GRAPHIC WARNING: This post contains graphic images which some viewers may find disturbing.
At the Beaconsfield Gallery in London last Friday, I sat in a darkened room and watched as dozens of images of death and destruction lit up the wall in front of me. Gruesome photos of mangled bodies and destroyed buildings, each accompanied by the name of a village and a date. The war they depict does not officially exist.
The photographs were taken by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, and they document what he says are the civilian victims of unmanned aircraft 'drone' attacks carried out by U.S. forces.
Noor Behram via AP
In this Aug. 23, 2010 photo provided by Noor Behram, a man holds debris from a missile strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The Beaconsfield gallery in London is staging an exhibit of photographs taken by Behram allegedly showing innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal region.
Over a three year period Behram was able to travel to around 60 attack sites in Waziristan, a region that is usually off-limits to the international media. His images, fuzzy, washed-out and often poorly composed, are an incongruous sight in an art gallery, but these are photographs taken as a form of documentation, rather than for their aesthetic value.
In this, Behram follows a path set out by the renowned French photographer Gilles Peress, who declared in a 1997 interview that "I don't care so much anymore about 'good photography'; I am gathering evidence for history." Peress' project A Village Destroyed, which documented a 1999 massacre in Kosovo, illustrated the important role that photography can play in human rights investigations.
Noor Behram via AP
The body of an eight-year-old boy killed by a missile strike in Makeen, South Waziristan, Pakistan, in a photo taken on Feb. 14, 2009.
Behram explained his own motivation in taking the pictures: "I have tried covering the important but uncovered and unreported truth about drone strikes in Pakistan: that far more civilians are being injured and killed than the Americans and Pakistanis admit," he told the AP's Sebastian Abbot last month.
As Abbot reported, U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program, but they have said privately that the strikes harm very few innocents and are key to weakening al-Qaida and other militants.
Noor Behram via AP
A man stands next to a destroyed vehicle after a missile strike on a funeral in South Waziristan, Pakistan, on July 8, 2009.
Alongside Behram's pictures, the exhibition features The Ethical Governor, below, a satirical animation by the artist John Butler that draws on the parallels between drone technology and video games.
'The Ethical Governor', a fictional animation by the artist John Butler that satirizes Western imperialism and the use of drone technology.
The Beaconsfield exhibition, Gaming in Waziristan, is a collaboration with the NGO Reprieve, which has provided legal representation to prisoners on death row and Guantanamo Bay inmates. Reprieve has launched an initiative named "Bugsplat" - the term used by the CIA to describe a successful drone hit - which calls for an inquiry into the use of drones and says that some of the attacks may have constituted war crimes.
"We currently have a monopoly, or effective monopoly, on armed drones," John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, told Reuters last month. "This technology will spread, and it will be used against us in years to come."
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