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When an Anniversary Becomes History

September 11th, 2014 No comments
A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left TV crews prepare to broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn's DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Floo

A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left a TV crew prepares for a live broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn’s DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Today is just another 9/11 anniversary it seems. On twitter, everyone is consumed by Obama’s speech last night vowing to “destroy” the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The brutality of al-Qaeda has been rhetorically lessened with foolish tracts saying that Ayman al-Zawahiri disowned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s movement because AQ 1.0 was put off by IS’s even harsher methods as if there has been a collective forgetting of what al-Qaeda and its allies have done over the years. This is an absurd assertion.

The split is based more on divisive interpretations of salafi ideology, a supreme contest of egos within a very violent subculture, and plain envy. Bin Laden was not primarily a takfiri (one who maintains the authority to declare lesser Muslims or minorities within its reach ‘apostates’) but in his alliance with the Deobandi Taliban he was simultaneously focused on both the near and far enemies. Baghdadi has thus far been more narrowly focused in constructing his personality cult whereby the desired targets of IS’s aggression are the Shia and other related sects and those affiliated with regional regimes they deem worthy of death. To say one group is more ‘brutal’ than the other is a futile comparison. It is far more about the ebb and flow on the centers of power within trends in global militancy than a zero sum game.

Here in Barcelona, it’s Onze de Setembre (National Day of Catalonia), a celebration of Catalan martyrdom that is experienced as hyper localized nationalism. Drums beat, scooters beep and a rivalry in the heart of the first world rages on.

To me, it is simply 9/11.

For a solid decade I would return from wherever I was in the world to New York to document the goings on at the World Trade Center which for many years was referred to simply as ‘Ground Zero.’ For all of the anniversaries I attended in order to document, I did so without accreditation except for the final one–the 10th–when I applied for permission from the Bloomberg administration to photograph the two visiting presidents. That last few years since the 2011 shoot, I haven’t returned to the World Trade Center.

Yesterday here in Catalunya it was in fact the furthest thing from my mind as I hung out with friends at the beach in Barceloneta. Nor did I think about the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud either. Things that I have felt and witnessed and people I once knew who have died have since been enveloped into history as once so viscerally palpable anniversaries have often morphed into more ordinary days as the healing current of time passes by.

People observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

People observe a moment of silence in Zuccotti Park in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

We often think of history in a linear form comprised of a 365 day year based on  the Gregorian calendar with momentous anniversaries in one-year increments up until the 5th year and in five year increments thereafter (and later potentially being noted in 10 year increments) i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th anniversaries being momentous and then culminating (for now) at the 10th which forms a time capsule known as a ‘decade.’

But for the people directly affected, is today’s 13th anniversary any less significant than the 1st back in 2002, the 5th in 2006 or the 10th in 2011?  History as we live it is a living, breathing organism. Time never does stand still. I may be in the fever of minority linguistic politics here along the western Mediterranean as if Franco died yesterday but I cannot escape the track in which the events that day 13 years ago defined the course of my adult life. Though I no longer rush back to New York to document the day, it will forever remain in my aching heart.

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama Michelle Obama George W. Bush and Laura Bush look on as families of the victims speak from the podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Floo

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, and Laura Bush, look on behind bullet-proof glass as families of the victims speak from a podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Welcome to Hell

November 12th, 2012 No comments

New York-Obama’s impending visit to Burma in the context of America’s “pivot” to Asia in this so-called “Pacific century” (in contrast to the previous Atlantic century epitomized by the formation of NATO etc) raises a lot of grave human rights concerns, many of which in the case of Burma have festered for decades. Obama will attempt to make America’s presence felt in Southeast Asia during the upcoming East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh.

The Bangladesh government refuses to help these children and the Burmese government refuses to recognize them as citizens even as it comes out of the shadows of international economic isolation. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

In 2008, I traveled to the border town of Teknaf on the border of Burma’s Rakhine State (aka Arakan State) to document the festering Rohingya crisis at the junction of South and Southeast Asia. My visits to the fetid refugee camps south of Teknaf, Bangladesh culminated in From South-to-South: Burma’s Stateless Minority Under the Tip of Globalization’s Spear and my visit to the Rohingya migrant community in Karachi, Pakistan’s squalid Korangi Town area resulted in From South to South: Refugees as Migrants: The Rohingya in Pakistan.

