Tonight I attended a talk at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies entitled Terminal Air, given by Tad, Hirsh, Trevor Paglen, and Andrew Woods. The topic was the extraordinary rendition by the CIA of “terrorist” subjects. Given the recent admission by Bush of the CIA program, the issue has been brought into the wider public’s consciousness. I have followed news stories of the rendition program as much as possible, but the combination of Trevor’s incredibly detailed accounts of fake companies, public (but secret) CIA airports, and civilian-gathered flight path information, combined with Andrew’s first-hand account of working the El Masri v. Tenet case, made for a dual compelling-frightening evening.
Questions and discussion was also quite interesting. Trevor brought up a thought-provoking point about democracy: one of the tenets of democracy is that when the similar reasonable people are given the same evidence, they will come to similar conclusions. His worry is that that is not the case today, and that in fact personal desire for certain facts or conclusions (from across the political spectrum) prevents that tenet from holding anymore. I’m not entirely sure if I agree with him that that is one of the main truths of democracy; but I can see where he is coming from, and the problem that he is referrering to. And if we hold that as a tenet, then indeed we have cause for alarm.
Also, in response to a question about cooperation between the ACLU and other organizations in El Masri v. Tenet, Andrew raised the point that coordination across organization boundaries is still quite difficult. So many groups, so many topics, so many wrongs to right. The problem is evident whenever one attends a protest: no blood for oil is next to stop torture is next to end racism. Indeed, each is an important cause in and of itself, but the centralized coordination of the Administration is, frankly, kicking our ass in this situation. We need to figure out a way to come together, to share resources, to combine our dollars. Indeed, as Andrew mentioned, donating to a non-profit these days is exactly like some sort of progressive market: we give to our pet cause, when the dollars could perhaps be used to better ends if we pooled them with others. Definitely something to think about.
Finally, Tad and Trevor have been working on an interactive project that will allow people to investigate and explore these flights on their own. The project, which looked quite amazing when they showed it tonight, should be made public soon.
Update: See also the new book co-written by Trevor entitled Torture Taxi. I haven’t read it yet, but if it’s anything like the talk he gave, it ought to be quite good.