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Published: 11/23/2011
Street art
While researching my profile of JR for The New Yorker, I had an opportunity to immerse myself in the subculture of street art. As is often the case when reporting a long article, I spoke with many people but not all of them were mentioned in the piece. This summer, I met the French artist ZEVS, a friend of JR's, in New York. In 2002, he had conducted a "visual kidnapping" by covertly cutting out the image of a woman from a Lavazza billboard in Berlin, and then demanding a ransom of 500,000 Euro. Some forms of street art get perilously close to the dividing line that separates cleverness from gimmick; ZEVS's work might even cross it, at times. But his most intriguing pieces do seem to be about fundamentals, exploring how street art—and the broader world of graffiti—is defined. He has pioneered what he calls "proper graffiti," which involves using jets of water to draw on neglected walls covered in grime. The act is not a defacement in the conventional sense—after all, the walls are being cleaned—and the results can be graceful, as was the case on the facade of this building:
Recently, ZEVS has been using special paint, only visible under ultraviolet light, to sketch images in various urban locations. When I met him in New York, he told me that the locations were secret, and that they would be revealed over time, so I wasn't entirely surprised to read, shortly after the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, that he had spray-painted invisible graffiti at a Comfort Inn in Maine where Mohamed Atta and another al-Qaeda hijacker had stayed. Marc Schiller, a founder of the Wooster Collective, which runs a prominent street-art blog, posted an image of the room bathed in UV lighting, but then Tweeted, "I expect Zevs piece will be one of the most controvercial things I've ever put on Wooster. Fine line between 'provocative' & 'exploitive.'" Hrag Vartanian, on the blog Hyperallergic, argued (fairly, I should say) that, whatever the piece's merits, its choice of location appeared to be in poor taste. "One would assume that few people—if any—use UV lights in their room, so who is this work exactly for?" he asked. It is a valid question. And yet graffiti has never been an expression of good taste, and its impenetrable glyphs, even when they have not been sketched in invisible ink, are by design meant only for insiders to decode. On one level, the piece appears to say more about the nature of tagging than it does about 9/11. On another, to know that those men stayed in that room is to know that it is, in a sense, haunted—and the ghostly outlines illuminated by the UV lighting, a tool of forensic science, remind us that horrific things can hide behind the mundane.
I mentioned two blogs: if you are interested in street art, keep tabs on the Wooster Collective and on Hyperallergic. There are some other resources, too. The Street Art Blog and Vandalog are both worth following. Martha Cooper, a New York photographer, has been documenting street art for a very long time now, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of it. (She gave me some great general advice.) The Los Angeles MOCA's "Art in the Streets" exhibit is now over, but the museum's Web site has been keeping an archive of its blog on the subject online. The photo at the top of this post is one that I took with my iPhone at the exhibit earlier this year. It is of a piece by two Brazilian brothers who go by the name Os Gemeos. They have worked in New York, too. In my profile of JR (titled, "In the Picture"), and in this blog post, I describe how JR and his crew pasted a large image on freestanding wall off Houston and the Bowery. In fact, they pasted on a plywood shell that encases the wall. The reason for the plywood is this: in 2009, Os Gemeos painted a beautiful technicolor mural on the wall, and its owner, Tony Goldman, fell so in love with it that he couldn't let it go.
Published: 11/23/2011
I Shot JR
On The New Yorker's Web site today, I've written a blog post about JR, the French street artist and photographer. JR is the subject of my most recent profile for the magazine, "In the Picture," and the post is about my time observing him and his crew working in downtown Manhattan and in the South Bronx. I'm not a photographer, but I had my iPhone handy, and I was able to take some snapshots that reveal JR's process: how his large pastings look as they are going up. The profile, which is available only to subscribers at the moment, examines his current global endeavor, "Inside Out." JR's official site is here.
Published: 04/27/2011
Anatomy of an Appeal
For those of you who are still interested in the soldiers portrayed in the "The Kill Company," an article that I wrote for The New Yorker about a war crime that took place in Iraq in 2006, there is a new wrinkle to the story. Staff Sergeant Ray Girouard, who commanded a unit that murdered three detainees, and who was convicted of negligent homicide shortly after the killings, has just been acquitted on appeal. The decision elucidates the difficulty of assigning legal culpability when a crime is committed amid the morally complexities of combat.
