Police Stalking, Police Criminality, and Human Rights

How new policing methods can undermine the rule of law and modern liberal judicial philosophy

An Update on My Case: Relevant Medical Notes

I’m writing this because the mistreatment that I suffer at the hands of Norwegian police operating abroad has worsened significantly in recent weeks, to the point where I fear my health is at a breaking point. For more than a year now I have suffered in silence, concentrating on my own projects instead of complaining about the police’s mistreatment, but after the recent severe intensification of the mistreatment I have no other choice than to do this. I consider my life to be in immediate danger and I want there to be at least a record of what has happened.

As outlined previously, the operation against me consists of two very different elements. Firstly, there is the public aspect, which consists of various forms of theatrical stalking in public areas in which the general public is invited to take part. This is just a gimmick that has no real impact on my situation anymore and that probably accounts for less than 1 per cent of the total activities of the operation, but it is probably useful for the police in order to give them a cover-up for the more sinister activities that form the second and most important aspect of the operation: Systematic sleep deprivation and torture with the use of electromagnetic devices.

Whereas I have previously focused on describing element number one simply because it is the one that is best known by a large number of potential witnesses, it is this second and secret dimension that has changed radically over recent weeks. The use of electromagnetic devices was started in the Netherlands on a daily basis in late June 2012. When I was in New Zealand from July 2012 to March 2013, I was mostly allowed reasonable amounts of sleep and the use of the device was of limited extent and intensity. After I came to the UK in April 2013, a pattern whereby I was completely sleep deprived every other night was in force for long periods, and continued when I travelled to the Republic of Ireland in December 2013. Since February this year, about the time I began writing more about Iraq again because of the elections, the main problem has been the extreme force and brutality with which the device is used, making it likely that severe physical injury is likely to ensue soon (I’m already experiencing deteriorating vision). We have lately reached the point where the operation has the character of attempted murder rather than simple persecution and torture. As the cumulative effect of the constant sleep deprivation over a period of more than 3 years kicks in, I have less and less physical energy to move away when the attacks commence. Remember that since February 2013 alone I have been deprived of an average of 4 hours a sleep every day for more than 400 nights, equalling 1,600 hours or 66 days (more than 2 months) of consecutive sleep.

I am aware that, to the uninitiated, what I describe may sound like an obvious psychological disorder, but there are some very clear logical inconsistencies in the semi-official narrative of the police operation that should raise eyebrows at least among those who live in the affected areas and know about the more theatrical stalking activities. Above all this relates to nightly activities and my choice of places to stay. If the operation was mainly about social stalking, why wouldn’t I simply move to a peaceful remote place and live quietly there? (I have tried that, in New Zealand.) Also, why am I not complaining primarily about social harassment but about nightly disturbances, at times of the day when few members of the public are even awake? Taxi drivers and hotel staff in places like Richmond (London, UK) and Portmarnock (County Fingal, Republic of Ireland) can testify to the fact that for the past year I have in long periods been sleep deprived systematically, often travelling to airports during the night to get away from electromagnetic harassment at the hotels. Why would I seek nightly access to such busy social spaces if the stalking was the main problem? Why was it that later on, in early March this year, I slept better during a short visit to war-torn Baghdad than in the most peaceful locations in Ireland? The answer is of course that in Baghdad my persecutors were themselves a little stretched thin, probably not revealing to their Iraqi counterparts the full details of the electromagnetic torture and therefore unable to do the nightshifts they had done in Europe. However, the fact that they were able to operate at all meant that the sum of other problems with respect to living in Iraq made it impossible for me to try that for a longer period.

I can only speculate about the reason for the recent extreme escalation, which comes without any change on part of my behaviour or any public criticism of the operation. However, it is increasingly clear to me that in pursuing me internationally for more than 3 years, the goal of the Norwegian police  has been not only to expel me from my home country or the entire EU, but quite possibly to execute me extra-judicially or try to force me to commit suicide (something I will never do). The best proof of this is that they decided to follow me to Iraq. If they decide to follow me to Iraq, one of the world’s most dangerous places, it me, it means they will go everywhere on the planet, and that – apart from the operation’s own self-perpetuation – its only remaining possible goal is to eliminate me.

In light of this and with dramatic intensification of mistreatment over recent work no other choice but to put on the record medical information relevant to my case. It should be stressed that Norwegian police probably went in and out as they pleased in my apartment in Oslo before February 2011, and that they were given access to my flat in the Netherlands from January to July 2012, providing them with a theoretical possibility to poison me via foodstuffs at any time. However, given the nature of my symptoms, it seems reasonable to focus on injections and dental work in the period preceding the problems. I have described the procedures I consider potentially relevant below. Of course, nothing in this should be construed in any shape or form as an accusation against the health personnel involved. Rather, these are clues that may be used to guide an independent investigation if something serious should happen to my health in order that every possible lead gets exhausted.

-Annual flu vaccinations, mostly done at private hospitals in Oslo (Fredrik Stang and Volvat).

-Temporary root canal completed in June 2009 at a private dentist in Oslo, Hilde Loevlie Abry. Usual local anaesthetics. Follow-up treatment delayed during the swine flu epidemic in autumn 2009.

-Permanent root canal completed in August 2010 at a private dentist in Oslo, Lars Doeving. Finalization of previous treatment. Recovery was unremarkable.

-Anal injection of Botox in March 2012 at a public hospital in Leiden, Netherlands (Diaconessen). Treatment for anal fissure following digestive problems when Norwegian police began sleep-depriving me in February 2011. On arrival to doctor’s office where the doctor (Tjon Lim Sang) and the nurse (A van der Willigen) were present, the injection substance was already loaded into a syringe, with no opportunity for me to verify its content. The doctor explained this with reference to austerity measures at the hospital whereby Botox injections were administered in batches to several patients who all received injections from a larger and hence cheaper container. When I turned off my mobile to avoid disturbances during the procedure , the doctor chuckled and asked whether I was going to take any pictures. After the injection there was no immediate improvement with respect to the fissure and severe anal bleeding ensued a couple of days later. It should be mentioned also that, generally speaking, a high number of the staff at the hospital cooperated enthusiastically with the softer aspects of the police operation, yelling “have a nice day” (the signature greeting of the police) to each other at all times. I eavesdropped on the conversation two of them had in Dutch after they had engaged in some intense “ have a nice day” exchanges and heard one of them say, “ you know, we’ve got to help the police”.
-Second anal injection of Botox at same hospital in July 2012. Subsequent to this injection, the fissure improved significantly.

Again, nothing in this is intended as an accusation of criminality on anyone. If nothing happens to me, this note is of no relevance. However, my point in doing this is that if something should happen to me, this information should be considered, of course without prejudice in any shape or form or without usurping the presumption of innocense for anyone. I have no known diseases that would be likely to bring about a sudden deterioration of my health and because of two chronic but mild diseases (asthma and ulcerative proctitis) I have been subjected to a good deal of medical testing previously. I will do my best to continue to cover the Iraq elections, but I’m not optimistic about my health prognosis.

 

Open Letter to the UK Government

“To us, freedom means everything, and without it life has no meaning.”

Those words were uttered by an historical figure vastly more important than me – King Haakon VII of Norway who made this point during a speech to Norwegian troops after his arrival in London in 1940 after having fled the Nazi occupation of Norway. But they apply with equal force to my situation and my reasons for coming to your shores today.

My country is once more under occupation by people with totalitarian political inclinations. They are officers in the organised crime unit of the Oslo police who have managed to instil servility in the Labour-led government, giving them unlimited powers to pursue extra-judicially any person they elect to put on their hit lists of disliked persons, entirely without reference to any judicial process. They have lately been wreaking havoc in a number of Western countries as part of their more than two years long illegal, medieval-inspired witch hunt of me for my perfectly legal photography. During the past year, the operation has also involved Mengele style torture techniques; lately the effect of this treatment has been such that I fear my general health is coming under serious threat.

I have in previous appeals tried to underline the structural reasons whereby a seemingly well-functioning democracy like Norway can submit to horrible police-state tendencies of this kind. They include the exceptional unprofessionalism of the Norwegian prosecution service, the absence of legal protection for sexual minorities that are not defined in gender terms, as well as the close ties between high officials in the Labour party and leading officers in the Oslo police. A deeper structural cause relates to the transformation of Norway to a state with certain rentenist characters, making it similar to states like Qatar in terms of the potential for extreme and irresponsible spending by incompetent elements of the state bureaucracy, who often get free hands to pursue their own private fanaticisms and personal vendettas.

It is my fear that Norwegian police will try to replicate this operation in the UK and I would like to encourage you to refrain from approving the barbaric methods they propose to use.

Beyond the obvious human rights argument against this kind of operation, I have also described how the police’s actions would appear irrational even from a more narrow and cynical police perspective. Whereas expulsion from an area or a country is a recognised aim of disruption as a police method, a global persecution without any clear aim that goes on for more than two years means wasting both resources and the reputation of the police as time passes by without any convincing results. The catastrophic consequences of failed priorities like these became painfully obvious in Norway during 2011, when it emerged that the police officers who had spent time harassing me extra-judicially in exotic locations overseas had failed to pay attention to Anders Behring Breivik, the terrorist who killed almost 100 people in an attack on 22 July 2011.

It goes without saying that antics like these are entirely unsuitable to a complex and sophisticated society like yours. There are also additional reasons that make me think your government will have special reasons to reject this kind of operation. The UK is the historical home of transparent policing and the great innovation of badged officers. I give you credit for the fact that even today, in the complicated area of the fight against organised crime, you continue to use uniformed police to a greater extent than many other nations, thus addressing the acute need for greater accountability in this area of policing.

Also, you have at your disposal a tool which is designed to create the layer of public vigilantism that police elsewhere have tried to recreate through more totalitarian means: The sex offender register. If you are worried about me, please feel free to inscribe me in your rolls based on the remarkable accusations put forward by Norwegian authorities:

“This man is suspected of having engaged in (perfectly legal) photography in pursuit of his sadomasochist desires. Because he took a number of pictures of people wearing winter clothes such as fur hats and Sorel boots for an alleged project on fashion history, Norwegian police has theorized that he may have some kind of fetish related to Nike shoes. He has never photographed the same person on more than one occasion, let alone touched anyone against their will. But you never know with these types.”

This is neither eloquent nor impeccably logical, but it aptly summarises the Oslo police’s accusations and claims about me in a few sentences. I have moreover suggested a series of other voluntary restrictions on my movements to help alleviate any fear that I might reengage in controversial photography; this offer still stands. But in a rule of law society, you cannot treat a controversial photographer worse than people that have raped and murdered.

Here are some more ideas to discourage you from taking part in this operation. The challenges your police is facing are in many ways more complex than other European nations. You have in your population serious challenges relating to political extremism, whether left or right, Christian or Islamic. And yet at the same time you have perhaps the greatest concentration on the planet of brilliant thinkers with minority backgrounds, ranging from Muslims to members of the kink community. You cannot afford to get in conflict with these whole communities by pursuing the primitive thought police methods of the Norwegian authorities, which in my case means persecuting someone for their sexual orientation in the absence of any criminal act.

Finally you have in your country a more lively debate about the police and police monitoring mechanisms than elsewhere. I come to that debate with a perfectly open mind. By simply refraining from harassing me extra-judicially, you can count on me as someone who will give credit where it is due and uphold the presumption of innocence for the police in the same way that I expect the police to uphold that principle with regard to myself.

Are really your relations with Norway sufficiently important to get your government implicated in a crime against humanity? Is it worth putting your reputation on the line just for the sake of satisfying the Norwegian Labour-government’s narrow-minded quest to destroy extra-judicially one of the world’s most prominent Iraq academics? With the robustness of your press and its well-known thirst for scandal, it would be only a matter of time before this case reached the point where the full truth came out.

I come to your country, the historical bastion of European freedom, with the sole aim of writing academically on the results of the Iraqi local elections on 20 April. I have already been fighting this police operation on the beaches and in the air, and will continue to do so wherever the struggle takes me. I hope you, like the great Winston Churchill, will understand the serious nature of the challenge presented by fascism from other parts of Europe, and will take the necessary measures to once more shine as a beacon of liberty in our part of the world.

I’m Taking My Case to Switzerland

Dear Switzerland. This is to inform you that I will shortly arrive in one of your cities. I would like to encourage you to kindly refrain from harassing or torturing me or discriminating against me on the basis of my sexual orientation.

I realise this is an unusual and possibly superfluous request. After all, the UN human rights charter and the European human rights convention provide guarantees against extra-judicial punishment. The Convention against Torture specifically bans degrading and other unusual forms of punishment. And your own constitution of course guarantees against discrimination on the basis of way of life.

Nonetheless, since a large number of democratic states have indeed violated international charters and their own constitutions in my case, I wanted to add some further information about it. But since you are who you are and have one of the best human rights records in the world, I need not lecture you on how an operation of this kind is a flagrant violation of international treaties and conventions. In fact, in entering your country, I am simply following the advice of one your diplomatic corps members, with whom I discussed my case and who suggested this kind of approach as a possible option. Let me instead try to be the devil’s advocate and focus on how the operation is a failure even from the most cynical police perspective one can imagine.

Firstly, despite the fact that this operation involves enormous outlay of expenses and countless transgressions of international conventions and national legislation for a period of more than two years, it is very hard to see what results are achieved. Normally, when disruption methods are used by police as an alternative to prosecution, the idea is to find a practical solution to a perceived problem for which no legal approach is within reach. This typically involves forcing someone to change their behaviour or leave a particular geographical area or a whole national jurisdiction. But in my case, for two years after I stopped my controversial photography, left Norway and withdrew entirely from public spaces where my presence supposedly constituted a problem, the police forces in foreign countries keep punishing me even in in my private residence when I am working on academic studies related to Iraq! The result is that the original logic of disruption as a policing method is reversed and we are back to square one: Because of the intensification of the police harassment in my private home including intensive use of non-conventional, Mengele-inspired directed energy weapons, I am forced back on the streets, where I supposedly constitute a greater threat to the public safety because of my erstwhile controversial photography. In other words, the police is exacerbating the problem rather than eliminating it! Not only that, when I am forced to move around a lot in the public sphere, inevitably a greater amount of police resources are needed to keep track of me. In other words, I am more in the public sphere where I am supposedly a problem, at a greater cost for the police. Inevitably, the quality of real policing will be affected when resources and the attentiveness of the police get diverted to harassing me instead. Some of the resources that get tied up in this way are also probably of a quite advanced and valuable nature, since the mainstay of police stalking is extreme intrusion – in my case requiring surveillance and foreign linguistic capabilities that would likely be assigned to anti-terror operations under normal circumstances. My specific case also presents a tragic but very thought-provoking juxtaposition of real policing and absurd police-stalking digressions: When the Oslo police should have monitored the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in spring 2011, they were busy extra-judicially punishing me for my legal photography Seattle, thousands of miles away from Norway.