As the tide rose on the Naf River, the camp became a toxic mix of disease and human waste. Every day. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

I was covering the Rohingya issue, which began in earnest with ethnic pogroms in 1991, before it became to relatively hotter topic than it is now in 2012. Trying to bring attention to the crisis either here at the UN headquarters or down in DC on Capitol Hill was essentially a fool’s errand. To think that POTUS would be visiting Burma at that time (or any other time in modern history) seemed absurd.

Hell on earth. I will never forget my treks around the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s deep south. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

Now everyone from CNN to the International Crisis Group is trying to catch up to speed and sound alarm bells on the world’s most persecuted, stateless people who are enduring a campaign of ethnic cleansing in part to make way for the development of offshore transnational natural gas projectson the Arakan coast. And the fact that international attention is being brought to these pogroms is a good thing, shame that it takes killings and displacements of thousands for it to come to the fore.

A Rohingya refugee girl from Burma’s Rakhine State waits to have her id created at a Medecins Sans Frontieres-assisted camp in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Division. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

A key reason the Rohingya keep being killed and pushed out into the sea is that they are a stateless people. The insidious Burmese regime that tells the world it is gently democratizing continues to insist that these poor unwanted souls are ‘illegal migrants’ while the Sheikha Hasina administration in Dhaka cruelly maintains that the Rohingya are ‘economic migrants‘ that it cannot be responsible for aiding while its own citizenry go without. The Rohingya exist between the guns of the Tatmadaw (the Burmese military) and the Bangladesh Rifles (Border Guard Bangladesh). The Rohingya are hemmed in by a difficult geography with their only remaining option to try and reach refuge in Thailand by sea. Many of them then drown in unsound vessels and rough seas.

A gaunt Rohingya woman who was fortunate enough to find temporary shelter in southern Bangladesh. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

As China and India, and now the United States, compete for economic and political influence in Burma, there has been no indication that the persecution of the Rohingya will be tamped down. The array of ethnic questions burning on the country’s periphery have been alight since independence from Britain in 1948-less than six months after the dissolution/independence of British India-have not been quelled with the re-introduction of Burma onto the world stage. Just because superficial change such as the return of Coke and Pepsi have taken place in no way beens that the Tatmadaw will not continue their brutal policies of scorched earth pogroms and enslavement. They may end up being emboldened.

A refugee gets employment as a day laborer building…a new refugee camp. An endless cycle of statelessness. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

 

The War That Was Barely Mentioned

November 8th, 2012 No comments

New York- While Americans in many quarters erupted with both joy and relief that Barack Hussein Obama was reelected POTUS while right-wing ideologues and extremists (which may simply be cover for racism in some quarters) constantly harping on the just-around-the-corner reemergence of so-called (though debunked) ‘American exceptionalism‘ pronounced the country politically dead, there was a disquieting dearth of serious foreign policy debate among American voters expressed in the mainstream media.

I decided to post these heretofore unpublished images of clandestine soldiers from 11 years ago in a small effort to demonstrate just how long Americans have been at war in Afghanistan. I blacked out their eyes in photoshop to give the images that whole cloak and dagger ‘redacted’ look.

An American Special Forces soldier from an Operational Detachment Alpha unit mills through a curious crowd of men and boys (no females) after the Toyota Landcruiser he was riding in blew out a tire. Note that his uniform is distinctly devoid of rank or any other military insignia. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

American soldiers continued to be killed in Afghanistan throughout the election cycle with another solider reportedly killed in an insurgent attack in Uruzgan Province less than four days before the election. America’s two principal Anglosphere military allies, the UK and Australia, also continued to withstand troop deaths in the lead up to Obama’s second term as president. While numerically small in light of US fatalities, they are comparatively significant in relation their respective population sizes vis-a-vis the United States.

The US has lost a total of 286 troops in Afghanistan this year alone according to iCasualties.org and there are still nearly two months left of 2012 with a total of 2150 since 2001.

