Saturday, March 7, 2009

Propaganda and the perils of photojournalism

Past:

From British spies kept tabs on photographer Lee Miller

LONDON: Model, muse, fashion photographer and war correspondent, Lee Miller was dashing, glamorous — and, a colleague at Vogue magazine suspected, a communist.

British intelligence officials agreed, keeping tabs on Miller for almost 20 years. But while her newly released security file contains descriptions of the photographer's "queer clothes" and eclectic circle of friends, agents concluded Miller was not a threat to the country.

Miller's intelligence file is among a batch of previously secret documents declassified Tuesday by Britain's National Archives as part of a phased release of files from MI5, Britain's domestic security service.

The dossier reveals that Miller — listed under her married name, Elizabeth Miller Eloui — first came to MI5's attention because of her friendship with Wilfred McCartney, a British communist who had been imprisoned in 1925 as a Soviet spy.

A note from 1941 reported that "I have been told by a friend on the staff of Vogue magazine that Lee Miller, who is the photographer for that magazine, is a strong communist."

According to the suspicious colleague, Miller "keeps a very open house, and has a very varied circle of friends."

The staff member who informed on Miller is not identified.

[ ... ]

Miller was Vogue's star photographer throughout the war, and her work went well beyond fashion. The only female photojournalist to record front-line combat, she chronicled the London Blitz, the aftermath of the D-Day landings and the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. A famous photograph shows her taking a bath in Hitler's abandoned Munich apartment in 1945, her muddy army boots sitting on the bath mat in front of her.


Present:

From Photographers protest new anti-terror law

Hundreds of photographers descended on New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the British Metropolitan Police, in London on 16 February to protest against an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Act that could criminalise anyone taking a photograph of a police officer, report the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional arm of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and news reports.

Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act, which came into force this week, says that anyone can be arrested if s/he takes photographs of the police, the armed forces, or the intelligence services which are "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." The offence comes with a maximum 10-year sentence.

But EFJ and photographers say it could be misused to stop the taking of any pictures, especially of police abuse and demonstrations, and is part of a larger, creeping assault on civil liberties in the name of the war on terror.


From Section 76, which criminalizes taking pictures of the police in Britain, angers photojournalists and activists

Last week the New Labour government began the latest stage of their effort to dismantle the remaining civil liberties of the British people. This time round it’s Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, a sinister piece of legislation which effectively makes it illegal to take pictures of police officers if the feel like arresting you. The section prohibits “[e]liciting, publishing or communicating information about members” of the armed forces, police and other law enforcement “which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”, which gives the police on the ground carte blanche to arrest anyone photographing them (it’s likely terrorists don’t advertize their trade on their t-shirts).

If you have been on protests on the streets of Britain over the last decade you will know how authoritarian this law is likely to become. Not content with having more surveillance cameras per person than any other country in the world, the British police are punctilious archivists. On any given protest, the police will have a squad of photographers and videographers recording the demonstrators, without any pretext; just walking down the street with your kids with a placard makes you a suspect, with no recourse to finding out what is done with the information. In response demonstrators have taken to recording the police back, and sometimes getting footage and pictures of police brutality, which isn’t popular at the Met. Now for this little bit of cheekiness you could languish in jail for 10 years.

FIT Watch is a guerilla activist group which was set up to combat Forward Intelligence Teams — the police that watch protestors. They often get into scuffles with the police, but now they could potentially be arrested and put in prison en masse. Emily Apple, 33, is one of the founders. “It was set up as a response to FIT trying to harrrass people off the streets, and what was a clear campaign of intimidation against activists… We oppose the use of cameras on demonstrations, through publishing details of police officers.” She continues, “They keep records of us, so we keep them on them.” She says the reasoning given by the government — that terrorists could use such information for their own purposes — is tosh. “We’re obiously scared that it will be used against us, but nothing we are doing is of use to terrorists, associating pictures with terrorism is ludicrous, we will continue doing what we are doing because it is important, systematic repression of protests needs to be highlighted and challenged.”

Another law — Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 — had already given the police the right to stop and search any individual for “articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism”. For photojournalists, this has often mean
their cameras, and reports of stop and search of photographers are growing.


From On Financial Fools Day


When veteran peace activist Hugh Romney aka Wavy Gravy travelled America in the late 1960’s with the Hog Farm Hippie Collective protesting the Vietnam War, he said he had a surefire way to stop the police from beating them at demonstrations. “We’d whip out a bunch of cameras and they’d immediately start behaving themselves.” A good idea. The police don’t like to be seen as sadistic bullies. Cameras show what happens.