This of course proves what I have always said, that the police operation targeting me is nothing but an extra-judicial punishment operation with zero law enforcement content. What is enforced are the fantasies and bigotry of a renegade unit within the Oslo police, and what is broken is not only national law but international conventions on torture and other forms of inhuman and unusual punishment. This case could have been solved many years ago if the Oslo police had spent exactly 50 cents to take 5 minutes to tell me that they were concerned about my photography – in which case I would have promptly discontinued it without engaging in any sort of legal bickering. But the police weren’t interested in that kind of dialogue scenario. Instead they wanted to travel to exotic destinations and do extra-judicial punishment through “international police cooperation” at the taxpayer’s expense.

What this operation shows is that disruption doesn’t work when there is no plausible end game and when the target is convinced of his or her own innocence and hence unafraid to speak to the general public. Apart from the air miles accrued by the officers involved, there is no apparent purpose in this operation. That is, of course, unless the goal is to project the image of a police capable of enforcing arbitrariness in an unlimited way, going after its enemies even beyond national borders. If that is the case, however, there is no longer any difference between us and North Korea.

Now, I am sure you are wondering how a travesty like this could originate in Norway, which has a very reasonable human rights reputation. I myself was shocked at first. But after having three times unsuccessfully encouraged PM Stoltenberg to intervene, I have no other option than to situate my case within some broader and disturbing trends in Norwegian politics and society , and to try to describe those tendencies as best as I can as an historian.

The problem with many of the indexes that give Norway good human rights scores is that many of them rely upon lazy and unempirical reiterations of descriptions that may have been valid in the first part of the twentieth century, but are no longer adequate to describe the realities of Norwegian democracy. Always remember that many of these league tables, such as that of the World Justice Project, are mere perception indexes!

Historically, it makes sense to identify at least three trends in Norwegian law enforcement and politics that enable the paradox whereby a state with a liberal reputation is home to some of the most heavy-handed policing in the Western world.

The first is the Rinnan trend, going back to the Second World War, when the leaders of the pro-Nazi Rinnan gang impressed even Gestapo for their incredible brutality in torturing members of the Norwegian resistance. This kind of police brutality has reappeared with such regularity in Norwegian history that it makes sense to study it as a broader cultural problem. In the 1970s and the 1980s there was a high number of shocking police brutality cases in Bergen. More recently, the organised crime unit of the Oslo police has become something of a national centre of competence in illegal methods. In my own case, I experienced something of a Rinnan/Gestapo contrast when I left Norway following a month of heavy mistreatment by the Oslo police in March 2011 and found the FBI-led harassment in the USA to be a comparatively humane experience. But this tendency is not limited to specialised harassment units. Abuse of power is so rampant in Norwegian police that it can even be glanced from such open sources as the Twitter feed of the Oslo police, which in one case poked fun of Muslims for praying after a car breakdown and in the next expressed gleeful satisfaction that someone who had urinated publicly was made to dry up his urine using his jacket on an icy cold winter night.

The second important trend can be called the Dorenfeldt trend after the Norwegian chief prosecutor in the 1960s and 1970s, Lauritz Dorenfeldt. It is characterised by judicially weak and often hysterical prosecution attempts, frequently prompted by bigotry and anti-intellectualism as was seen in the cases against great Norwegian authors like Agnar Mykle and Jens Bjoerneboe. The trend was proven alive and well by a recent attempt to prosecute the anti-feminist Eivind Berge, though that case was promptly thrown out by the supreme court. The hysteria of individual cases like these in turn relates to a more systemic and institutionalised problem that makes Norway a little-noticed outlier in comparative Western justice: Its uniquely police-dominated prosecution service. Thanks to the heavy reliance on so-called police lawyers, prosecutions are often judicially inferior and subject to the whims of police officers to a greater extent than in any comparable Western judicial system. In my case this reached the point where police lawyers actually participated in the extra-judicial punishment and harassment orchestrated by the police – a mixing of roles from which even full-blooded totalitarian states tend to shy away.

Thirdly, there is a more general authoritarian tendency identified as the “Stalinist” trend by the celebrated Norwegian historian Jens Arup Seip already in the early 1960s. Seip specifically related it to the Norwegian Labour party and its heavy-handed ways of dealing with its enemies. Still today, it is often next to impossible to have a rational conversation with members of the Labour party regarding the historical legacy of the late Haakon Lie, the Labour strongman of the second half of the twentieth century that prompted Seip to choose his radical nomenclature. More recently, the current Labour government has revived the authoritarian spirit of the past by introducing law proposals that verge on criminalising thought – as seen in legislative proposals regarding actions preparatory to a “potential terrorist act”, as well as a hate speech bill.

It is perhaps the fusion of these three trends that constitutes the most dangerous threat to the rule of law in Norway. It is that sort of fusion that enabled the economic crime agency Okokrim to push forward the police’s panopticon agenda, whereby among other things it has become impossible to procure a pay-as-you-go mobile in Norway without registering your full personal identity details. For its part, the Labour party became wedded to police criminality through two formative experiences over the last decade. First, there were the Aker Brygge murders in 2006, when the government responded by beefing up an organised crime fighting agency, giving it carte blanche prerogatives. Secondly, there was the passage of a law criminalizing buying (but not selling) sex in 2008. The law was as difficult to enforce as it sounds, but in order to make the statistics look good, the police have ended up harassing female sex workers (who were not supposed to be directly targeted by the bill). Both developments strengthened relations between the Labour party and the organised crime unit of the Oslo police to the point where the unit’s leaders publicly boasted of their liberty to limitlessly apply police methods that directly violate article 117a of the Norwegian penal code. As a result, Norway is now in situation shockingly similar to China, where the BBC recently revealed how a mere order from a police officer can confine an individual to forced labour. The only difference in Norway is that if you get placed on the hit list of the organised crime unit in Oslo, the police will follow you across the globe instead of incarcerating you as per the Chinese approach. It is a more expensive solution, but the police get to travel a lot.

Does this sound somewhat weird and unbelievable? To understand it, you need to appreciate the extent to which Norway has become influenced by Gulf state tendencies in recent decades. Again, I am building this mainly on what others have written about our excessive oil wealth, including the writings of Simen Saetre. One particularly important factor is the decline in educational standards. This is seen above all in the sciences, where Norway for the past few decades has been fast diving in the league tables and now has positions far down the lists that are not commensurate with our high standards of living. Or maybe that is the problem, leading to an atmosphere where incompetence can thrive in the public sphere and where silly projects can easily obtain funding. In my case, this tendency was epically highlighted when Norwegian police officers followed me to Qatar and had to teach the Qatari police – officials of a rentier economy par excellence – the latest tricks in illegal policing. The Norwegian quest to punish me for my sexual orientation apparently resonated with the Wahhabi Qataris, whose campaign against polytheism is highly comparable to the Oslo police’s crusades against sexual minorities and academics.

One final broad and somewhat related tendency that is particularly worth highlighting in my case relates to Labour politicians’ apparent fear of advanced knowledge. This has been expressed in many different ways over the past decade, one of which being the “reform” of Norwegian higher education that was implemented by Trond Giske, a previous Labour minister of education. The net effect of the move has been to severely cut down the time postgraduates spend on doing real research, thereby ruining postgraduate study programmes that were previously quite close to a semi-doctorate in terms of the time spent on real research.  I have personally seen how this cultivation of mediocrity plays out in the field of Middle East studies, where people who talk a lot on TV and have extremely limited empirical knowledge of the region (let alone Arabic or Persian language skills) easily get promoted to high positions in the office of the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. Three times I have asked Stoltenberg to intervene in my case to simply discontinue the illegalities so that I can focus on my Iraq research. Three times Stoltenberg has refused to do anything, effectively covering the asses of some of the worst torturers and human rights criminals in post-Communist Europe. It is a sad fact that today, in what amounts to a War on Knowledge, Labour ministers feel closer to the thugs and torturers than to advanced academics.

I should stress that none of these criticisms and remarks are due to any general anti police attitude on my part. I am no anarchist. Quite the contrary, my criticism flows from a sense of deep respect for honest policing, as well as admiration for the often underpaid and underappreciated work done by a majority of highly competent police officers in Norway and elsewhere. Through my work on Iraq, I have come to recognise the great sacrifice made by police officers there, often giving their life in the fight for a more democratic society.

Nor are my writings intended as a criticism of the fight against organised crime in principle. But it seems to me there is the same problem of sloppy targeting in the war against organised crime that I have previously criticised in the war on terror. I have spent many years trying to explain US authorities why it is wrong to universally conceptualise Iraq’s Sadrists as terrorists, and that labels like “Mahdists” are often used to stigmatise people that have done no other crime than having a different point of view. That is exactly the same kind of logic that led me to getting targeted by Norwegian police. It is a logic which can easily turn the fight against organised crime into a war on dissenters, artists and free thinkers. Exactly like in the battle against terrorists, it is important that the police rise above their enemies instead of degenerating to standards that are not compatible with rule of law ideals, even in challenging territory involving organised crime. The fight against organised crime must become smarter, and that involves taking a critical look at many so-called disruption methods. In areas where there is no law, the police must accept the fact that it is a conversation partner like everyone else, and work through democratic channels if it wishes to change something rather than trying to engage in “idea enforcement” on the pattern of the Oslo police.

After 780 days of continuous mistreatment, I am tempted to use colourful language of the kind employed by Thorgeir Thorgeieson in his criticism of the Icelandic police. The European Court of Human Rights found that it was not unreasonable to do so, and that the Icelandic government’s attempt to gag him was a violation of the right to freedom to expression. Let me nonetheless try to put this as clinically as possible: The police officers attached to my operation are not professional police. They are on the job to break the law, not to enforce it. What they are enforcing are their own ideas and concoctions, with zero reference to the laws on the books. They have a track record of embroiling authorities in scandal because of their dubious and illegal methods. After some of them had been in Brazil and illegally shared information about Norwegian citizens, a member of the Norwegian parliament had to travel all the way to South America to try to clean up after them!  Much of what they touch ends up as scandal, and the only thing these people “disrupt” is often the provision of honest police work of the protect-and-serve category. Again, these are the people who prioritised harassing a photographer over monitoring a mass murderer and terrorist.

Clearly, through association with these people, you run the risk of soiling your pristine reputation. They will try to subvert your laws and constitution in the way they have already done in a dozen other countries, including implicating the Netherlands and New Zealand in crimes against humanity. I need not tell you that any involvement in this operation would be incompatible with your illustrious role as a host for such important human rights organisations as the UN committee against torture, which works specifically to eliminate the degrading and unusual punishment of the kind the Norwegian police have embarked upon. And again, by colluding with them you run the risk of being affected by their contagious inability to get priorities right and differentiate between real crimes and things they just dislike.

I come to Switzerland with the singular ambition of working quietly on Iraq analyses, like the ones I have prepared for the 20 April local elections. Few other Western analysts provide commentary of this kind in a timely way, and it is unnecessary to point out the immense significance of Iraq to major drivers in international politics, ranging from the oil price to the challenge of radical Islamism and sectarian struggles in the wider Middle Eastern region. Since I was never given the right to explain myself to the Norwegian police, I have created my own quasi-legal process on my blog where I address every aspect of my case. I am happy to be subjected to any kind of electronic tagging or monitoring, including inside my private dwellings (as of today, this monitoring is done illegally). I would abide by a restriction order to not carry any photographic devices, if that is the main worry related to me. I would provide advance notice of my movements to make it easier to monitor my every move: Lots of money could have been saved in that way and I don’t care much about my privacy since it has irrevocably been taken away from me by Norwegian police long time ago anyway. You can monitor as much as you want or ask me any question. But you cannot torture me.

I have shown that there is no criminal act involved in my photography (something even the Norwegian police officially admits). I have also shown that the slander story the police use to generate a pogrom based on my sexual orientation is also completely contradictive and lacking in basic logic. So what is left of the case against me? I have made it perfectly clear that I will never return to Norway unless those responsible are held accountable, so there is no point in trying to force me back. And so, even if the Norwegian government insists on its fanatic persecution, there is no rational reason other governments should follow its primitive example and carry on with an operation that is so flawed and embarrassing to the police that it cannot be formally recognised. Indeed, in line with the relevant international conventions, other governments have a duty to refuse cooperation with such an operation involving degrading and unusual punishment.

I rest my case.

Goodbye New Zealand, You Are a Travesty

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Officialdom and Torture in 21st century New Zealand: OFCANZ chief Malcolm Burgess, Wellington police commander Mike Rusbatch and Kapiti police chief Alasdair Macmillan. These officers must at least assume the nominal responsibility for the rampant crimes of torture committed by New Zealand Police in their jurisdictions and units. 

After 8 months in New Zealand , the time has come to say goodbye. It is fair to say my expectations about a visit to a model democracy were crushed.

It makes sense to start my goodbyes with you, Mr. Key. You are the leader of a country which considers itself among the foremost examples of democracy and the rule of law in the world. It was with that splendid reputation in mind I decided to visit you, after my most basic human rights had been taken from me in my home country in Europe. And yet after 8 months, I am sorry to report that in terms of police criminality and widespread state-sponsored vigilantism you  do not live up to your democratic ideals at all. Quite the contrary, your police wantonly indulged in all the human rights transgressions that form the mainstay of police stalking: Conspicuous surveillance, the enlistment of citizen stalkers, street theatre calculated to resonate with the police’s rather absurd theories about the victim’s sexual orientation, and extensive use of electro-magnetic torture devices. All this extra-judicial punishment was meted out to me, a visitor and an EU citizen who had never before been to New Zealand, without any sort of due process. It was all done simply upon instructions from foreign governments.

