Drone Strike Investigations & Visualisations
3D model of a drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan, 30 March 2012. Video still.
Since January 2013 we have been working with Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights (UNSRCT). Our role has been to provide forensic architectural analysis for his inquiry into civilian casualties caused by US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and Israeli drone strikes in Gaza.
The drone strike visualisation project is being undertaken in collaboration with Situ Research, an architectural research practice based in New York. www.situresearch.com
The project undertook research that mapped, modelled, and visually animated the aftermath of drone strikes, placing a specific emphasis on the damage that these strikes actually do on the ground. Architectural analysis is crucial to this investigation, because many drone strikes target built-up areas in cities and towns resulting in civilian casualties.
Drone strike visualisations
We have engaged in detailed case-study analyses of particular drone strikes in which civilians were killed. These have been created from the point of view of survivors and from on-site witnesses. The aim was to describe, in as detailed a manner as possible, the effects of these strikes on the ground, on architecture and on the people within it. Below is a preview of three drone strike visualisations.
Case 1. Datta Khel
On the morning of 17March, 2011 a traditional community gathering, known as a Tribal Jirga, assembled in an open area in the vicinity of the Datta Khel bus station to mitigate a dispute around a local chromite mine. During the course of the meeting, the Jirga was attacked, killing upwards of 43 civilians. In the absence of on-the-ground photographic or video documentation, and with no visible impact on buildings, this investigation unfolded by cross-referencing witness testimonies with satellite imagery. An examination of before and after satellite imagery indicated two areas with surface disturbance consistent with the reported missile strikes, thus allowing us to confirm the location of the strike. From the testimonies of survivors and eye-witnesses, we harvested spatial information that helped us to generate a 3D model of the site of the drone strike on the Jirga.
Case 2. Mir Ali
On 4 October, 2010 a US drone struck a home in the town of Mir Ali, reportedly killing five people. One of the surviving witnesses to this attack is a German woman who lived in the house at the time with her two-year-old boy and husband, both of whom also survived. Together with Forensic Architecture the witness digitally modelled every feature of her home that she could remember, including the location and size of each room, door, and window. She then placed every piece of furniture, utensil and object that she could recall within the model. Through this model the witness could return virtually to the space and time of the attack. Walking through the house she re-lived, and was thus able to reconstruct, the events surrounding the drone strike. Architectural modelling, in this case, functioned as a mode of accessing a traumatized memory.
Case 3. Miranshah
On 31 March, 2012 multiple drone missiles hit a building in the centre of Miranshah, reportedly killing four people. A video depicting the aftermath of this attack was aired in the summer of 2012 on MSNBC. This rare footage, passed from hand to hand, was smuggled out of Waziristan. The footage seemingly contained only blurry images of rubble, but there was, however, much more information to be recovered from the debris. The first thing that a careful study of the video revealed was the caution taken by the videographer in filming in Waziristan, suggesting the danger involved. Further examination of the ruin itself allowed us to locate the building within the city and digitally reconstruct the strike. In doing so we also marked each of the hundreds of shrapnel fragments on the walls of an interior space visible in the video footage. On those parts of the wall where no fragments are visible the outlines of what are possibly human figures can be traced.
Case 4. Knock on the Roof: Warning Missile
In the early hours of January 9, 2009, in Beit Lahiya, Gaza, a missile was fired at the roof of the Salha family home. This was part of a tactic that the Israeli military calls “knock on the roof”, where the missile hitting the house is intended to warn the inhabitants that a further, lethal strike is shortly to follow. While these “warnings” are intended to save lives, they also render civilians, otherwise legally protected, legitimate targets if they chose not to evacuate. To the members of the Salha family, the meaning of the warning was unclear. When the bomb struck 180 seconds later, two women and four children were killed. Forensic Architecture constructed a model of the Salha family home using photographs taken at the scene by weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith. A long conversation around the model with the surviving members of the family – Noor Salha and his father Fayez Salha – was used to reconstruct and model the timeline of events that night.
Archive of Destruction
In conjunction with our drone strike investigation we have also developed an online archive detailing examples of different kinds of destruction produced by drone attacks. This inventory functions as a useful tool to assist people in identifying infrastructure damage, blast radius, and munitions debris as a result of a drone strike.
Targeted Killing (spike missile with fragmentation)