At the time of the killings, Girouard was a squad leader serving in the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. His unit was based in Samarra, and it had been doing some hard patrolling in that area. In May, he and his men were ordered to participate in Operation Iron Triangle, a massive combat mission designed to seek out and kill Al Qaeda militants in a dangerous no man's land outside of Tikrit. The war crime occurred during that operation. Girouard's squad raided a hut (killing an old man in the process) and zip-tied and blindfolded two men and a teen-ager who were inside of it. Shortly after they had secured the hut, Girouard convened a huddle with several of his men, and minutes after the meeting two soldiers under his command walked away, freed the three prisoners, and mowed them down with gunfire.
The soldiers who freed and shot the detainees pleaded guilty to murder, and they are now serving eighteen-year sentences as prisoners in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Girouard, on the other hand, has all along maintained his innocence. The key to his case has rested on what happened during the huddle. Did he order his men to murder the detainees, or did he not know of their intent to kill (as he insists), or did something more ambiguous happen?
Here is what we know. Five soldiers who participated in the huddle all testified that Girouard called together his squad for a meeting inside the hut to discuss killing the detainees. Nobody appeared to have an exact recollection of the discussion, or of the motivation, but all agreed on its general substance, and that Girouard was more fraternal than commanding. As Sergeant Leonel Lemus, a squad member serving under Girouard, recalled in "The Kill Company":

"He brought us into the room, kind of said, 'O.K., bring it in,' and he says, 'Hey, we're gonna go ahead'—he's kinda pausing in between words—and he's like, 'Hey, we're gonna go ahead and change the zip ties and, you know, we're gonna go ahead and do these guys.'" Two of the soldiers at the meeting may have said that they had wanted to kill the men. Lemus and another infantryman, Juston Graber, walked out because they didn't want to have anything to do with it.

After the Army's criminal investigators discovered the unlawful killings, Girouard was charged with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, and, during his court-martial, military prosecutors tried to establish that he had ordered the killings. (The squad members who pleaded guilty to mowing down the detainees received reduced sentences for testifying against Girouard, and claimed that he had explicitly commanded them to kill.) However, at the close of evidence during the court-martial, Girouard's defense petitioned the judge to instruct the jury to consider a "lesser included offense," in this case negligent homicide—a move that the prosecution resisted. The judge nonetheless agreed, and, ultimately, the murder charge was dismissed, and Girouard was convicted of negligent homicide—an unprecedented decision. There appears to be no other case in U.S. military history of a soldier convicted of negligent homicide because of the way he lead his men in combat.
This month the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces decided that Girouard's negligent homicide conviction was in error and unconstitutional, and so it was overturned. The decision could have implications beyond this particular case, and extends to the broader question of how negligent homicide might come up in future courts-martial proceedings for war crimes.
The main thrust of the appellate court's reasoning is that negligent homicide cannot be regarded as a "lesser included offense" to premeditated murder. This is not an obvious argument. Since the early nineteen fifties, Article 118 of the military's Manual for Courts-Martial has explicitly stated that it is a lesser included offence—a notion that is supported by a number of legal decisions, too. But during the past three years, military courts have been reversing their view of this; negligent homicide, they say, is too different from murder to be subsumed under it.
Here's why. For a charge to be a "lesser included offense" of another, it is typically assumed that all of its elements must be articulated in the more severe charge. For instance, the standards for judging someone guilty of premeditated murder according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice are as follows:

1) That there be a death;
2) That the accused caused the death by an act or omission;
3) That the killing was unlawful;
4) That the accused have a premeditated design to kill.

Similarly, the standards for negligent homicide are:

1) That there be a death;
2) That the death resulted from an act or failure of the accused;
3) That the killing was unlawful;
4) That the accused's failure to act or failure to act amounts to simple negligence;
5) That, under the circumstances of conduct, the conduct of the accused was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.

Until 2009, military courts generally held that aspects of negligent homicide that did not explicitly overlap with murder did so by implication; that is, anyone guilty of murdering someone would also be in violation of "good order and discipline" and also be responsible for bringing "discredit upon the armed forces." But since 2009 (after Girouard's court-martial), two legal decisions held that this could not be assumed, and the judges deciding Girouard's appeal agreed, arguing that negligent homicide couldn't be construed as a last-minute basis for conviction—even if his own attorneys thought that it could be.