Among the most depraved aspects of police criminality during my stay in New Zealand was the extensive use of educational state institutions in citizen stalking focused on stigmatisation of sexual minority groups like sadomasochists, fetishists and other kinksters. This tendency was at is strongest in the Raumati area on the Kapiti coast, where children aged 6 to 15  were indoctrinated en masse to persecute sexual dissenters and their deviations from the hetero-normative paradigm after my arrival there. In the period November 2012-March 2013, in mass recruitment exercises reminiscent of Hitler jugend activities, children and teenagers at schools in Raumati and Raumati South (including Kapiti College) were instructed by police, government teachers or even their own parents to engage in acts like demonstratively sitting with feet on railway seats on the commuter train to Wellington, walking barefoot in public areas, or engage in various forms of street theatre intended as strictures on people of a sadomasochist sexual orientation. This is not only among the most disgusting features of your crime: It is also what sets it apart from ordinary crimes of torture and makes it a crime against humanity for which high officials of your government will hopefully one day have to answer before the International Criminal Court.

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Wellingtonians and foreigners alike became very interested in photography in autumn 2012

Another exceptionally shocking transgression involves the daily and increasingly more intensive use of severe electro-magnetic torture for around 250 days.  You are the country that has permitted the longest known deployment of this Mengele-inspired weapon that was introduced to the operation by Dutch authorities in June 2011. Of course, it is difficult to prove that this unconventional device was used to wake me up on average 5 to 7 times every night and to chase me out of the places where I was staying. But ask the citizens of Raumati South, who knew perfectly well what sort of social harassment I had to endure in public spaces. When I nonetheless opted to sit long hours on the train from Paraparaumu to Wellington every day just to get away from the most intense mistreatment in my rented home and have the ability to do some academic work, perhaps that may serve as an indication of the grotesque scale of what was going on?

Good bye, foreign minister, I wished to say a special greeting to you since I have had occasion to meet with some of your officials at earlier stages of my career. Back then, they were interested in my academic contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq – a field where I am still reckoned as a leading expert worldwide despite having been persecuted by Norwegian police for more than two years. You, as a government, ended up in a bigoted war against knowledge. As I was completing the first analysis in any language of the 8,000 candidates to the Iraqi local elections on 20 April, the police of Kapiti sent people into trains on the Wellington commuter line to harass me. As I was writing up a commentary on the legality of the partial delay in two provinces of those Iraqi elections, the Kapiti police reinforced their struggle: The New Zealand government wanted to prevent, at any cost, the publication of expert opinions on Iraq. And still despite widespread criminality and human rights abuse in the ranks of your own police, you keep talking condescendingly about other Pacific nations, as if you enjoyed some sort of pre-eminent democratic credibility in the region! Your own violations of international agreements – including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which you are a signatory – means you cannot speak with authority on these matters before you have implemented extensive systemic reform in your own government that will likely take decades to complete.

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Kapiti police officers seen here as they return from the final send-off when they encircled my bus in a remote rural area as I departed from Raumati South.

Goodbye, general auditor. I had planned to come by and say hello, since you have a special responsibility for super-monitoring the police after the flaws of the independent police commission (IPCA) was publicly acknowledged in a rare admission of your government’s own dysfunction. I never got that far, but let me write a few lines at least. When I first visited IPCA in August 2012 to make a complaint, I realised something was wrong. Shortly after I had arrived in the waiting room to complete my complaints form, what appeared to be one of the chief investigators of the authority came in, accompanied by a senior police officer who gave me the usual stare associated with conspicuous surveillance. They then found out the officer needed to be taken for a guided tour of the independent commission premises! “Here is the nerve centre”, yelled the IPCA investigator as the police officer was taken inside the precincts of the investigative body to great hilarity, all in a shameless display of the level of complete collusion. Little wonder my subsequent two complaints never got further than to Kathy Irvine, the gatekeeper who stops most applications before they even reach the investigation stage – and whose qualifications for her job according to herself consists of having been in the same position for 12 years.

Also, since you are the general auditor, beyond IPCA, I encourage you to look carefully at the use of police manpower in this operation. In particular, check out the nightshifts done by Kapiti police and the organised crime agency OFCANZ in the period from November 2012 to March 2013. Can you explain why, in a democracy, it is legitimate to keep police officers salaried in the middle of the night for the single purpose of waking people up with force? Again, the local population of Raumati South may not realise the full grotesqueness of the electro-magnetic methods used, but they can confirm the presence of noisy unmarked police cars every day in The Esplanade between midnight and dawn for most of the last four months, and in Wellington before that. And that was not only one car per day.  Let’s put a conservative estimate of 3 police officers working night and day for the altogether 8 months I stayed in New Zealand. What is the bill for that? And, even more importantly, what are the results? Despite having criminalised large parts of the adult population of Raumati and East Clive who violated both the anti-harassment act and the anti-torture act (and led them to criminalise their own children), you did not manage to stop my Iraq writings or my criticism of the Norwegian and Dutch police forces. After having violated the act of torture crimes systematically for more than 250 days, the only result was that I moved between three places in a limited region around Wellington, and finally left after the electromagnetic torture had reached a level where it was so intense that it was threatening my general health in a very obvious way.

A special good bye to the white lower middle class semi-rural population of New Zealand that is sometimes referred to contemptuously as “bogans”. I got to see many of you during my month-long stay in East Clive, Hastings in December 2012 and January 2013. In some ways I find you more honest than the rest of New Zealanders. You hate sexual otherness from the bottom of your heart, and you are not shy about it. I am still disappointed though. At a certain point at school, you should have learnt that extra-judicial persecution is something the government does in North Korea, and not in democracies. Even if you didn’t remember that, have you not read about the massive impact bullying can have, and how easily it can lead to suicide? Then remember that police stalking is teenage bullying on speed. I don’t understand how you can cry about the horrible problems of bullying in one second and then go on to participate with eagerness in bullying of complete strangers in a format that is a thousand times worse. Let me add the fact that what you did was just for show, perhaps 2% of the full stalking operation: Public elements of police stalking typically focus on hilarity-evoking street theatre, all seemingly very distant from the raw torture dynamic that lies at the heart of these operations. But try to be mathematical about the noise harassment you and your neighbours engaged in during a typical stalker patrol. Multiply that activity with the typical duration of a stalking operation (in my case two and a half years). Then add the fact that every night, the police wakes up the stalking victim on average 5 times. In my case, that latter aspect alone amounts to more than 1,200 nightly interruptions over an 8-month period in New Zealand. That is 1,200 counts of transgressions of the anti-torture act.

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Kapiti types

But again, my beef is not mainly with you. Yours is a perfectly honest redneckism whish speaks its name with complete clarity. I am far more eager to say goodbye at some length to the so-called intellectuals of New Zealand, who are supposed to exist in large numbers in places like Raumati and in Wellington suburbs like Kelburn. Congratulations to you, because you have just empowered the people whose vision of society is as antithetical to yours as you can possibly imagine. Unlike the bogans who at least stay truthful to their own shallow ideals, you are the alchemists of your own revolutions. You claim to be Buddhists, environmentalists or leftists.  And at the same time you behave like fascists. To a greater degree than your compatriots, then, you are a complete and utter joke. With your plethora of fancy flags of convenience, you are in fact far more dangerous to New Zealand democracy than your political opponents, who at least dare speak their true name. You, by way of contrast, run their police-state errands while pretending to be truthful to your own lofty principles. Oh yes, you can make politically correct sounds every now and then. But take hard core human rights issues like the presumption of innocence and the right of the accused to be heard, and it emerges that it is the essential similarity between oh-so-artsy Raumati and the uneducated illiterate bogans of East Clive, Hastings that is the defining characteristic of early 21st-century New Zealand society.  In mattes of human rights, you, too, are illiterate. Do you really not understand that if you systematically undermine the presumption of innocence for other people, your victims will be tempted to respond in kind? Until now, I have been careful with suppressing the identity of my stalkers when documenting their activities, but after all I have been through, I may not be so diligent about that in the future after all.

Goodbye feminists of Wellington – or I should say, those of you who call yourself by that term. I realise you may have been attracted to the police’s discourse of extra-judicially punishing someone who engaged in street photography of women. Maybe you saw my efforts as anti-feminist. But please think a little longer. The police has no right to interfere with photography unless it is done in an illegal way (mine wasn’t). If you are unhappy with the law, the democratic way is to engage in parliamentary processes or start grassroots actions, and not to engage in state-sponsored vigilantism of the most medieval kind imaginable. The police has no right to concoct the law. And the police has absolutely no right to punish anyone – that is the sacred principle that supposedly constitutes the chasm between ourselves and North Korea.  Despite this, in this process you took the police’s incoherent narrative at face value and began participating in the harassment operation without even hearing my side of the story and my academic explanation of my photography, relating to the powerful role of women in shaping street fashion, often by trumping designers and big commerce.  Through your actions you have instead empowered  Norwegian men who spend most of their time persecuting your sisters – sex workers who work legally under the “Swedish model”  in the streets of Oslo, but who get systematically and illegally harassed by the police. Because they are your sisters, aren’t they? Those are the same Oslo police that cannot investigate rape even when there are signs of internal injuries, because they don’t have enough evidence! But they were very happy to come to New Zealand to carry out extra-judicial punishment in fancy hotels on your territory. And you have empowered their local New Zealand colleagues and buddies too, men who primarily express their opinion through the vroom of the car and the honk of the horn. Don’t you realise what a fantastic triumph it is for them when they were able to make you, the highbrow intelligentsia, behave like Nazi pigs too? Do you not realise that the police is inherently a patriarchal institution that will only serve to reproduce patterns of gender inequality?

Goodbye, Amnesty International. I have a special section for you after my experience with harassment at one of your events in Wellington in October. Yes, members of Amnesty participating in police-led harassment in their home country (conspicuous photography) while at the same time fighting hard for the rule of law at distant shores! With your energetic eye-rolling at developments in exotic countries and your firm closure of those same eyes before human rights crimes by your own police, you do take the concept of contradictions to a whole new level, even for New Zealand intellectuals. Not to speak of your special campaigns involving crocodile tears for people who get punished purely for their sexual orientation. Yeah right. I am sure you will be thrilled to learn that among the other partners enlisted by New Zealand police to take part just like you did were staff at the Chinese embassy in Wellington. That’s right New Zealand and China working side by side to destroy one of the world’s leading Iraq academics, who has perhaps done more than anyone else in the West terms of getting focus on rule of law problems in post-2003 Iraq.  When you are an Amnesty member and at the same time participate in police stalking you have pretty much reached the outer boundaries for what sort of hypocrisy is humanly possible.

Goodbye Maoris of New Zealand. You were disproportionally recruited to harass me; you will be disproportionally targeted by the police when I am gone. Some things never change.

I have to say, though, I came to your islands with a political scientist’s vague idea about a well-functioning democracy – a beacon in a region where Australian politics is a shouting match about deporting foreigners, and where other countries still carry deep scars of colonialism. I depart with a sense of a nation building process that is only superficial. Once you scratch below the surface – for example by reading a couple of newspapers around your national holiday on Waitangi Day – you realise the extent to which wounds have been stitched up without healing and thereby continue to fester. First there was a dramatic story about Maoris fighting among themselves about who should accompany the PM for the festivities. The PM himself made it perfectly clear that he could not care less. One day later, a jubilant report on the proceedings in the Dominion Post concluded that everything had passed off without major incident! Not since I spent weeks perusing the Basra Times from the 1920s during my doctoral thesis have I come across a similar sense of condescension and that same familiar master narrative: Primitive natives will forever remain forever locked in their own paltry bickering unless the civilising power of White Man is interposed.

Goodbye, all honest citizens of New Zealand, whatever background you may have.  I know you exist in large numbers even though none of you came forward to help me during my stay. You are fighting a valiant fight on issues like the environment, nuclear and foreign policy. But you should know that the real chancre through which many of the impositions from abroad pollute your country is something called OFCANZ, the organised and financial crime fighting agency. That agency is guided not by what the law says, but what is best practice in the FBI. It is particularly important to stress that what I have been exposed to in terms of sleep deprivation is not the result of an isolated renegade unit. The manpower hours speak for themselves: Someone high up must have known the purpose of all those nightshifts. There is not much legitimate police work to do in The Esplanade, Raumati South at 4 in the morning. What the top brass knew of the exact operational detail can perhaps be disputed, but they knew those people were there, paid by the government of New Zealand, for the single purpose of committing crimes of torture. These OFCANZ teams seem as institutionally criminalised as their counterparts in Norway and the Netherlands: They are so accustomed to breaking the law that without doing it, they might have trouble finding ways of doing what they believe is their job.

Perhaps they are best described as fake police. I should stress that this is not something I am the first to say; it is something that emerges from the proceedings of your own courts, which recently threw out a case where the police had forged documents. When called out, the police publicly expressed dismay they were not allowed to carry on with their forged prosecution! Of course warnings of this kind are probably not enough to address the patterns of institutionalised criminality that exist in institutions that are devoted to perverting the cause of justice. Even purges of these institutions may be a too soft approach. Only long prison sentences in accordance with the crimes of tortures act as well as the complete disbandment of OFCANZ is likely to restore a modicum of legality in the New Zealand judicial system. Again, I am not saying anything terribly new here. The Dotcom case has long ago demonstrated OFCANZ’s complete subservience to foreign governments; the mental shift you need to make is to stop considering the mistreatment of Dotcom as an exception to the rule and rather see it as the tip of an iceberg.

On the whole, I would rate you as third worst country that I have been to in terms of police criminality, after Norway and Netherlands who initiated and escalated the crime against me. I was certainly treated more humanely in the United States than in New Zealand. Perhaps what is most striking with you is your own seemingly unshakeable sense of democratic superiority, coupled with the horrific realities of rampant and institutionalised police criminality. That makes you into a particularly hypocritical nation even though similar forms of transgressions can be found in other places as well. Do you understand that you have done things that would be unacceptable for a democracy even if I were Jack the Ripper, Herman Goring and Usama bin Ladin all in one and the same person?

