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December 31, 2010 7:35 AM   Subscribe

“We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get,” says George Clooney. “If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum.” —He’s talking about the “anti-genocide paparazzi” of the Satellite Sentinel Project, which has hired private satellites to monitor troop movements around Abyei during the upcoming Sudanese referendum in the hopes of preventing war crimes. Patrick Meier has some thoughts on whether this Panopticon approach might work, and if we could even tell.
posted by kipmanley (5 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The traditional IRA technique to combat this is to do stuff on a cloudy day and/or to do it when the satellites aren't overhead. One obviously requires more knowledge.
posted by jaduncan at 8:37 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think Foucault's theories are really applicable here. Partially because, as Meier noters, the "potential perpetrators of the violence in the Sudan do not actually see the outline of the satellites flying overhead," but mainly because Foucault's work was not about policy recommendations, of how good people can/should "create an effective deterrence-based 'Global Panopticon'" to keep bad people from doing bad things. It was an analysis of power, how its modern microphysics creates docile subjects who discipline themselves such that the real operations of power are effectively hidden. He did not advocate its use–he in fact focused on how the operations of power can be disrupted through constant, shifting transgressions of the boundaries established by power. I imagine that Foucault would point out that the technology and systems being advocated here, especially satellite spy photography, are fundamentally about creating a global system of control, not about creating a space for liberation, and perhaps that using it in Darfur would be representative of the shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power at the global level. One could perhaps argue that using such technology of power for good ends would help to validate/justify its existence as a whole, leaving it that much stronger (like how advocating US military intervention to address human rights violations works to validate a horrifically destructive military machine which will always operate fundamentally in the interests of US imperialism). Still, it's possible the satellite imagery could play some positive role in all this, but it seems to me that at best it would take the form of evidence after the fact.

There's a comment on his piece from a director from Amnesty International which I think speaks much more directly to how situations involving massive human rights violations can be transformed, when he notes that it wasn't satellite images but "a tidal wave of public pressure, generated in no small part by tens of thousands of people taking action" which created positive changes for Darfur. This fits with my experience around East Timor. Simply put, it was the constant hounding of Indonesia (and its Western supporters, particularly the US) by various NGO's and solidarity activists that ended the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia. The head of the Indonesian foreign ministry once said that 1/3 of its budget was dedicated to countering the bad publicity generated by solidarity activists. What fueled their work was nothing exotic like satellite images. It was books, documentaries, photographs, creating situations for the Timorese to get across what the occupation was like, etc. I can't really see how satellite images would have made much difference.

Meier notes the need for "guard towers" to provide "deterrence" in the form of military force. As an aside, I don't think IR theory on deterrence is of much value here. More importantly, the experience following the 1999 referendum in East Timor suggests the problems with relying upon the UN and especially the military force of the US/West (the most likely people to populate the "guard towers"). Without the work of NGO's and others, there would not have been the massive outrage at the post-referendum atrocities in Timor, and the destruction would probably have been total. The UN was powerless to do anything [a situation created by the US], and on their own the US and Australia would have been content to let things go, as they had for 25 years already. There should be no illusions about what the US and other countries will do and what their motivations are (and thus what the UN might be able to do). Efforts should always be placed on building an independent political force which does not rely upon the goodwill of the US and the ability of the UN for its effectiveness.
posted by williampratt at 9:46 AM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

If I was out to commit some genocide, I don't think I'd let a couple of satellites stop me. Dudes in Sudan are probably not as hardcore though, so this might work.
posted by ryanrs at 2:21 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe Clooney should airdrop thousands of copies of Bataiile's Story Of The Eye on these guys.
That'll transgress the fight right out of 'em.
posted by artof.mulata at 3:09 PM on December 31, 2010

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