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Beyond the Public Eye: on FOIA Documents and the Visual Politics of Redaction


DOI: 10.1177/1532708613507885

Nath, A. “Beyond the Public Eye: on FOIA Documents and the Visual Politics of Redaction.” Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies 14.1 (2014): 21–28. Web.

p.22: Through close readings of redacted documents, this article argues that the visual politics of redaction offer an aesthetic point of entry that brings into focus the limits of transparency for making visible necropolitical systems of violence. Although incongruent with the intention of concealing text, redacted spaces paradoxically can make contrapuntal readings easily available, as they visualize the ungraspable violent dimensions of detainee torture. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.23: Paglen (2009) has called this interconnected network of military prisons, black sites, and rendition routes “dark geographies”: They are hidden from view on official maps and evade the public eye. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.23: These detainees were rendered into files, figures, and statistics, which create a rational order in military prisons; their bodies are thereby made visible to the state through bureaucratic categorization. Such authorizing documents— memos, detainee files, and other official communications— created forms of governmental knowledge to routinize detention and brutal interrogation methods under the rubric of inoculating the proper, biopolitical population from terrorist violence (Esposito, 2008). While the empowered citizen’s impulse to make these documents available to the public is inspired by the logic of liberal governmentality, the memos themselves highlight a form of governmentality that is necropolitical. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.23: The visual politics of redaction offer a point of entry that allow us to read these documents as more than simply the failure of transparency. Close, visual readings of two different versions of an August 1st, 2002, memo written by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee authorizing the use of several torture techniques, demonstrate how reading these documents with redaction (as opposed to despite it) proves a critical method for analyzing the multitude of FOIA documents released with key portions of text hidden from the public eye. Although incongruent with the intention of concealing text, redacted spaces visually signify the ungraspable dimensions of detainee torture. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.23: Their status then is not unlike the figure of the subaltern, whose archival traces have been theorized extensively by postcolonial scholars. For these scholars, the subaltern are the colonized who were made visible and knowable to the west through government bureaucracy (the census, colonial documentation, etc.) or animated in the imagination through the landscape of literature and art. These colonial archives are intrinsically archives of epistemic violence that manifested in regulatory and physical brutality; governmental records existed to facilitate domination and manage the possibilities of insurgency. Postcolonial methodologies offer reading strategies that can point to the traces of the detained, analyzing the very “prose of counter-insurgency” (Guha, 1988, p. 59). -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.24: The bureaucratic archive does not simply provide verifiable information: It is an object of inquiry and a site of deep, textured discovery. These documents can be turned around on the colonial gaze—providing just as much (if not more) information about the colonizer as the colonized. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.28: I have challenged the arguments that equate visibility with liberal transparency and transparency with justice through accountability. Simultaneously, however, I have suggested that in transparency’s failures, different kinds of possibilities emerge through visual spectatorship. We know that these highly sought after documents detailing detention, extraordinary rendition, and the legality of torture exist, and in that existence dwells a particular type of visibility that was always a way of making the actual subjects invisible within dark geographies. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014