Goodbye, “anonymous government source”, who hinted at the truth in a commentary on the Dotcom case in the Dominion Post last August: “It doesn’t work that way. If it did, then we are a central African republic”. But it does work that way, and “central African” is indeed perhaps the most fitting description that can be given for you. Except that unlike most African republics, you are sailing under a false flag of democratic righteousness. Whereas I have now departed, your immense problems in terms of nation-building and a broken judicial system remain.

An Unofficial Enquiry into the Fetishisms of the Oslo Police

Legal reasoning is not of much help in my situation since Norwegian police keep waging an illegal campaign against me even though they officially admit they don’t have any criminal case against me. I will therefore instead turn to the specific and frankly absurd arguments they are using to convince the local population to participate in their criminal operation. Such local-level analysis is often the best angle for throwing light on the general phenomenon of extra-judicial punishment and witch hunts in modern states.

The Role of Sexual Orientation Strictures in Police Persecution

Since I wrote my earlier analysis of the modalities of the police operation,  I have been able to obtain some additional clues about how the police’s campaign of persecution is being justified vis-a-vis the general public locally. In addition to spreading rumours about my sadomasochistic sexual orientation, the police claim that I am fetishistically inclined towards objects in the pictures I have taken: This, in turn, ostensibly serves as a link between my photography and my sexuality, and explains, at least inside the police’s own heads, why so vast resources must be spent on persecuting me and punishing my street photography.

I have suspected this tendency ever since I encountered a drunk guest at Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk in the Netherlands in December 2011. I was complaining to neighbours about severe noise at night, whereupon the neighbour, who worked for a Dutch telecom firm and was staying in the room beneath my room where guests were routinely asked by police to disturb me, broke out in laughter and shrieked hysterically, “It is the guy in the room above us! Nike! Nike! Nike!” I asked what had Nike had do with this, but he just kept screaming it again and again. I was stupefied at first, since I hadn’t been wearing any Nike apparel for ages, and since that brand certainly hadn’t featured prominently in the photography for which I was ostensibly being punished by the police.

With my latest findings, I am more convinced than ever that this outburst by a rather drunk stalker is a clue to understanding the police’s illegal campaign. The operational manifestations of this line of thinking are myriad:

One of the main street theatre activities (quasi daily life scenes staged by the police) involves locals walking in circles on the beach collecting seashells in great quantities. This ritual – which has been performed with remarkable regularity from the Netherlands to the Pacific region – supposedly goes back to anthropological studies of fetishism, in which shells are a common object of worship.

Stalkers have been fitted with apparel that appeared in my photographs but that is deliberately worn in unseasonal contexts on instructions by the police, such as fur hats and winter boots in the middle of summer.

The police appear to take a particular interest in feet and shoes. Repeatedly, stalker cars have featured young women sitting in the front of the car with their legs outside the car windows while the car is driving at full speed, or the stalkers walk barefoot in autumn or winter.

Installations of differing artistic calibres supposed to reflect fetishist themes have been tirelessly arranged by the police wherever I venture, from Boston in the USA to Asia. Particularly recurrent themes are abandoned shoes that litter the streets wherever I go, occurring with far higher frequency than one would expect in well-to-do, first-world semi-urban neighbourhoods.

Fetishism and Fashion Photography

As explained in a previous article, from the legal point of view the police’s musings in this regard are one hundred per cent uninteresting, since photography of the nature that I was engaged in is not an actus reus or an objectively defined offense under Norwegian law. Theoretically speaking then, in legal terms, even if what they said were true, it still wouldn’t have any legal relevance whatsoever. I would still be innocent, and their operation against me would still be a crimeThe judicially correct answer to the police’s allegations is simply “I don’t have to answer you”. And to be honest, these are details with which I’d really prefer not to bother the general public.

Nonetheless, since Norwegian police have constructed an extra-legal witch hunt around this theme and exported it to altogether 12 other countries, it is worth taking some time to analyse their thinking and how it relates to my photography and sexuality respectively.

First, the photography. Yes, I confess, the majority of photos will have had specific clothing items and  particular brands in them  – including boots and hats which is what the police seem to be most interested in. This is after all quite unremarkable within the genre that we are dealing with here: To make a head to toe shot is the norm for almost all fashion photography. On the largest Flickr fashion subgroup, a specific injunction on etiquette indicates that images will be deleted unless they satisfy the head to toe requirement. Since Norway is a developed country and the images were taken in winter when temperatures typically reach minus 10 Celsius, it would be rather hard to avoid images with hats and boots.

Beyond that, certain items that feature prominently in the police’s harassment campaign against me – including fur hats and various footwear brands – were indeed among the principal variables that defined distinctive street fashion looks which I was documenting in my project. As such, they were deliberately included. Specifically, among the most recurrent variables included in the sample (alongside other items that I have seen no trace of the police taking any special interest in, like down jackets) were three boot brands and one fur hat type which exhibited interesting regional usage patterns and bottom-up tendencies in the shaping of Nordic street fashion. Firstly, the Hunter welly which enjoyed something of a meteoric rise after Kate Moss had been spotted wearing a pair at the Glastonbury rock festival in 2005. The trend stayed for rather longer in Oslo, where for the subsequent half-decade a substantial portion of its female inhabitants would put on their Hunters at the slightest hint of humidity in the air. Their main competitor in the battle for pre-eminence in Norwegian streets was a second item that was also included in my sample, a lace-up welly by the Danish designer Ilse Jacobsen which appears to have become more popular in Norway than in Denmark. Thirdly, the Sorel boot, a Canadian Arctic winter design that goes back to the 1970s, is an example of a bottom-up fashion development after it became trendy among ski bums throughout the northern hemisphere since the mid 2000s, if not earlier; it eventually rose to stardom in 2009 through its inclusion in the catalogue of US fashion distributor JC Penny. Finally, various incarnations of the giant fur hat briefly became something of a  must-have item around 2010. I included it in my sample since it was interesting to see how it was adapted to and made an impact on existing prototype looks.

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Examples of looks similar to the photos I took and which the Oslo police has used as pretext for persecuting me in 13 countries

Beyond the theoretical assumptions that certain basis items like these influence street fashion and serve as a check on designer innovations, one very obvious advantage of using expensive garments as variables is that the universe of investigation becomes manageable. Contrast this with other, typically cheaper garments, especially jeans and sweaters, which exhibit almost endless variations. This again connects to theory: Given the higher price of these garments, they represent a higher investment on the part of the consumer, which in itself provides a plausible basis for hypothesising endurance. As a general point, many previous studies in fashion studies verge on fetishism in far greater way than mine did, including meticulous analyses of dress length etc. without accounting for the relationship between different kinds of garment. My intention was to rectify that rather mathematical bias as well as other methodological problems such as over reliance on normative sources (sales catalogues, fashion bloggers) instead of descriptive sources.

Sadomasochism and Fetishism

So much for the photos. They had lots of fur hats and boots in them, as indeed was the intention.

Let’s then turn to matters of sexuality. I assume the police have based their analysis on my web surfing habits – that is after all where the police tend to go whenever they encounter something unusual. And no surprise, they may have found a good deal of boots there and even some fur as well!

Eureka? Did we just spot a crime? Am I under arrest now? Judging from the police’s belabouring of their hypothesis in the operational modalities of their campaign, it surely seems as if they credit me with establishing the connection between sex and the shoe, or between fur and sadomasochism. But the truth is, if the Oslo police wants to find erotica void of references to particular materials or shoes and boots with particular connotations, they may well have to go back to the stone age.

Let’s nonetheless focus on sadomasochism. As a genre, it is littered with links to fabrics and shoes and boots. Regarding fabrics, SM connotations go long back in history, including furs which appeared in the ground-breaking Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Later, other fabrics have emerged as signifiers of sadomasochist subculture, including leather, latex and PVC. With respect to shoes, there are also multiple connections and connotations. For example, in SM, high heels can be associated  with subjugation and dominance alike, according to context. In more recent decades, lesbian and gay pornography have developed dominant ideals and stereotypes centred on army boots and engineer boots, sometimes as part of broader leatherdyke and -men cultures. Lesbian butchism acquired iconic status in some of the great photography by Della Grace as reflected in the Love Bites anthology. Finally, certain shoe brands have achieved a certain fetishism status through the emergence of grassroots or indie porn; a case in point being Buffalo Boots in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It should be added that within the context of sadomasochism, these objects are often signifiers rather than objects of worship in themselves. Subs may typically fetishize objects owned by their dominant partner; conversely if there is no SM context, the symbolic value disappears.

More broadly speaking, certain fashion subcultures such as goth, punk, steampunk, and emo subculture have at times also acquired a symbiotic relationship with sadomasochism as a sexual subculture, or have become associated with kink positivity more generally. This in turn have made for cross pollination in fashion, for example with items like studded belts, black leather jackets and shoe brands like New Rock, Demonia and Converse. Some of these brands come from or lapse into mainstreamism, again others remain marginal and hence continue to serve as subculture signifiers. New Rock is an examples of a shoe brand that has remained strictly subculture. By way of contrast, Doc Martens have oscillated. DMs may have been radical in the pre-grunge era of the late 1980s, but would not raise an eyebrow circa 1996.  Various failed revival attempts meant that the brand recovered something of an underground position circa 2008, before another bout of mainstreamism took hold in 2010. Something similar happened with studded belts in the mid 2000s, whereas black leather jackets now seem to have become so irreversibly mainstream that they are pretty much devoid of subculture connotations.

To me, potential behavioural signifiers of the coveted dominatrix are more important than objects, as they tend to be more reliable. The best example is of course simply dominant behaviour in inter-personal relationships. That requires however both a high degree of social intimacy as well as duration of time. Potentially dominant behaviour that can be glanced from greater social distance include women who do martial arts or women who participate in social arenas traditionally seen as the preserve of men.

Aspects that could be labelled as fetishism are in my view inferior to behaviour as indicators of potential dominant instincts, since what people happen to be wearing in a fleeting moment on the street can often be quite difficult to relate to sexuality, and most certainly with respect to such a rare species as sadomasochists. To the extent that such things have mattered to me, fabrics have generally been secondary to aesthetical aspects – black leather can be great, but much cliche SM attire strikes me as rather tacky. As far as looks are concerned, I tend to associate certain fashion styles more generally with potential SM interest, such as military and punk. With respect to individual items, potential SM signifiers will have rather explicit and credible references to potential dommehood and stand out conspicuously in the crowd – metal belts, studs, spurs, metal-reinforced shoes or boots (say, steel-toed DMs or New Rocks) and other apparel that carries distinctive connotations of warrior potential, rebellion and general mayhem. Some of the porn sites I used to look at included SM scenarios with a focus on shoes and boots in settings of punishment and discipline; yet again others had no such content whatsoever and instead focused on a myriad of more physical themes ranging from tickling via medical SM to sounding and pegging as well as SM lifestyle themes such as cuckolding.

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These ladies are doing it right. But my street photography never focused on styles like these.

Let’s then discuss how this all relates to the police’s grand theory. As already explained, there are no legal ramifications. I could have taken pics with perfect correlation to my sexual interests (say, just for the sake of the argument, hordes of young female skinheads wearing steel-toe DMs) and there would have been no legal issues as long as I did not commit any actus reus relevant to photography. As for the plausibility of the police’s kindergarten justice, it also fails. Their crude generalisation that I should be fetishistically interested in any fur hat or boot they would throw at me carries no credible relationship to my complex sexuality as just described. The single boot or piece of cloth, in isolation, has zero interest to the cosmology of dominant signifiers that I am describing. A simple parallel to hetero-normativity should illustrate the implausibility and banality of this kind of thinking: Hetero-normative women are no more interested in the average idiot male in the street just because he happens to have a penis between his legs! Should we call every hetero straight woman a penis fetishist?  (There is of course a certain percentage of males who do think women are universally interested in their penises.)

At times, the police appear to take a particular interest in certain brands of shoes when they stage their theatre scenes. They will presumably have seen a pattern whereby my photography tended to focus on a limited set of garments, including specific boots and fur hats. As I have also explained, some brands are indeed imbued with a certain fetishist value in SM subcultures, albeit clearly secondary to more trustworthy behavioural characteristics: A punk who does kickboxing or a discriminating shoeaholic would be great examples of how fetishism and behavioural characteristics can merge in interesting ways. But there is a new sub-set of problems in the police’s thinking here. The first, again, relates to the reductionism involved in conflating interest in an object in an SM context with pure fetishism: The idea that any woman could put on a particular boot and it would automatically be sexually interesting is again absurd and insulting in the extreme to many sadomasochists. Many gays have spent enormous amounts of time having to explain they may not be really interested in other men unless there is mutual homosexuality at work. The same goes for sadomasochists, who fall in love with personalities above all, exactly like other human beings.

Beyond these overarching issues, in the police’s core argument regarding brands – as epitomised in the drunkard jumping up and down screaming Nike! after he had learned I was the police target at Huis ter Duin – they also fail spectacularly. The police’s claims may be due to the fact that a great German SM site that I visited a lot seemed to have a predilection for letting models torment their victims with Nike trainers. But the police’s reasoning exhibits some remarkable contradictions. First, there are some basic questions:  Why do the police believe the shoe brand  is the interesting aspect in these photos, when it is clearly the act of a beautiful lady subduing a man that makes them dramatically unique and totally different from run of the mill photos of girls on the street wearing Nike trainers? The fact that the domme is dressed in streetwear may perhaps play a role in creating next door connotations and as such form a welcome realism angle instead of the usual porn industry cliches. But the extrapolation that every woman wearing the same outfit should suddenly be a domme is the police’s own, and it carries no more weight than the crude assumption of generalised penis fetishism among straight heterosexual women.  And as I have just outlined, in any case, the fashion preferences of that porn site actually did not particularly dovetail with my own ideas about fashion and SM correlations; in other words my interest in the site despite the lack of overlap with my particular military fetishist tendencies just goes to underline how it is the SM content that trumps any fetishism aspect.