From there, the appellate court made a much larger argument. "The rights at issue in this case are Constitutional in nature," it noted, raising a legal question that was implicit once it decided that negligent homicide was not a lesser version murder, but something new entirely: Can someone be convicted of a crime "with which he has not been charged?" The court reasoned: No. This would violate a defendant's right to due process, for one thing. Moreover, the introduction of negligent homicide late in the court-martial, the appellate court reasoned, had unfairly prejudiced Girouard's case.
As the presiding judge wrote, "While one might assume that but for the instruction on negligent homicide the members would have convicted Appellant of premeditated murder instead of acquitting him altogether, this assumption is speculative at best. Such a conviction would have required the members to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he possessed the specific intent to murder, a far cry from the negligent intent they actually found in this case."
If you're a military lawyer and have made it this far into this blog post, I'd be curious to hear what you think. On first examination, and as a non-lawyer, I find this reasoning to be a bit odd. It seems to me that the prosecutors in Girouard's case pursued a logical strategy, and that negligent homicide can in fact be construed as a lesser charge to murder in the way that the military justice system apparently believed it to be for more than half a century. Moreover, when Girouard's prosecution took place, before 2009, negligent homicide was in fact held by both the Manual for Courts-Martial and by legal precedent as a lesser included offense, so it seems strange to argue retroactively, after a change in the law, that the prosecutors acted erroneously in his case.
More broadly, is the erosion of negligent homicide as a lesser included offense to murder a good thing for military justice? If you have an opinion on this that you would like to share, let me know by email
here, or on Twitter here:@raffiwriter. I may do a follow up post if I have enough responses, and if I have the time to look into this.
Published: 03/11/2011
Scripting a non-event
In late July, while reporting a piece for The New Yorker about the BP oil spill and its cleanup, I took a trip from Alabama to Louisiana with Admiral Thad Allen, the response's National Incident Commander. I have written a short blog post about the trip for the magazine's Web site, here. The piece that ran in the The New Yorker is also available online, but only to subscribers. It will be posted in full here at the end of May.
Published: 01/02/2011
The demonstrations in Egypt
This week, John Seabrook has an intriguing piece in The New Yorker on crowd behavior, followed by a blog post examining the internal dynamics of the protests in Egypt. "Maybe protesting a corrupt regime, and feeling that you are on the side of justice, supplies that feeling of dignity to the crowd, and that's why political crowds rarely turn violent when they are unprovoked," he writes. Mass protests seeking to unseat authoritarian regimes must work against a great asymmetry of power. The members of such crowds are unlikely to win in a violent struggle; what they possess in excess of the regime is moral authority and discipline and, as Seabrook observes, dignity, if they can maintain it. Elias Cannetti, the Nobel laureate and theorist of crowds, believed that mass gatherings of people very often possess an inherent capacity for destructiveness. Even in a crowd acting with discipline, the capacity for anarchy is not so much absent as it is sublimated. Sometimes the destructiveness erupts in short-lived flashes, and in overt political displays. "The destruction of representational images is the destruction of a hierarchy that is no longer recognized," Cannetti wrote in "Crowds and Power," and images of such damage abound when mobs have lost their internal center of gravity and spiral out of control. But there may be even more primordial forces at work. "Open crowds," Cannetti observed—meaning, crowds that seek to grow without limit—detest boundaries. "In the crowd the individual feels that he is transcending the limits of his own person. He has a sense of relief, for the distances are removed which used to throw him back on himself and shut him in. With the lifting of these burdens of distance he feels free; his freedom is the crossing of these boundaries. He wants what is happening to him to happen to others too; and he expects it to happen to them. An earthen pot irritates him, for it is all boundaries. The closed doors of a house irritate him. Rites and ceremonies, anything which preserves distances, threaten him and seem unbearable. He fears that, sooner or later, an attempt will be made to force the disintegrating crowd back into these pre-existing vessels. To the crowd in its nakedness everything seems a Bastille."
Published: 01/24/2011
A WikiLeaks arms race?
