This is precisely the opposite of what publicly-available satellite images do when they obscure the individual through reduced resolution. The drone strikes are thus executed at a significantly higher resolution than the one at which the damage they create can be captured when likewise viewed from above. This turns on its head one of the foundational principles of forensics, namely that the criminal investigator should be able to see more, using better optics or in better resolution, than the perpetrators of the crime. This particular inversion is derived from a more fundamental one, for usually it is state agencies that investigate individuals or criminal organizations, and can thus bring better instruments to bear on the traces left behind than those used in the act. In this case however, it is state agencies that do the killings and independent organizations that do the forensics. The differential in knowledge, embodied in the gap between the resolution in which attacks are undertaken and the resolution in which they can be investigated, opens the space for denial. This denial necessitate a “return to the witness.”

But returning to the witness after the “forensic turn” is a matter of entangling the human voice with prosthetic technologies of reconstruction and memory enhancement.

Still from Rachel Maddow, “Victims of secretive US drone strikes gain voice in Pakistani lawyer,” MSNBC, June 29, 2012.

Still from Rachel Maddow, “Victims of secretive US drone strikes gain voice in Pakistani lawyer,” MSNBC, June 29, 2012.

Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International, 2009.

Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International, 2009.


The two above images were taken by munitions expert Chris Cobb-Smith on the roof of the Salha family’s home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza on February 1, 2009, less than a month after the end of the Israeli Operation Cast Lead attack. It shows the entry hole from the charge of a drone missile that was shot at the house as a “warning,” but went through the roof into the rooms below. Three minutes later a large bomb was dropped on the house killing six members of the family. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International, 2009.

The two above images were taken by munitions expert Chris Cobb-Smith on the roof of the Salha family’s home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza on February 1, 2009, less than a month after the end of the Israeli Operation Cast Lead attack. It shows the entry hole from the charge of a drone missile that was shot at the house as a “warning,” but went through the roof into the rooms below. Three minutes later a large bomb was dropped on the house killing six members of the family. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith / Amnesty International, 2009.


Chris Cobb-Smith took this picture standing on the ground floor of the Salha family home after the strike. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith/ Amnesty International, 2009.

Chris Cobb-Smith took this picture standing on the ground floor of the Salha family home after the strike. Photo: Chris Cobb-Smith/
Amnesty International, 2009.

A man is seen through a hole made in his roof by a US drone strike in Damadola, Bajaur region, Pakistan, on January 13, 2006. Photo: © Tariq Mahmood / AFP / Getty.

A man is seen through a hole made in his roof by a US drone strike in Damadola, Bajaur region, Pakistan, on January 13, 2006. Photo: © Tariq Mahmood / AFP / Getty.

Home hit by a shell. This attack killed one man, injuring two others. Tuffah, northern Gaza. Photo: © Kent Klich, 2009.

Home hit by a shell. This attack killed one man, injuring two others. Tuffah, northern Gaza. Photo: © Kent Klich, 2009.

Khuzaa, southeastern Gaza. Photo: © Kent Klich, 2009.

Khuzaa, southeastern Gaza. Photo: © Kent Klich, 2009.