Most important of all, though, concerning the Norwegian police’s grand theory of a Nike fetish which they have exported to altogether 12 countries, is the fact that I must have taken less than 1 per cent of photographs with Nike apparel in any shape or form – far less than the naturally occurring rate in a cross section of pedestrians in Oslo. If anything, Nikes were statistically underrepresented in my samples! Nike was one of several brands which I may have included in a couple of examples as possible harbingers of prototypes and micro trends, but which I eventually dismissed as uninteresting to the project (it gradually came to be more restricted to winter fashion). So if I have this intense Nike fetish, why do I systematically take pictures of lots of women wearing Hunter and Sorel boots,  studiously avoiding  the Nikes which are as plentiful in supply in Oslo as anywhere else on the globe? Is it perhaps because my interest in the SM website featuring Nike dommes derived from the fact that it offered something unique in terms of sadomasochism which had nothing to do with street photography at all? For the record, I also did no systematic photography of other brands associated with sadomasochist subcultures as outlined above. The odd DMs etc. that I photographed as possible signs of minor fads and revivals must have been less than 1 per cent and eventually played no important role in the portfolio overall.

In sum, the logic doesn’t add up even in the centrepiece of the police’s argument. To the extent that there are fetishism related themes in my sexuality, they are always subordinate to and defined in relation to an overarching s theme of sadomasochism. To posit a general sexual interest in shoes or boots or fur hats or whatever, as the police does, is a completely dehumanizing act, similar to what was done against gays for decades and centuries, when it was popularly thought that they were interested in anal penetration by anyone and anything. Whereas the last thing I want to do is to belittle other people’s sexualities, to me the shoelicking business in isolation actually comes across as slightly meek and repetitive compared to the adventurous gladiatorial schemes that I have concocted through the years. What about the pegging, the nettles, the hot wax and 1,001 other things that I prefer not to enumerate even in this moment of forced sexual glasnost – the police are not giving me much credit for that, are they? What about the femdom heroines in the medieval SM adventures of Anne Rice (writing as Anne Roquelaure in the Sleeping Beauty triology), or the Winter Journey story by Norwegian author Stig Sohlenberg (about E, a woman who gets abducted to a nun monastery; only available in Danish entitled En vinterrejse). Where do those mostly fur and shoe-less adventures fit into the police’s scheme?  Maybe they are not interesting to the police because they simply don’t fit into their simplistic narrative?

A fetishist of the kind construed by the Oslo police might have been more interested in their own clothes and shoes, or even in the thing itself isolated from human context. Again, nothing wrong in that, but it just isn’t me. Fetishism of the truly objectifying kind is actually far more pronounced in the world of candid photography by straight hetero-normative males, which features a far greater degree of invasive photography  than I ever engaged in, with endless close-ups of buttocks and breasts dominating the genre, often in such complete isolation from the rest of the persona  that the label fetishism is fitting indeed. But tits and ass fetishism, where a pair of great boobs in many cases can make waves regardless of personality and intelligence, fits in with hetero-normativity. This, presumably, is also why it rarely becomes the subject of police attention.

Fetishism as an Intellectual Problem

The intellectual problem at work here is called reductionism: Extracting a detail from a complex pattern and then imposing it as a general theme. That is the police’s fetishism, i.e. limiting my complex sexual cosmology to something can be understood by the public at large. They were probably bubbling with excitement as I researched this article, shouting jubilantly each time a photograph appeared as I searched for suitable images to illustrate the various points.  A shoe! Another shoe! How criminal isn’t that? They certainly appeared to be scrambling for resources for their endless theatre performances, presumably believing that I had a sexual interest in absolutely everything I was searching on.

What the police confirmed was their own fetishism. I am actually not surprised. I have seen and criticised exactly the same tendency in Iraq studies too for more than a decade. During my doctoral studies at Oxford, I was interested in complex interplay between Basra regionalism and Iraqi nationalism. After the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, I quickly got reduced to a “Shiite expert” in Washington circles, where there was a fetish for a simplistic, sectarian understanding of Iraq as a compact of three mutually hostile ethno-religious communities. Quite like the police, many academics exclude everything that doesn’t fit their own narrative and interpret anything that conceivably fits their own ideas as decisive proof. Never mind some years ago the Oslo police paid for an expensive doctoral study in police errors precisely of this “tunnel vision” kind; they apparently didn’t read it. Only weeks ago a Norwegian court struck down yet another amateurish case by the Oslo police – the Klomsæt case relating to alleged leaks of evidence in the 22 July terror attacks. In no uncertain terms, the court made it clear that the police at an early stage of investigation had fallen in love with a particular interpretation of the case, and had subsequently shunned all evidence that pointed in different directions than their own preferred interpretation.

What the police need to wake up to is the reality of our complex humanity. There are many things in life that may appear with different meanings in different contexts and have “dual use” potential – a term that historically was used to starve millions of Iraqis during the sanctions in the 1990s and is currently making the sky unsafe for Iranians. If the police were to criminalize everything in life that had potential sexual connotations, they would soon be running out of things to do. In the academic world alone, there would be thousands of similar cases of potential overlap and tangentiality. What about a lesbian sociologist who may have an academic interest in the emergence of tomboy culture?  Is  she supposed to be treated as a potential predator? What about the kinky university professor at an arts institute who also has an academic interest in tattoos? And in my case as a Middle East expert, what about the deeply interesting case of boyat (tomboys) of Iraq and the Gulf region more generally, often defining the frontline of the  clash between religion and secularism in the Middle East? Since I have just declared a sexual interest in emos and women with butch tendencies, is this dual-use subject now off limits to me as a regional expert?  Oh, and while I am at it, dare I mention that the oldest surviving photograph of a human being by Louis Daguerre from 1837 depicts a man shining another man’s boots as they were unknowingly captured on camera? Should we perhaps prosecute the great Daguerre posthumously since this scene after all is brimming with homo-erotic SM themes?

When Fetishism Leads to Police Criminality

Maybe we should ask the Norwegian supreme court about these things? Or maybe not? The truth is that these are meditations over morals that have nothing to do with the law and hence nothing to do with the police. The Pope might be a more proper address, or perhaps the clergy of Islamic states. But the Oslo police persevered with their extrajudicial punishment of my academic quest for categorization – a time-honoured scientific exercise that goes back to Aristotle and Plato. It is exactly the same brain that  took those photos that has produced some of the most cited academic work on the intricacies of Basra politics, the tribes and families involved in the regionalisms of Southern Iraq, and their various sectarian and sub-sectarian affiliations. Since every professional historian is on a constant lookout for original and unique sources, it made perfect sense for me academically to create those series of images.  While working on a main subject, I have always used my left hand to maintain binders of numerous side projects that might potentially blossom one day,  on subjects as diverse as Aden separatism, the status of Christians in Sudan, and demographic trends in seventeenth century Bergen. The advantage of using this approach is that when you finally put a side project centre stage, much of the source base is already there ready to use, enabling a kickstart. To me it was a perfectly logical choice to transform the boring daily commute through the icy streets of Oslo to something interesting, creative and systematic that would pay off academically in a future project.

Or so I thought. It is unsurprising  the police never dared approach a real court with this travesty of a case. In judicial-sociological terms, what we have here are the workings of a kangaroo court. It is located in the central police complex in the eastern part of Oslo. It is  strange court in several ways. There are  no proper judges. Defendants are strictly prohibited from explaining themselves: Since the police have already made up their mind as to what happened and why, it is critically important that the accused is not given any opportunity to say something, lest the police’s own favourite storyline be disturbed. (Today, after the Oslo police have spent millions of Norwegian kroner conducting a global witch hunt based on their own preferred narrative, this point seems particularly important.) An inquisition? A too kind comparison. What we have here is actually inferior to the inquisitions of the sixteenth century: Whereas the ample use of torture and social harassment are common to both, medieval inquisitions did at least have formal judges and a process of questioning, sometimes with the general public as witnesses, providing a degree of transparency.

More relevant parallels are the ad hoc courts headed by vigilante Islamist groups of post-2003  Iraq.  Sadrist extremist enforcement brigades form a particularly interesting, if technologically inferior, parallel to the workings of organised crime unit of the Oslo police. An even greater array of such groups materialised during the semi-official vigilantism of ad hoc de-Baathification seen in many Iraqi provinces prior to the March 2010 parliamentary elections, where any past connection to the Baath was used as a pretext for extreme threats and measures of social exclusion concocted by local politicians without any reference to the law. Yet another relevant parallel is the religious police of Saudi Arabia, whose fight against polytheism in any shape or form resembles the Oslo police’s crusade against perceived deviances from their hetero-normative sexual preferences. All of these parallels serve to underline how hypocritical Norwegian police are when they proclaim a battle against “morality police” among Muslims in Oslo. They themselves are acting in exactly the same fashion! The persecution of me in altogether 13 countries for my photographs means that few pictures have created such hysteria since the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

In criminal terms, as I have already shown, the police’s operation against me constitutes an actus reus or a criminal act. This latest analysis of grotesque state fetishism adds information about  the criminal mind or mens rea of the police, and underlines the particular monstrosity of their crime. It can be of central significance here do distinguish their crime from “ordinary” torture, and instead describe the similarities to a crime against humanity where the goal is to target minority groups in an entire civilian population. With the details that have emerged about the use of mass education institutions as elements in the police persecution (school classes are frequently enlisted to take part in harassment of me), we must assume that whole minorities in such population centres as Noordwijk and Maasdam in the Netherlands will likely have felt targeted when they saw what happened to me.

The basic message is that unless you subscribe to hetero-normativity or belong to an officially protected  sexual minority group (most often LGBT), you can be targeted simply because of your sexual identity in many so-called liberal democracies. It doesn’t mean kinksters are systematically targeted, just that your human rights protection is weaker than ordinary citizens. In certain cases, deviance from the hetero-normative paradigm can be punished in the absence of any crime, exactly like heresy was punished in medieval times.  The failure of the police both in Norway and elsewhere to prosecute photographers who shoot far more intimate and truly privacy-invading pictures of “hot babes” per the “tits and ass” paradigm speaks volumes about the hypocrisy at work. With regard to me, they even issued a formal letter to the effect they had no criminal case against me, yet went on to punish me extra-judicially. The message couldn’t have been clearer: My only crime is my sexual orientation.

It is humane to be reductionist. The police should not be afraid of their fetishisms. However, when they use their fetishisms to prosecute hate campaigns that amount to global witch hunts, their fetishisms become not only criminal, but a crime against humanity. Sadomasochism with all its diverse subgenres is part of that humanity; extra-judicial punishment is not.

To Hell with Iraq: Ten Years of Western Ignorance, Incompetence, and Bureaucratic Madness

The decision by the United States to go to war in Iraq in March 2003 changed millions of lives, my own included.

As someone who had studied Iraq since the early 1990s, I experienced the outbreak of the war in 2003 as the first in a series of onslaughts by the West on the complexities of Iraqi history and civilisation. In late February, when the decision to go to war seemed almost final, I defended my doctoral thesis on the subject of regionalism in southern Iraq at Oxford. In the same period, as a newly graduated “Iraq expert”, I experienced zero interest in my angry newspaper letters about how the war would create more problems than it would solve.

Gradually, as the cakewalk vision disintegrated and the problems of “liberated Iraq” multiplied leading to the killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the Bush administration did begin listening to greater array of academic voices. After I had published my doctoral thesis on Basra as a book in 2005, the US government began inviting me regularly to conferences with the CIA, State Department, Pentagon and other decision-making bodies in Washington. I didn’t get the impression my suggestions about how to extricate the US from Iraq in a responsible way were really being acted upon, but there was at least some sort of dialogue. If I had any influence whatsoever in that period, it was probably related to my harsh criticism of the idea of partitioning Iraq. Other Iraq experts knew they would be in for the same criticism that I meted out to people like Peter Galbraith and Joe Biden, and with the exception of  Michael O’Hanlon, few academics in DC joined the calls for partition. In my writings, I urged that Washington should refrain from reinforcing regional and sectarian identities unnecessarily – and that a less polarised form of Iraqi politics, independent from regional pressures, would have a greater chance of emerging if the outside world simply stopped reiterating the paradigm of a fragmented Iraq eternally divided among mutually hostile sub-communities.

In 2009, quite despite the fact that the Iraqis themselves for the first time since 2003 seemed to free themselves from that stranglehold of ethno-sectarian identities, complex ideas about Iraq came to receive even less attention in Washington once Obama was in power. Not only was Joe Biden’s simplistic theme of a tripartite Iraq alive in a conceptual way among Democrats, who kept focusing on “a power-sharing government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds”. Increasingly, one could also get the sense that the idea of Shiite-dominated Iraq gravitating towards the Iranian zone of influence – possibly in exchange for some kind of compromise on Israel, nuclear, or both –  was seen not only as inevitable in DC, but in fact as desirable. Quite in line with this, Obama did absolutely nothing to intervene when the climate of Iraqi politics deteriorated dramatically in a sectarian direction during the de-Baathification antics prior to the March 2010 parliamentary elections. At the annual conference of the combined Iraq units of the CIA and DIA during the government-formation process of autumn 2010, I argued against the idea of a strategic policy council as window dressing that would never achieve anything in the real world. For their part, Washington voices maintained the council would “make Sunnis happy” and thereby form a sound basis for a power-sharing government “with all major sects and ethnicities represented”.

In February 2011, my Iraq career for the first time came under direct attack from a Western country, when the Norwegian government began persecuting me for an academic project that was unrelated to Iraq. Unhappy with my inability to travel as much to the Middle East as I wanted for health reasons, I had for some time been doing street photography for a future historical-sociological project on street fashion. Without me realising it, this had caught the attention of the Oslo police. The police apparently understood my project was perfectly legal, but they disliked it – though without ever telling me. Instead they went on to punish me extra-judicially with harassment and disruption methods normally employed against organised crime: 24/7 tailing, extensive sleep deprivation, and a Stasi-style public witch hunt based on strictures on my alleged sexual preferences.

With a workaholic lifestyle typically involving 70 hours per week focused on Iraq and no holidays to speak of since the beginning of the war in 2003, I was slow to realise what was developing. However, soon enough the police operation began interfering with and threatening my work. Already in March 2011, a meeting at the oil ministry highlighted the contradictions whereby parts of the Norwegian government were paying my salary and others were seeking to destroy me. Inside the oil ministry building, I gave an invited presentation on Iraq after the formation of the second Maliki cabinet;  on a hilltop overlooking  the ministry, the same plainclothes officer from the organised crime section of the Oslo police that were keeping me awake at night had positioned themselves with an SUV pointing its main beam right into the conference room.