And let us not forget that Afghans in the ANA and ANP keep dying too.  In the name and manner attacking Afghan security forces, the insurgency continues to slaughter a number of hapless civilians as well. Somehow though, grave human rights violations are either cast aside in an election cycle or even rendered ‘unpatriotic’ when showing concern for such deaths abroad causes natural friction with Americans who have swaddled themselves in the unevolved retrograde tenets of isolationism in the context of an incredibly difficult economic crisis at home.

An American Special Forces soldier looks on as several Afghan mechanics replace the tire on his white Landcruiser in Mazar-e-Sharif while the prisoner uprising-cum-massacre at the mud crenellated fort of Qala-e-Jangi was raging. Look how tall these guys are! They were towering over the locals with every step. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

The question remains: what will another Obama term do to actually end not the war per se, but end American involvement in Afghanistan? While the President trumpeted the withdrawal of American combat troops Operation New Dawn, the 2010 successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom that most Americans were entirely unaware of, there are still tens of thousands of armed contract soldiers in Iraq who are at best woefully under regulated. In effect, the United States IS still in Iraq though under a different guise.

The struggle for Iraq has in no way ended. Insurgent attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shia civilians continue to be successfully mounted. If and when the United States withdraws its vast combat forces from Afghanistan, it is highly likely that the 1990s civil war fault lines will be reignited to some degree but with the influx of newer arms and better vehicles. America may leave Afghanistan at the midway point of Obama’s second chance in office, but there is little indication an American president can actually “end” the war in Afghanistan.

Will Obama’s little publicized Iraq solution be a template for a planned 2014 Afghan pull out? Of course the reality of Iraq’s human geography is far different than that of Afghanistan. Iraq’s highly urbanized population lay mostly along the north-south veins of the Tigris and al-Furat (Euphrates) River whereas Afghanistan continues to remain a primarily decentralized rural demography. In essence Iraq has things to protect-oil infrastructure, diplomatic installations and local governance institutions which require continued defense. This is where the contractors come in. Afghanistan has far fewer such ‘target rich’ features but nonetheless the contractor business model is humming along at the fractured juncture of South and Central Asia, despite its disturbingly low profile.

Guns-for-hire coupled with the increasing presence of armed aerial drones mean that America’s notoriously bloated globe spanning military profile remains undiminished even under successive democratic administrations.

The fort of Qala-e-Jangi, site of the November 2001 Taliban prisoner uprising that left hundreds of captives dead, pictured in 2008. The fighters had surrendered after being surrounded during the battle of Kunduz and were brought to the fort by order of Abdurrashid Dostum’s Junbish-i-Melli troops. Things quickly went south as we were to find out. When I visited the site these many years later, it evoked a painterly, bucolic feel with cows nibbling on verdant grass and children playing at the base of its mighty walls. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

Zabiullah Mujahid, the vociferous Taliban spokesman, threw in the Islamic Emirate’s two-cents following the close of Tuesday’s polls hoping to appeal to Americans pragmatically: “Obama has realised that the Americans are tired of the war and the backbreaking costs of the war…Therefore, he should pullout the occupying forces from our country as soon as possible and prevent the deaths of more Americans.”

A Decade of War and Peace

August 20th, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

9/11/2011-Dedication Day

September 11th, 2011 No comments

President Barack Obama exits the stage after giving an impassioned speech for the families of victims at the ceremony in Lower Manhattan to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A sorrowful George W. Bush stands on the overhead screen. While the Obamas remained composed throughout the Bush's displayed visible signs of emotion as the events of 9/11 were recalled. It is almost as if the weight of the Bush legacy is literally on Obama's shoulders here. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

President Barack Obama gives an almost surprisingly religious speech for the families of victims at the ceremony in Lower Manhattan to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York's incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Here a South Asian Muslim couple remember family members. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Here a firefighter remembers a fallen Irish-American comrade. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members visiting the inscriptions and footprint fountain for the first time. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

An American Special Forces soldier solemnly observes the 10th anniversary of 9/11. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

A Latino family grieves for a lost daughter and sister. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Those that died on 9/11 were representative of the New York metro area's heterogenous cultural and religious mix. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

“We Still Seek No Wider War?”

November 22nd, 2010 No comments

President Johnson speaking about the Gulf of Tonkin on August 4, 1964.