But as we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, is an aimed camera still a deterrent to police brutality in America? It’s certainly not so in Britain any more. Following an amendment to Section 76 of the United Kingdom's Counter Terrorism Act, if you so much as point your lens at a copper in Blighty these days you’re likely to find you and your camera under arrest.

Metropolitan Police Federation's chairman Peter Smyth admitted in a press release that Section 76: "is open to wide interpretation or, rather, misinterpretation…poorly-drafted anti-terrorist legislation could be used to justify unwarranted interference in their (press photographer's) lawful activities.”

Just recently the Chief British Superintendent of the Metropolitan police's Public Order Branch, David Hartshorn, announced that police are preparing for a "summer of rage" when victims from the economic downturn who have lost their jobs, homes or savings will take to the streets in violent mass protests to demonstrate and vent their anger against against banks and headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions. He pinpointed the kick-start for trouble to begin as a demonstration planned in the city of London to coincide with the G20 meeting of world leaders of industrial nations in early April.

The event, dubbed 'Financial Fools Day', is likely to cause mass disruption as thousands of demonstrators try to block traffic and buildings as they demonstrate against the financial system in the heart of the City.

One of the visiting world leaders will be Barak Obama. Perhaps it was his election slogan that helped to inspire this manifesto of the protestors:

MELTDOWN MANIFESTO

Can we oust the bankers from power?

Can we get rid of the corrupt politicians in their pay?

Can we guarantee everyone a job, a home, a future?

Can we establish government by the people, for the people, of the people?

Can we abolish all borders and be patriots for our planet?

Can we all live sustainably and stop climate chaos?

Can we make capitalism history?

YES WE CAN!

Groundbreaking arrest made in Guatemalan disappearance case

From The National Security Archive :

Police Archives Link Government Officials to Past Crimes

March 6, 2009 - In a break in one of Guatemala's most notorious human rights crimes, a Guatemalan police officer has been arrested in connection with the abduction and disappearance 25 years ago of labor activist Edgar Fernando García. The arrest yesterday of Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos is the result of an investigation of García's case by Guatemala's Human Rights Prosecutor using records found recently among the massive archives of the former National Police.

García was kidnapped by police agents in Guatemala City on February 18, 1984, during a wave of government repression targeting the left. He was never seen again. The policy of terror used by the Guatemalan security forces to intimidate and destroy perceived "subversives" during the country's 36-year civil conflict resulted in the disappearance of an estimated 45,000 civilians and the death of some 200,000, according to the Historical Clarification Commission in 1999.

Reports published today in Guatemala's Prensa Libre and EFE described the arrest of agent Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos, currently chief of police in Quezaltenango with 28 years of service in the former National Police and National Civil Police. Ramírez was charged with "illegal detention, kidnapping, forced disappearance, abuse of authority and failure of duty." According to Human Rights Prosecutor Sergio Morales, Ramírez was identified by human rights investigators from the recently uncovered records of the old Fourth Corps of the ex-National Police, which described how he and other agents secretly captured García and took him to an unknown location.

Kate Doyle, Director of the Archive's Guatemala Project, commented "The arrest of one of the alleged perpetrators of Fernando García's disappearance 25 years later underscores the critical importance of the archives of the Guatemalan police and military in achieving justice for the atrocities committed during the civil conflict. The government of Guatemala must do everything in its power to see that state records are made public for future human rights investigations if it truly supports accountability and justice for these crimes."

At the time of his disappearance, Edgar Fernando García was an engineering student, advisor to the San Carlos University's Labor Orientation School and union secretary of the glass workers' union, CAVISA. He was also a member of the Association of University Students (Asociación de Estudiantes Universitarios - AEU), an organization that frequently spoke out about state repression. After his abduction, García's wife Nineth Montenegro -- today a member of Congress -- launched a fruitless campaign to try and find him, and co-founded an important new human rights organization for families of the disappeared called Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo - GAM).

Although there has been no information about his capture since he disappeared in 1984, Fernando García's name appeared in the notorious "Military Logbook," an army intelligence document listing dozens of people disappeared by security forces in the mid-1980s and released publicly by the National Security Archive in 2000. The logbook indicated that García and other young students, professors and labor leaders were the subjects of intensive police surveillance in the weeks leading up to their capture and disappearance.

For more on the case, please visit the following link:

http://www.nsarchive.org/guatemala/logbook/index.htm

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image from http://www.spitting-image.net

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