After four weeks of harassment and constant sleep deprivation, I realised Norwegian police were bent on using illegal and criminal methods in an unlimited way. I fled to the United States where I thought my extensive work for the government on Iraq might insulate me from further illegalities. During April, I held a series of invited presentations for the CIA and the State Department. On 22 April 2011, at the National Press Club, I suggested to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Greta Holtz that the US needed to win the debate over a residual American force that would remain in Iraq  – if not Maliki would become overly reliant on the Sadrists and Iran. However, even as I was giving these briefings to high-ranking members of the State Department, FBI agents and State Department police were actively continuing the harassment within the precincts of US government ministries.

While I was still in the US, I got an invite to Qatar issued on behalf of the foreign minister, a close relative of the ruler. Despite that invite by a member of the royal family, I ended up being harassed by the emiri guards once I arrived in Doha. Norwegian plainclothes police officer were even allowed into the conference area at the Sheraton to intimidate me during the academic proceedings.

In mid-May 2011, I travelled on to Jordan, where I made an attempt at offering my services to the US government through their embassy in Amman. Apparently, the FBI or diplomatic security services interfered with my attempts to talk to diplomats, staging instead a meeting with an alleged CIA station officer who seemed untrustworthy and behaved out of character. I never got to see any diplomatic staff. After having loyally provided services to the US government on Iraq for 5 years, I was asked to never come back to the embassy. This response came across as particularly odd given that officials working on Iraq at the State Department and the White House continued to solicit my opinions in e-mail correspondence for a long time following the incident.

Still convinced that some forces in Washington might be ready to  listen, I continued to publish articles with suggestions for how the Obama administration could exploit the SOFA negotiations to create political dynamics in Iraq more favourable to US and Iraqi interests alike, at the expense of regional powers. Obama and his closest Iraq aides appeared uninterested in such potential complications for their withdrawal scheme. The US military left Iraq in shambles in December 2011.

As my travails continue, reports from Iraq are getting increasingly bleak. I feel vindicated regarding my warnings about the precarious and hollow nature of the November 2010 government-formation agreement and the subsequent failure of the US government to use bilateral negotiations to break the Shiite alliance into smaller pieces that would be less reliant upon Iran. Of course, when many pundits in Washington see the maintenance of such a sectarian alliance as a virtue, it is unsurprising that they should be steering the country directly into Iranian arms. Unsurprising, too, is it that the preservation of the Shiite alliance in Iraq has played a significant role in keeping the Iraqi government so closely aligned with the regime in Syria during the civil strife that erupted in 2011.

For their part, by way of response to these new trends, the Sunnis of western Iraq have taken unprecedented steps in the direction of federalism. Importantly, though, this is not a linear development that has evolved since the time Biden prescribed his partition fix in 2006. In 2009, these tribes were talking about forming a coalition with Maliki, precisely along the more non-sectarian ways of politics that I and others had been advocating. It was only the sectarian atmosphere of the 2010 parliamentary elections and widespread disillusion following the subsequent failed power-sharing deal that precipitated this new radicalism on the part of Iraq’s Sunnis – a trend only emphasised by recent defections from the Maliki government by ministers associated with the Sunni areas. Of course, to a considerable extent, this development can be described as something of a self-fulfilling prophecy after Western commentators and policy-makers have played their part in impressing upon Iraqis the significance of their sectarian identity in order to get listened to in the post-2003 chaos. If there is a lesson from the Iraq War, Fareed Zakaria, it is to stop thinking and talking in simplistic and reductionist terms about places that simply are too complex for your talkshow format.

A note on the broader regional atmosphere seems in order here as well: The suggestion that the Iraq War served as inspiration for the Arab Spring comes across as ahistorical in the extreme. By 2006, the Arab world had largely concluded the war in Iraq was a disaster. If anything, by the end of 2010, with sectarian fronts hardening in Iraq again, this impression had only grown stronger. In fact, a cogent argument in the opposite direction can plausibly be made: If it hadn’t been for the increased sectarian polarization in Iraq under the Obama administration, the Arab Spring – a natural result of stale authoritarian regimes crumbling under their own weight –  might  well have taken on a less sectarian direction, with fewer opportunities for regional states like Iran and Qatar to fish in sectarian waters.

Ten years after the beginning of the war, Iraq is in the midst of preparing for local elections set to go ahead on 20 April, the seventh such mass-scale polling event since the beginning of the war. There will be plenty of voices suggesting that these superficial steps towards democracy indicate the war was a wonderful success. But look closer, and things are not as satisfactory. Maliki’s State of Law alliance now looks more like a sectarian list than ever, for the first time incorporating Shiite heavyweights like Badr and Fadila. Even more important is the phenomenon of  three all-Shiite alliance in areas north of Baghdad with Shiite minorities (Diyala, Salahaddin and Mosul). Four years ago, during the last local elections of January 2009, Maliki not only ran separate from the other Shiites here. He also engaged in significant coalition-building efforts with Sunnis in the period after the elections, something that seems rather unthinkable in today’s polarised climate. No major Shiite list has even bothered to run in Anbar where there are no Shiite voters. (Reports today say the provincial elections in Anbar and Nineveh will be postponed for a maximum of 6 months due to security concerns.)

And take another indication of potential success: The recent passage of the annual budget by the Iraqi parliament. It is true that Maliki managed to collect enough votes for this to reach just above the critical 163 mark. However, he did this mainly by relying on sectarian support from the Sadrists and ensuring only a few secular and Sunni deputies who changed their mind in the last minute (reportedly from the Mutlak bloc of Iraqiyya as well as the Free Iraqiyya and White breakaway blocs of Iraqiyya). That does not send any strong signal about a viable parliamentary base for the Iraqi PM.  Compare with July 2008 and the parliamentary vote on similar issues regarding the relationship between the central government and the Kurdistan federal region, when Shiites and Sunnis were far more united during the debate on special electoral arrangements for the disputed city of Kirkuk. Whereas the recent passage of the annual budget was basically about a majority of Shiites winning over a handful of Sunnis and secularists in the last minute, voting patterns in 2008 testified to the existence of a broader cross-sectarian alliance.

As for my own continuing travails, some of my readers have suggested that my Iraq writings may be the real reason I was targeted so disproportionally by the Norwegian government. Many have pointed out to me the fact that Joe Biden, whose various plans for Iraq I criticised robustly and relentlessly in 2006-2008, is now the US vice president and in some ways the highest US official directly involved in Iraq policy-making. They have also referred to the fact that my criticism of Kurdish oil deals circumventing Baghdad may have been difficult to swallow not only for many Kurds, but increasingly for Western oil companies. Finally, some have pointed out that the ambassador in Amman at the time when I was so thoroughly spurned by US authorities in May 2011 was Robert Stephen Beecroft. He is today the US ambassador to Iraq.

Personally, even though it might have been very convenient to do so, I have refrained from suggesting a causal link between what I am experiencing and the apparent turn in US policy-making under Obama towards greater acceptance of an Iranian role in Iraq – perhaps with a concomitant migration of US oil interests to the Kurdish-dominated north. Despite the superficial signs of convergence and the fact that the Norwegian government’s efforts to silence me and destroy my research may have played well in certain corners in Washington, I still  adhere to a theory of bureaucratic madness as far as the actions of the Norwegian police are concerned. I think the idea that my writings should prompt any sort of inhumane response from the US government rather overstates my importance as an analyst, which was mostly limited to the steadily shrinking Iraq policy-making community in DC and never amounted to any leading role in shaping public opinion about the Iraq War. Even if some may have disagreed with my more politically oriented articles defending the vision of centralised government in Iraq south of Kurdistan, many seemed to think there was some value in what I provided of empirical detail on subjects like elections results, local council alliances, and federal supreme court rulings.  Even after I was forced to change my research subject, many readers continue to follow my occasional Iraq writings without paying attention to the defamation campaigns and whispering  that  certain competitors in the field have embarked upon. It seems more significant to me here that in the second I began criticising authoritarian tendencies in the Norwegian government, the authorities there moved quickly to sack me from my job at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

In this way, my story offers yet another example of how Western policy in Iraq is so full of contradictions. Since 2011, the Norwegian and Dutch governments have used the full extent of their state machineries to extra-judicially destroy a person who by all accounts appeared to be somewhat useful to the US government, a NATO ally of theirs. By letting police loose on someone who had committed no crime but provided detailed insights about Iraq, the Norwegian government helped further erode knowledge about Iraq and contributed to a less informed policy-making environment. The mental image of State Department police officers engaging in acts of harassment on the instructions of the FBI and Norwegian police during meetings I had with leading US diplomats in April 2011 is but one of thousands of similar episodes of Western governments working at cross-purposes in the Iraq War.

It is an ironic source of consolation to me that while the Iraq War changed my life in disastrous ways, it also provided me with the background to understand extra-judicial punishment as one of the most monstrous excesses of the modern state, across cultures and continents. What I am being exposed to in terms of a modern day-witch hunt orchestrated by the Norwegian government is extremely reminiscent of what many Iraqis experienced in terms of extra-judicial de-Baathification in 2010. Of course, the lacklustre response by the international community to that affront to the rule of law should give pause. When I raised the legal issues concerning de-Baathification in 2010, the response from Western policy-makers wasn’t exactly deafening. Some worried about whether it affected Sunnis.  Some Americans were able to point out some happy Sunnis. Great! The Sunnis are happy. The US ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill couldn’t identify any major problem, whereas UNAMI representative Ad Melkert, a Dutchman, bombastically declared that the elections had been conducted “according to the books”. No one was suggesting fundamental rule of law issues were at stake in any shape or form.

I had got used to the many jokes about the Iraqi “state of law” concept – a term that refers to the lofty aspirations of the political alliance of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and is also sometimes an unfitting description of the real-world Iraqi government. I now realise such jokes apply more broadly, to what we like to describe as “advanced democracies”  like Norway and the Netherlands. Our governments’ incompetent handling of the challenges of our time – especially the evil twins of terrorism and organised crime – is clearly having effects upon our own supposedly liberal societies, often to the point where we contradict our own most basic values. When I see how savagely and irrationally these governments can turn against their own citizens, I realise it was perhaps naive of me to think that we could ever make any positive contribution in complex places like Iraq. It is of course  gratifying that my articles about rule of law problems in Iraq are still being read, but it is ironic that only a minority is prepared to read my articles on similar problems in Norway, for which my source base is actually a lot better.

Conspiracy theories posit too much unity of purpose and rationality in modern bureaucracies. A theory of consistent Western ignorance, incompetence  and bureaucratic madness seems much better fitted to understanding the complexities of the Iraq War and its casualties. But these wars aren’t over: Neither Iraq nor I have been completely destroyed despite the onslaught by irrational Western governments.

Also of possible interest: My op-ed on the Iraq War legacy in The National

Thought Crime Thoughts: Are Sadomasochist Fantasies Illegal in Norway?

To argue my case against the Norwegian police and their attempted criminalisation of my street photography, I have collated some thoughts on how my actions relate to Norwegian law, as well as the legality of the police’s actions. In what follows, I maintain that the only crime in this case relates to the police’s attempt to construe my street photography as a thought crime related to my sadomasochist sexual orientation.

Photography and Crime

I have emphasised in my past writings that in no modern, Western liberal jurisdiction is the act of taking a photograph of random people in a publicly accessible area an actus reus or a “guilty act” in judicial terminology. For photography to be criminal, there has to be specific additional, objective conditions. These include unwanted photography of the same individual on more than one occasion (stalking); attempts to photograph the private parts of an individual or someone inside their home (privacy violation); a violation of a specific injunction that photos not be taken in a particular, explicitly restricted area or event (designated military areas, border zones, some border crossings, courtroom in certain countries); subsequently publishing images in ways that may impact copyright restrictions or pornography laws (for example by explicitly sexualising images); photography that can be linked to a terrorism plot or other serious schemes to subvert the sovereignty of the state (conspiracy against the public safety).

This is how it works  in most Western countries. For example, in London, the Metropolitan Police guidelines specifically say police officers must never intervene to stop photographers, including people using mobile devices, unless there is real terrorism suspicion. And this is how it works in Norway, too. An historical example: During the executions of war criminals after the Second World War, special instructions specifically prohibited photography during the executions, making it an exceptional actus reus and a specific example where photography is indeed legally “indecent”. (Of course, had photography been illegal more broadly, as it is in some Islamic countries, no such specific injunction had been needed.) Even privacy protections are interpreted liberally in Norway, since published paparazzi shots of the royal family on their private property have not been pursued legally by the police, even if a case could be made for it. Punishment for extremely invasive photography is also limited: A doctor who surreptitiously photographed the genitals of a large number of female patients during examinations was fined 25.000 kroner (USD 5,000) a few years ago.

Even the judiciary in New Zealand, probably the only non-Muslim, democratic country in the world that has ever tried to prosecute someone for casual photography has changed its mind towards a more liberal approach. A person who took numerous images of photographs of teenage schoolgirls from inside his mobile home without proffering “a legitimate purpose” on questioning was prosecuted once, but when the same individual was later prosecuted for a second time  in The Queen vs Rowe in 2005, a high court ruling then concluded that the man’s photography of female students in a library had been “unusual” but not punishable. And thus ended New Zealand’s attempts to prosecute casual photography, with a subsequent law on voyeurism photography instead specifically criminalizing non-consensual nude photography only, as per the normal pattern in Western democracies.

In sum, across Western liberal nations there seems to be legal consensus that the single photography of a fully-clad person in a public area is never harassment, stalking, intimidation, indecency, threat, predatory behaviour, public order disturbance, privacy transgression or some other actus reus – and that several photographs, as long as they are of different persons, do not combine to form an actus reus. There has to be a sense of objective guilt related to other external aspects of the photographic activity for it to be criminal. Put differently, if something can be legally photographed by a Japanese tourist, it can be legally photographed by anyone. Photography as a method of documentation has been available to mankind since 1826, and during these 187 years democratically elected assemblies across the globe have had ample opportunity to restrict or regulate photographic activity if they felt the need to do so. They have gone into considerable detail to outlaw and ban other things they are unhappy with – in Norway, many cities now prohibit singing in public areas without the express permission of the police, whereas other countries have elected to outlaw drinking “or travelling with opened alcohol containers” just to make sure every conceivable eventuality is taken into account.

