EDITOR'S CHOICE
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Abu Salim prison, Libya, where Ibn al-Shaykh died in 2009. His information had been crucial to the invasion of Iraq. (All photographs © Edmund Clark and courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and New York)

 
Negative Publicity, sub-titled “Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition”, is a compound of elegant presentation and rough stuff. The unBook of the Year, it is at once objet d’art and charge sheet; a pretty, awful warning. Its documentary dossier and discontinuous text are interleaved with photographs by Edmund Clark, invisibly stained with images of what is not there: the victims of rendition and its executives and extras (civilian aircrew and auxiliaries), licensed by Washington and London to conduct subtractions.

Composed of elements which, for the most part, we already might have/should have known, Negative Publicity is, on the bland face of it, an apolitical montage, no more tendentious than a plea for what used to be called “common decency”. The two, discrete, authors are Clark and Crofton Black, an Oxonian doctor of philosophy, classical scholar turned investigative journalist, with an essay by the architect Eyal Weizman, “Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures”. The art-object’s material, in spiral-bound foolscap, is of mostly captionless, blandly suggestive photographs and reproduced pages from businesslike documents; the interstitial commentary is an exercise in calm outrage. The compendium is published by an outfit labelled “Aperture”, which suggests the judas-hole through which a prisoner can be spied from outside his cell or through which he may peer, if he can get that far.

Seconding the book’s disjunctive posture, I offer a set of stepping stones towards defining the abyss in front of (unless it’s behind) a society which, in fear and vanity, endorses by indifference what citizens/consumers are warned that they might find “distressing” to witness enacted on the TV screen, certainly before 9pm. We want to know with one eye and are advised to close the other.

For openers, on two pages marked “023 (-209,265-269)”, topped and tailed with “Top Secret”, the unsaid is made visible, in the form of five and four long paragraphs which have been, in the current jargon, “redacted”, i.e. blacked out. The reader is primed, by artful layout, to presume that something illegal is being concealed, if only for his own good. We gather that the US government is hiding a constellation of such documentary black holes. The British contribution is of scant, routine civilities from (now Sir) Mark Allen, the head of MI6’s counter-terrorism unit, to Moussa Koussa, the head of Colonel Gaddafi’s Intelligence, after the delivery to the latter of a Libyan “jihadi” and his wife, who had been living in Thailand before being kidnapped in an Anglo-American operation.

According to Tom Bower in Broken Vows, his recent, riveting biography of Tony Blair, both the PM and Jack Straw later denied knowledge of any such operation, although its immediate result was to enable Blair to kiss the Colonel on both cheeks. On retirement, Mark Allen joined BP as a “special adviser”. The company’s activities in Libya had been made markedly easier by Blair’s willingness to go the extra, quiet mile for all our sakes: for “eggs, broken”, see under “omelettes”.
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