New York- I appeared on Saudi state television’s KSA 2 Friday to discuss the extension and, I suppose, expansion of the American war in Afghanistan (and to a lesser extent Pakistan) from the initially trumpeted July 2011 withdrawal to sometime at the end of 2014. I couldn’t help but reference the Gulf of Tonkin and President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s direct, televised deception to the American people in which he said damningly on on August 4th, 1964: “We still seek no wider war.” President Johnson had every intention of expanding American military and clandestine involvement in Indochina as a purported bulwark against a spreading communism and as an eventual boon to the military-industrial complex that the outgoing President Dwight David Eisenhower had warned the public to be skeptical of just three and a half years before, days before President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s swearing in.

Of course, there has been no knowably false or trumped up incident to act as a catalyst for President Obama’s (and Secretary Gates’ and General David Petraeus’) opaque decision to hugely extend the Afghan war. We haven’t been told of one suicide bombing in Kabul too many or one IED too far in Helmand that justifies making the Afghanistan conflict the longest foreign war fighting engagement in America’s history. The three principal players in this game are congressional republican politicians in Washington, General Ashfaq Kayani’s Pakistani Army, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt government in Kabul. Within the nexus of these interlinked but often hostile political actors, the Afghan war has been undemocratically extended for the foreseeable future. President Obama does not want to “appear weak on defense” in his 2012 reelection bid, General Kayani’s troops have thus far refused to mount a large scale COIN/scorched earth assault on South/Central Asia’s most hardcore militant outfits holed up in North Waziristan, and an increasingly paranoid and isolated President Karzai needs the US and it’s NATO and non-NATO military allies to stay in the country in order for him to remain in power coincidentally until sometime in 2014. After I left the studio, what I had said for broadcast sunk in and I then had to stave off depression. If only Obama and his underlings had understood how critically important the terribly flawed Afghan presidential campaign was last year, and had that election had a different more genuine outcome, perhaps much of the assured bloodshed on the horizon could have been avoided. Wishful thinking on my part, maybe, but one thing is for certain: there is a lot of death and destruction to be, though it mustn’t be so. Americans today would more likely pour out into the streets over a rigged vote on a reality show that one in reality as the era of mass civil disobedience long ago gave way to rampant consumer culture and hollow worship of false mass market idols. In all of this miasma, it would do many good to realize that it is principally the Afghan people who continue to suffer. It is Afghan civilians who continue to take the brunt of military and militant violence in Afghanistan. Outside of that country, Afghanistan is for most an abstraction or a set of misapplied cliches vaguely having to do with empires and their various downfalls as if empires with their ill advising courtesans, not the Afghans themselves, are the victims. In history the Afghan people are mostly an afterthought as their country is described coldly as a “graveyard,” as an ill conceived “buffer state” or as “AfPak.”

BBC Arabic Appearance

June 7th, 2010 No comments

From left: Myself, host Malak Jaafar, and Safwat al-Zayat on Friday, June 4.

Los Angeles- On Friday evening (GMT), I appeared on BBC Arabic’s Newshour presented by Malak Jaafar to discuss reaction to that days Washington Post story entitled “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role” by Karen de Young and Greg Jaffe with Egyptian Brigadier General (retd.) Safwat al-Zayat. Thanks to my colleague Murad Batal al-Shishani for arranging this.

Can the U.S. and Russia ever get on?

July 6th, 2009 No comments

Picture 1I was shocked back into geopolitics today (thank god!) with another cheery call from London. I appeared on the BBC World Service today in the wake of President Obama’s trip to Moscow to ink a new nuclear disarmament deal with Russian President (and some might say Putin puppet) Dmitry Medvedyev. I particularly love when I’m jarred out of sleep or some other do-nothing activity and forced to turn my brain on at warp speed. It seems the times I’m most often asked to appear are the odd moments when I have yet to scan the days news which forces me to put my foreign policy hat on with little or in today’s case, no, perparation. I was mortified when I listened to the podcast that I flubbed Putin’s name in place of poor old Boris Yeltsin. Oh well, I’ll have to be more en pointe next time around. Keep those calls coming Beeb producers! I thoroughly enjoy the challenge. 

Here is the podcast. I come in at the very beginning. Forgive my mistake with the name flub. Oh the humanity! Who among us is without fault?