Only in those situations where there the necessary objective and external criteria  are in place (stalking, privacy violation, prohibited area, terrorism etc.) can photography be designated as a possible crime. Accordingly, only when such external criteria are present is it legally interesting to know exactly what goes through the mind of photographers in the second when they capture a photograph. Only in such cases should the police even begin the search for possible intentions behind photography. Absent such additional criteria, it is simply none of the business of the police to enquire or even second-guess the motives people may have for taking a photograph. Indeed, if the police think they know what photographers think without there being an actual, objectively identifiable actus reus transgression, the question of whether the police is acting illegally immediately arises.

Legal Aspects Specific to My Case

In my case, since Norwegian police has publicly and illegally constructed slurs about my sexual orientation and tried to connect those slurs to my photography in order to present them to the general public as a crime, I have elected to inform about my motives for engaging in street photography, even though the police had no right to even ask about them.  I have explained that the photos were part of a historical-sociological project on street fashion, documenting micro-trends with a remarkable staying power in limited geographical regions for several years. Whereas my own photographs no longer exist (I deleted large amounts of personal material once I realised the police were illegally invading my privacy), those I made were comparable to some of the ones shown below:

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The methodological problems I experienced in reconstructing just a few samples to illustrate my now destroyed portfolio vindicates my point about the usefulness of street photography for the purposes of documenting street fashion changes over time. Fashion bloggers aren’t really a good source since they represent people who are particularly interested in fashion, which is irrelevant if the goal is to document the mainstream. Fashion magazines are a normative rather than a descriptive source, and as such of limited to value of documenting what is actually worn by normal people. In this case, among other sources, I had to resort to another street photographer in a nearby country which exhibits at least some parallels to Oslo street fashion – Copenhagen. Given the Oslo police’s apparent ambition of hunting down photographers globally I have withheld his name here, though I would be happy to give due credit for these photographs if desired.

Let’s however, just for the sake of the discussion, assume that the Norwegian police’s assumption that the photographs could somehow be linked to my sadomasochist sexual orientation was in fact correct.  As I have explained, to the extent that I care about such things, I am sexually attracted to marginality in fashion, like trends associated with goth and punk subcultures. If I had wanted to photograph people of those groups, I could have gone to rock festivals and places where punks congregate. The result might have looked something like this:

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I didn’t take those photos or anything like them, and the police knows this perfectly well. More importantly, though, I could have taken them without doing anything illegal even if this could be seen as potentially dovetailing with my own sexual preferences. Once a photo has been taken in a legal fashion –  i.e. without being stalking, privacy violation or terrorism etc – the police have no right to even ask questions about what photographers do with their pictures (unless issues concerning publication such as copyright violatons, another objectively identifiable actus reus, come up).

But consider this scenario. Upon studying my photographs, I find out that one the women is in fact an extremely attractive young lady with an apparent predilection for goth-style clothes. I check the time and place of the photograph and show up the next week. She is there again. I follow after her home so I can establish her address and name. I do Facebook searches: It emerges she is a keen kickboxer too. I promptly fall in love with  her and begin following her to boxing competitions. It emerges she is a lesbian, so there is no point in trying to establish a relationship. But I decide to ask her whether she might be interested in doing some SM modelling. Surprisingly, she agrees, because she is still a student and the money can come in handy. We agree to stage assault on teenagers of her own age, boys and girls, in quiet parts of Oslo where we are likely not to be detected by the cops. She will do the fighting and subdue her opponents; I will record everything on camera. I pay her 1,000 Norwegian kroner per victim. Maybe it looked something like this?

Fig1

Now it is criminal. It violates specific Norwegian laws. It violates article 200 about forced participation in a sexual act. It violates article 228 about bodily harm.  If minors were involved, there would be specific articles related to the sexual abuse of children applying as well.

But it didn’t happen. It was just a dream. Or a thought. The pictures are taken from a high quality indie SM porn source and feature consensual actors; they belong to the “evidence” that the Oslo police has shared worldwide as indication of my supposed “criminal” intentions – because I simply looked at them on the internet!

Thought Criminality

Criminal intentions – or thought crimes, a term coined by George Orwell in 1984  – aren’t normally punished in modern liberal democracies. In the absence of a criminal act (actus reus), it is simply not the business of the police to search for criminal minds (mens rea). It flows from this that the axiom that photographers want to have sex with their motives until proven otherwise is judicially uninteresting since photography as such is not more of a crime than eating a banana. And that’s also why it does not matter one iota what photographers think of when they do their work – be that geometric formulas, Hegelian philosophy or anal sex with a member of the royal family.

Beyond the philosophical and judicial imperative that there be both a criminal act and a criminal mind, practical considerations also militate against letting police investigate thought crime. The universe of prosecutable actions would simply become too big for practical enforcement. Imagine if the police saw it as their task to find out the reasons why each and every photograph around the globe was really, really taken. The principle of equality for the law would dictate that they performed constant inquisitions of photographers, with little time to do anything else.

Quite in line with this logic, most penal codes in Western liberal democracies do not define thought crimes as punishable offenses – Orwell, after all, was discussing a hypothetical scenario and tendencies found in some countries rather than a fullblown, existing reality. Accordingly, in Western countries, attempts to penalise thought crimes would be an infraction of the legality principle and its variants – no punishment without law (nulle poena sine lege), no punishment without a written law (nulle poena sine lege scripta), and no punishment without a certain law (nulle poena sine lege certa). The most notable exception to the tendency of not punishing thought crime may be  Singapore, where it is specifically illegal to contemplate the death of the president. This seems to be a rare case of a thought in itself – for example in the shape of a dream – being punishable. Seriously punishable at that: You can in fact get the death penalty.  Unlike the Norwegian police, though, the Singaporeans at least had the whereabouts to formally codify their brazen attack on freedom of thought. In other words, a warning is in place: Dream carefully, lest you end up dreaming something criminal. Citizens can make precautions; even in its most illiberal incarnation, Singapore still has the predictability associated with a rational modern state.

From Thought Crimes to Real Crimes: How the Police Criminalize Themselves

Back to the Norwegian situation, where there are no legal injunctions against dreaming or contemplating exactly what you want. Look again at the series of pictures. The first are comparable to the ones taken by me. The second set are photos I might have taken if I wanted, but didn’t.  Finally, there is something completely different: Explicit sadomasochist pictures from a  femdom internet site made by consenting adults. Does looking at the third group of pictures forbid or disqualify me from me taking pictures like those in the first or even second group? Of course not. There is no crime here according to Norwegian law.

With one exception, of course:  The crime of the Norwegian police. Norwegian police had, at most, a right to invite me to offer an explanation for my photography. Even that could have been rejected by me on a sound legal basis.  If they had asked, I would probably have explained the background, and never shot a single street photograph anymore in my life. My thinking would have been that I don’t want to pick a quarrel with them; I would keep focusing my work on Iraq instead of picking a fight over photographic jurisprudence.

But they gave me no choice, since they began punishing me extra-judicially. Norwegian police first thought my photography was criminal – this they can do as much as they want, as long  as they just think. However, they went on to pursue that thought in the real world, and that is a crime. A very serious crime. Attempts to extra-judicially punish someone through the abuse of state power are reckoned among the most serious offenses under most Western legal systems. In Norway, extra-judicial punishment is specifically punishable with 15 years under article 117 of the Norwegian penal code, and with 30 years as crimes against humanity under chapter 16 of the new penal code of 2005 (the sole chapter of the new penal code which has come into effect as of today).

Here we can talk about actus reus: According to article 117a of the Norwegian code, “A public servant who commits torture is punished with maximum 15 years in jail… Torture means to inflict serious physical or psychological pain on someone else”. When the police uses force to wake up an individual repeatedly in the middle of the night for a continuous period of 1 month on Norwegian territory and subsequently every day for more than 2 years abroad, this surely satisfies the criteria for “serious psychological pain”. When that same individual is stalked by plainclothes police officers and subjected to continuous noise harassment and staged social-isolation manoeuvres, the same legal article applies. And when the physical impact of the mistreatment leads to the aggravation of existing chronic diseases (ulcerative colitis, asthma) and the creation of new conditions (chronic fissure resulting from dehydration and digestive problems),  the requirement for physical torture is satisfied as well.

Moreover, for this criminal act, the mindset or mens rea of the criminal is also of  interest, since the penal code goes on to specify criminal motives as “a motive to… punish, threaten or force someone”. Accordingly, it is critically important that officials of the organised crime unit in the Oslo police who targeted me have publicly admitted they systematically use these disruption methods to “put pressure” on people they don’t like. In other contexts, the have spoken about the desire to “stigmatise” their opponents. These repeated public admissions alone seem sufficient to satisfy the combination of psychological pain with the intent to threaten of article 117a. Even if it may prove difficult to document many such cases of police criminality, the police’s sheer bragging about these methods to the Norwegian media can in itself also be prosecuted under article 140 of the penal code for glorifying criminal actions.

This analysis explains why taking photos on the order of the police for the purpose of intimidating someone (mimicking, a mainstay of police stalking) can be added to the few types of photography that are indeed a serious crime. In fact, where there is a wider pattern of persecution, mens rea becomes so important that any every day act can be criminal as long as it is done on the instructions of the police with the intention to harass (and, importantly, only when it is done on the order of the police).

Thought Crime Persecution as a Crime against Humanity

But is the actus reus of the Norwegian police in this case perhaps something more serious than torture? Consider the way whole local communities – including state schools – have been used to persecute me in a number of urban areas worldwide for my sadomasochist sexual orientation, with the children often ordered to take part in street theatre scenes intended as strictures on my supposed sexual preferences. The behaviour of the police is no longer affecting me only. What if a little kid in one of the state schools that  participated in harassment of me because of my sexual orientation should happen to share similar sexual fantasies? What kind of terror will not s/he have gone through thanks to the thought police of the state? How about the feelings of handicapped people, who have been systematically recruited in disproportionate numbers to take part in the harassment operations in order to communicate social stigma?

Now we are closer to an even more serious actus reus described in article 102 in chapter 16 of the new Norwegian penal code of 2005, which is the only chapter that has come into force. The article says, “Whoever, as part of a systematic attack on a civilian population… singles out a group for persecution by depriving one member (or more) of that group of basic human rights… is penalised for a crime against humanity… with a maximum of 30 years in jail.”

Several characteristics of the crime of the Oslo police seem to fit this description, making it far more than the “isolated act of wickedness” that is normally used to differentiate torture prosecutions from crimes against humanity.  The criteria of systemicness is satisfied by the transnational (13 countries), consistent (24/7) and persistent (2 years) character of the operation. The fact that the operation has been reproduced in a variety of countries ranging from democracies to absolutist Gulf states means it can be said to be an articulation of Norwegian state policy, another key threshold regarding crimes against humanity. Of course, the notion of “systematic attack on the civilian population” can be debated in my individual case, and is perhaps something that is mostly associated with traditional warfare.  However, beyond the fact that the category of warfare is sufficiently elastic that there is place for paramilitary groups and renegade police units alike, there are two specific arguments that justify this description. Firstly, the way whole local communities have been targeted for extended periods of time – Noordwjk and Maasdam in the Netherlands stand out – the police’s persecution can certainly be construed as an attack on those whole civil populations, where entire sexual minorities must have felt threatened by seeing what was taking place. Second, when the illegalities of the organised crime section of the Oslo police is studied as a whole – some of its officials violate article 117a of the Norwegian penal code for a living – it makes perfect sense to conceptualise their activities more generally as a “systematic attack” on the Norwegian civilian population, thus fulfilling the framework criteria for a crime against humanity.

Said differently, what we have here is a gang of guys who roam the streets of Oslo in search of people they can terrorise and target through their preferred method of torture, which involves placing unmarked police cars outside their homes at night, keeping them awake with running motors and regular honks. If this went on in Oslo only, it could perhaps be described as a limited group of rogue officials. But then these same officials are allowed to repeat the mistreatment internationally, in towns like Montreal and Doha. Now it is no longer an isolated act of rogueness. It is part of a systematic, government-sponsored project to disturb and punish extra-judicially people who are designated as enemies of the Norwegian state without any judicial process.

This is, in other words, precisely the sort of totalitarian hate crimes on the part of modern state bureaucracies that chapter 16 of the new Norwegian penal code was designed to deal with. A plausible and prudent judicial approach to the police’s transgressions would probably be to  prosecute the foot soldiers of the organised crime section of the Oslo police for torture under 117a with a maximum of 15 years in jail, and the decision makers, police lawyers and other responsible officials  in the Oslo police, Kripos, the directorate of police and the ministry of justice for crimes against humanity under 102 of the 2005 penal code with 30 years maximum jail sentences.

Internationally, of course many of the partners of the Oslo police also satisfy the criteria for prosecution for crimes of torture and/or crimes against humanity according to national legislation in force. In most jurisdictions, acts of torture are recognised as one of the most monstrous crimes in the law of the land. Where I currently am, for example, any police officer or citizen who takes part in the operation against me in any shape or form is in violation of a crimes of torture act that carries a 14 years maximum jail penalty, or life in jail if the International Criminal Court gets involved. Given the number of countries involved and the fact that most them are full International Criminal Court members, it would probably make good sense to have an ICC prosecution for crimes against humanity in this case.

SM fantasies are not punishable in Norway. Conversely, attempts to punish such fantasies are among the most serious crimes defined under the Norwegian penal code. Put differently, “perversion” –  as defined by popular conceptions of anything that deviates from heterosexual orthodoxy – is in itself of zero legal interest. On the other hand, perversion of government office – as when a priest molests a parishioner, a prosecutor makes up the law, or a police officer tries to punish someone – is among the most serious crimes that exist in the laws of Norway and most other Western countries.

In my case, the organised crime section of the Oslo police is trying to play the role of Orwell’s Ministry of Love. But 1984 was supposed to be only a dream. When a state uses it as an instruction manual in the real world, thoughts become actions, actions become crimes, and in the cases of crimes against humanity, the thoughts of the perpetrators are more important than in most other criminal cases. Let’s hope the members of the Oslo police involved in this case will one day have to explain their criminal acts and minds before an independent court.