Earlier this month, Al Jazeera launched a feature on its Web site called the Transparency Unit—the network's in-house version of WikiLeaks. The New York Times appears to be doing something similar; as its editor, Bill Keller, recently explained, the paper is exploring "a kind of EZ Pass lane for leakers." Is a journalism arms race under way to develop WikiLeaks-style technology for conventional news media? Some quick thoughts on the matter here.
Published: 01/12/2010
Today, on The New Yorker's Web site, I have a blog post about WikiLeaks that takes a look at the group's recent evolution, the State Department cables, and the nature of database leaking.
Published: 09/11/2010
For the record
Recently, you may have read stories on the Internet implying that Les Inrockuptibles, a French magazine, bought the reprint rights to "No Secrets," my New Yorker article on WikiLeaks. So far, no publication in France has purchased the rights to use that article. This week, Bernard Zekri, the editor of Les Inrockuptibles, has issued a statement in his magazine that explains what has happened, and why. Here is the official version of his statement in English:

The August 25th edition of Les Inrockuptibles (issue No. 769) featured two stories about WikiLeaks, the first titled, "WikiLeaks Les Croisés De L'Info," and the second, which was shorter, titled, "Julian Assange: Un Passé De Hacker." We would like to clarify a few things about these articles. We attributed the first to Nicolas Hervé, a pseudonym. The story came from an article by Raffi Khatchadourian, published in The New Yorker on June 7, 2010, under the title "No Secrets," but we did not reach Mr. Khatchadourian to ask for his permission to use it, and because we updated his material with some new information, we decided that a pseudonym was appropriate. At the bottom of that article, we noted that The New Yorker was a source, and we noted the issue date, but undoubtedly we should have done more. The second story about WikiLeaks, "Julian Assange: Un Passé De Hacker," had no byline and no sourcing, but every detail and quotation was also taken from "No Secrets." We regret the error.
Published: 08/05/2010
The military's way forward
Over on The New Yorker's Web site, I have posted some quick thoughts on WikiLeaks, Napster, and the Defense Department's approach to information security.
Published: 01/12/2010
Ady Gil rammed, sunk
Last year, when the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society unveiled an expensive and super-fast trimaran, christened the Ady Gil, as the newest ship in its fleet, I wondered how it would survive a high-seas confrontation with a Japanese whaling vessel. Now we know. The Shonan Maru No. 2, a Japanese whaler, has smashed into the Ady Gil like a hammer going through dry balsa wood. Shortly after the incident I reached Sea Shepherd's leader, Paul Watson, on his ship in the Southern Ocean. My interview with him is posted on The New Yorker's Web site.
Published: 11/25/2009
Mapping Lexicalia
Two German cartographers, Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust, have created an atlas that renders the world's place names into their original meanings. The book is titled, "The Atlas of True Names." To produce it, Hormes and Peust distilled the names of hundreds of cities, countries, mountains, deserts, and the like, down to their etymological essences, and then wrote out the results in modern English. "New York City," for instance, is given as, "New Yew-Tree Village," and "Great Britain" is recast as "Great Land of the Tatooed." Hormes told Der Spiegel a few days ago that he was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings;" the place names that Tolkien bestowed upon Middle Earth (such as, Mirkwood, or Mount Doom), he said, "are so clear that every kid understands them." As can be expected, the etymologies of real place names are frequently unclear, and linguistic skeptics have already started to pick apart the project. But the atlas was not intended to be a work of scholarship. It is a playful mediation on words -- one that the authors hope will restore "an element of enchantment to the world we all think we know so well."
Published: 11/18/2009
Feds raid Gibson Guitar Co.
Agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service raided Gibson Guitar Co.'s manufacturing facility in Nashville, yesterday, to search the premises for evidence of illegal wood. The raid is something of a watershed, as it is the first of its kind to be carried out under the authority of an environmental law called the Lacey Act. For decades, the Lacey Act has barred the smuggling of wildlife into this country, but last year Congress expanded its legal protection to plants by criminalizing the possession of wood that has been harvested or traded in violation of any other country's environmental laws. An important aspect of the new legislation is that it does not allow for an "innocent owner" defense, meaning that illegal wood can be confiscated even if American buyers do not know of its black-market provenance. The Nashville Post reported that the federal agents seized wood, guitars, computers, and boxes of files from the Gibson facility. (Gibson has said that it is "fully cooperating" with the government.) If the investigation results in prosecution, the case is bound to be complex. Until the raid, Gibson's CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, was a board member of the Rainforest Alliance, and for several years now he has been urging members of his industry to use wood that is certified as sustainable. (About forty per cent of Gibson's guitars "contain some certified wood," according to the Forest Stewardship Council.) Federal agents suspect that Gibson imported illegal hardwood from Madagascar, where, in the past several months, political chaos has been accompanied by exceptional rates of environmental degradation. The species under investigation appears to be rosewood or ebony -- it is not clear which. Since January, an estimated thirty-five million dollars worth of Madagascan rosewood has been cut every month -- much of it by criminal syndicates and armed gangs working in national parks. Several weeks ago, Andry Rajoelina, a politician who seized power in Madagascar during a military coup this spring, issued a decree legalizing the sale of certain types of rosewood and ebony.
Published: 11/17/2009
Paul Watson at sea
In a few months, Paul Watson and members of his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are scheduled to set sail from Australia to the Southern Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, to harass the Japanese whaling fleet during its annual hunt there. In 2007, I wrote about a similar expedition that Watson had commanded, and about his evolution as an activist and eco-provocateur. Since then, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been busy generating more mischief, and attracting more publicity, ridicule, and ire. With the help of Animal Planet, the cable network, Watson has turned his annual trips to the Southern Ocean into a successful reality show, called, "Whale Wars." The show has achieved enough notoriety to be parodied on "South Park," which aired an episode earlier this year, titled, "Whale Whores." (The artists of "South Park" depicted Watson as a man of immense girth -- his belly sagging far below the confines of his shirt -- and as a sea captain who proclaims, "Yeah, we're badass," but who ultimately is killed by a Japanese harpoon.) More damaging than the satire, perhaps, was the Canadian government's confiscation of one of Watson's ships -- the MV Farley Mowat -- during a Sea Shepherd campaign conducted last year to interfere with the hunting of seals. At the time, Canada's Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Loyola Hearn, called Watson and his crew "a bunch of money-sucking manipulators," and Watson responded by calling the seizure "an act of war." This spring, when the Canadian government put up the Farley Mowat for sale, Watson warned potential buyers, "You don't steal a ship from a pirate without repercussions." But it is unlikely that he will do anything about the loss of that old and rusting vessel, as it was virtually unseaworthy, and he has long wanted to get rid of it. Just recently, Watson announced a new addition to his fleet: a black trimaran speedboat that looks like it was stolen from the set of Batman. (See video above.) The ship, named the Ady Gil, after the Hollywood mogul who in large measure paid for it, reportedly cost $1.5 million dollars, and holds a world record for circumnavigating the globe (sixty days, twenty-three hours, forty-nine minutes). Apparently, it is difficult to detect by radar, travels up to fifty knots, and can even dive through large waves, rather than pass over them. Watson's crew fortified the Ady Gil with a ton of kevlar armor. How it will survive in a confrontation with the flagship of the Japanese fleet, the eight-thousand-ton Nisshin Maru, remains to be seen.
Published: 11/16/2009
Raymond Girouard released from prison
Last month, Raymond Girouard, a former staff sergeant in the Army who was convicted of negligent homicide, among other crimes, for his actions in Iraq, was released on parole from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. He returned to his home in Sweetwater, Tennessee. As I wrote in The New Yorker earlier this year, members of Girouard's unit murdered three detainees in 2006 during a vast air-assault mission called Operation Iron Triangle; five soldiers belonging to his squad later testified that Girouard had helped orchestrate the killings. Despite the convictions, Girouard maintains his innocence, and his community has stood by him. According to the Advocate & Democrat, a paper based in Sweetwater, Girouard was given a "homecoming" welcome by an enthusiastic crowd. The town mayor, Doyle Lowe, and Congressman John Duncan, Jr. spoke in a park on Girouard's behalf. "As a young man he served our country, and made decisions most of us have never thought about making, and will never have to make," the mayor said. Duncan, who had lobbied for Girouard's early release, told the people in attendance, "God's path has led him back here to us and, I, along with everyone else, want to welcome him home."