Deconstructing the “Nordic Model”: How It Brought about an Increase in Street Prostitution and Police Criminality in Norway

British newspapers tell us England and Wales will be considering something called the “Nordic model” to tackle prostitution.

I don’t know much about prostitution in Sweden, which is the home of the idea of criminalising the buyers of sex (rather than the sellers) in order to deal with prostitution in a supposedly feminist-friendly way. But I know enough about police criminality in Norway as well as  the art of deconstructing political rhetoric  to say that a Nordic model does not exist in the real world, and certainly not as a success story.

The term “Nordic” has probably been attached to what is essentially a Swedish experiment in order to make it sound more universal and appealing. The problem is, there are only two other “Nordic” countries besides Sweden that have adopted the model. One of them, Iceland, is so small and the experience so recent (the law was passed in 2009) that it doesn’t make sense to use it as an example to argue for or against the Swedish model one way or another. The municipal area of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik – which presumably is where prostitution exists in any measurable way – has a population of a mere 100,000 or so, and as such represents just one of several dozen medium-sized “Nordic” cities.

Accordingly, the term “Nordic model” hinges on the inclusion of Norway, without which the bottom falls out of the whole concept. And the inclusion of Norway as a success story is clearly wrong. After the relevant law was passed in 2008 and enforcement began in 2009, the police and the Labour party used lots of resources on spinning the supposed success of its implementation. Eventually, however, even the official reports grew a bit more uncertain in their language, and the critics of the “Swedish model” in Norway grew louder. A good assessment was provided by Norway’s biggest daily VG in October 2012, when it found that prostitution had actually gone up during the period since the implementation of the law, and sex workers soliciting clients seemed to be more openly on display in central Oslo than at any point.

Apart from actually increasing the prostitution, the “Swedish model”  has also had the side effect in Norway of considerable police criminality on the part of the “organised crime” section of the Oslo police which was given a lead role in enforcing it through a separate project called Stop, headed by Harald Bøhler. The project has consisted of systematic harassment of sex workers, including throwing many of them on the street in a project officially called “operation homeless” (where the intention was just that, i.e. make the sex workers homeless even though the law only criminalises buying sex.) Other achievements of the Stop project include publicly belittling transvestites as a group. (VG 22 August 2011).

The Stop project of the Oslo police  is part of a general turn away from traditional prosecution- the good old days when the police actually tried to enforce the law – to the anything-goes world of “problem-oriented policing”. Here the police become white van men (quite often literally, too, give the prominence of unmarked police vehicles in these operations), trying to concoct stop-gap fixes to things they perceive as “problematic” . This goes mostly goes on in splendid isolation from judicial considerations of any kind, and often directly in conflict with the law of the land. for example through group harassment and police stalking of people they happen to dislike.

On the other hand, many of the attempted traditional prosecutions by the Stop project, some of which consist of absurd attempts at defining anything the police don’t like as “human trafficking”, have generally been dismissed by the Norwegian courts, and certainly at the higher level. Indeed, it is high time someone reminded the members of the organised crime section of the Oslo police that there is something called the Norwegian penal code which applies equally to them as well. But quite despite the fact that many of the Oslo police’s actions  are clearly punishable as psychological torture under article 117a of the Norwegian penal code with a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail (for example for threats putting pressure on sex workers to force them out of their home), the police officers involved in the Stop project have bragged about them publicly. That bragging, in the shape of systematic propaganda, Powerpoint presentations etc. is in itself punishable under article 140 of the Norwegian penal code for publicly glorifying criminal actions (maximum 8 years in jail).

So let’s nip this one in the bud: There is no succesful “Nordic” model regarding sex work. A “Swedish experiment” seems a better term.

PDF Tribute of Iraq Articles for Aaron Swartz

I can easily sympathise with the outpouring of support for Aaron Swartz who took his own life this weekend after having faced the prospects of decades in jail in the United States for his computer hacking activity.

In the first place, Swartz championed academic freedom and specifically open access. He criticised the system whereby journal publishers make good money from institutional subscriptions to academic journals, whereas the authors who write the articles never earn anything, and the students who need the articles often face difficulty in getting access to them on a reasonable budget. The whole business of academic publishing has in many ways  become farcical, with the supposed gold standard of “double-blind peer review” often nothing more than barely disguised camaraderie.

Second, Swartz was a victim of prosecutorial overreach and law enforcement agencies abandoning entirely the principle of proportionality in responding to a perceived problem. For a hacking crime that has been described as the equivalent of checking too many books out of the library, Swartz was facing the prospects of decades in jail and enormous fines. Once more, one senses that the advocates of openness are the ones that are being systematically targeted by the prosecution, whereas crimes on the part of emerging big brother governments are systematically ignored or even encouraged.

We can only hope that Swartz’s tragedy will prompt governments around the world to rethink their current tendency of bullying, persecuting and prosecuting academics who refuse to follow the mainstream. With respect to my own case of law enforcement overreach, I hope the Norwegian government will abandon their 2-year long fascistic witch-hunt directed against me: Since February 2011, the they have deprived me of my most basic human rights in an ill-conceived international police operation intended as punishment for perfectly legal street photography for an academic project.

Thanks to the totalitarian tactics of the Oslo police, I was forced to leave my native land in a hurry and never got the opportunity to bring with me my Iraq materials. In solidarity with Swartz and the PDFtribute project, I will nonetheless take this opportunity to put online at least some of those Iraq articles that I have got copies of. My hope is that this tiny gesture will help put focus on the inhumane character of the war on academics that so-called Western liberal  governments prosecute, in the United States and Norway alike.

“Policing a Messy Federation: The Role of the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court, 2005-2010”, pp. 12-18 in Orient vol. 52 no. 2, 2011

“The territorial aspect of sectarianism in Iraq”, pp. 295-305 in IJCIS, vol. 4 no. 3, 2010

“The Kurdish Issue in Iraq: A View from Baghdad at the Close of the Maliki Premiership”, The Fletcher Forum, vol. 34, no. 1, 2010, pp. 77-94

“Proto-political conceptions of ‘Iraq’ in late Ottoman times”, IJCIS, vol. 3 no. 2, 2009, pp. 143-154

“Historical Myths of a Divided Iraq”, Survival, vol. 50 no. 2, 2008, pp. 95-106

“Ethnicity, Federalism and the Idea of Sectarian Citizenship in Iraq”, in IRRC, vol. 89 no. 868, 2007, pp. 809-22

These are just a few of my Iraq journal articles. If someone has copies of other of my articles and wants to share them here, please forward them to me at reidarvisser (at) gmail.com and I will upload them. 

On Human Rights Day: How the War on Organised Crime Is Destroying Our Societies

It is common knowledge that since 2001, government operations lumped together as “the war on terror” have become an increasing threat to civil liberties in liberal democracies. Key judicial notions like the presumption of innocence and due process are increasingly given short shrift whenever government actions can be justified with reference to the fight against real and imagined “terrorists”. In recent years, extrajudicial death sentences in the shape of drone warfare have come to epitomise some of the bluntest setbacks in modern times for hard-fought rule of law principles that were spearheaded by Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth century.

There is a second, problematic government “war” going on these days that is getting far less attention than the “war on terror”. It is a war where the definition of the target is equally arbitrary, the transgression of civil liberties equally extreme, and the threat to the survival of western liberal democracy equally acute. It consists of a large number of shadowy police operations  carried  out nationally and internationally with reference to an assumed war on “organised crime”.

Today, “organised crime units” or “gang units” can be found in most Western democracies. Exactly like in the case of the war on terror, their “war” involves carpet bombing vaguely defined targets in lieu of a normal judicial process. Since prosecution is no longer the main aim, a domestic equivalent of drone warfare called disruption dominates instead. Police disruption methods range from rather innocuous elements like enhanced supervision and expedited trials, via illegal methods like police stalking and harassment, to serious torture crimes involving unconventional directed energy weapons.

The problem with organised crime operations is that the police tries to seduce the general public with fancy terminology in order to circumvent normal judicial procedure. Of course, the most obvious reason they are doing this is that they are unwilling or unable to bring forward a normal prosecution. The laws or the judges are “wrong” in the eyes of the police, or the suspected criminals aren’t quite as criminal as the police thinks after all. But instead of making this police-state admission publicly, the police concocts a whole new vocabulary intended to divert attention from their own basic human rights violations. Exactly as in the case of war on terror, “organised crime” is construed so monstrously that the public is supposed to forget about human rights altogether. Suddenly every sex-work related phenomenon is seen as an expression of horrible “trafficking”. Dissidents of whatever political or cultural colour are labelled  “gangs”,  “hooligans”, “hackers”, or “bikers”. For undesirables that fit none of these categories, accusations of sexual “perversion” can always come in handy. In short, with the spread of disruption as a police method, due process and the presumption of innocence are increasingly privileges given mostly to red-handed murderers where the question of guilt is so obvious that the prosecution can afford to show a little magnanimity. For everyone else disliked by the police, there are disruption methods – punishment that is meted out with police officers as jury, judge and executioner.

This of course is not to deny the existence of organised crime as a serious threat. Organised crime is real, exactly in the same way that terror is also real. But the definition of these problems is often so sloppy that the net effect of the government’s “warfare” may well be to undermine the concept of rule of law rather than to promote it. This is even more pronounced in the case of the war on the organised crime since few suitable monitoring institutions exist. The spy services who do much of the war on terror are at least recognised as a threat to democracy and therefore have their own specialised oversight mechanisms. But the police departments that prosecute the “war on organised crime” are often subject only to ordinary independent police commissions. Such independent commissions are rarely equipped to deal with things that are more complex than police shootings and deaths in custody. As a consequence, even though organised crime units often possess exactly the same armoury of unconventional weapons that are being used in the war on terror, they are subject to far less institutionalised oversight and checks and balances than anti-terror squads. Ironically, some of the worst organised crime units thrive in countries like Norway and the Netherlands where politicians like to see themselves as particularly virtuous democracies and typically roll their eyes over conditions at Guantanamo. At the same time, these politicians are blind to the transgressions carried out by their own semi-secret “organised crime” police.

With respect to the war on terror, at least some civil liberties groups have  been able to put  systematic human rights violations on the agenda. By way of contrast, with respect to the equally grave human rights violations perpetrated by the police in their war on organised crime, the response from civil liberty groups is so far much more fragmented. Why is this so? One possible explanation is that many liberals may find it so much easier to defend people who live far away – say, drone victims in Yemen and Afghanistan – than engaging for the sake of dissidents closer to home. After all, defending the victims of the war on organised crime would often imply solidarity with sex workers, bikers, sexual minorities or football hooligans living in their own urban communities. Pseudo-liberals may find this to be outside their comfort zone .

In some countries, the development of organised crime units has gone so far that they represent perhaps the greatest threat against democracy since the Second World War and the police forces of the Nazis. A case in point in Norway, where the lawless but powerful organised crime department of the Oslo police is effectively controlled by state-sponsored street thugs with zero judicial expertise. The dominance of this unit is aggravated by several structural weaknesses of Norway as a rule of law country, including a culture of collusion between some politicians and human rights criminals in the police, a prosecution dominated by the police to an extent that is unparalleled elsewhere in Europe, as well as the absence of legal and constitutional protection for weak groups including many sexual minorities. Additionally, Norway exhibits an ironic weakness when it comes to secret policing. On the one hand, there is the police secret service (PST), which following a series of scandals during the Cold War era is now monitored and hamstrung to the point where even civil liberty groups sometimes pity them for their toothlessness and almost academic appearance. Large numbers of well-known Al-Qaeda sympathisers are benefiting from the reluctance of the PST to even monitor their activities in Norway.  On the other hand, the organised crime department of the Oslo police – which includes some of the worst state-sponsored human rights criminals in the whole of Northern Europe – is exempt from real control altogether. The lack of oversight is highlighted by the fact that the organised crime department’s indirect complicity in the 22 July 2011 terror attack is not even discussed in the independent commission report that was published after the attacks. During spring 2011, the people at the “organised crime unit” of the Oslo police who should have watched the rightwing extremist Anders Behring Breivik spent enormous resources on trailing me on three continents as extra-judicial punishment, justified with reference to (perfectly legal) street photography. The example shows how the elasticity of definition of organised crime – in this case singling out legal street photography as a “serious crime” worthy of “organised crime unit” attention – creates embarrassing and tragic failures on the part of the police with respect to their task of combating real crime, including crimes of terrorism.

Can these attacks on our democracies be dealt with effectively? Perhaps.  Firstly, civil right groups must attack the Achilles heel of the police, which is their attempts to describe to the general public in the most innocuous language possible their own illegal activities. Even if they rarely describe their dirtiest tricks, some of what these police officers say publicly is nonetheless often so extreme that it suffices as admissions of torture, harassment and unusual punishment. Again, Norway can provide relevant empirical information. For example, the anti-prostitution Stop project of the Oslo police has openly bragged about how it outsourced threats against prostitutes to landlords, intimidated people into accepting giant fines by alluding to the inconvenience of a public trial, and discriminated against transvestites by systematically revealing to customers their biological gender. Some of this constitutes prosecutable acts of psychological torture under article 117 of the Norwegian penal code, which includes threats made by public officials. To make matters worse, the leading Norwegian daily VG recently  revealed that prostitution in Oslo has increased again despite the massive “police offensive”, meaning the only results of the “war on organised crime” in this case was a more insecure environment for legal sex workers, many of whom where thrown on the street because of the police’s threats. (Please don’t be surprised about their methods: The same Oslo police also systematically sends sniffer dogs on school classes without any specific suspicion, belittles Muslims and African sex workers via its Twitter account, and harasses its own gay officers to the point where they reportedly have their Christmas parties in secret locations.)

Second, it is necessary to enhance public awareness regarding the fact that many police disruption methods are judicially speaking the equivalent of torture and other unusual punishment. A law enforcement officer who tries to enforce something which is not the law is not only a criminal. Such officers are worse than ordinary criminals since their crimes involve state abuse of power, one of the greatest sins in a modern democracy. It is precisely for these reasons that a police officer guilty of extra-judicial or unusual punishment in many jurisdictions is liable to prison terms comparable to those for worst degree murders.

Thirdly, civil rights groups need to destroy the artificial schism whereby activists fight hard for civil rights in exotic countries but don’t dare support the victims of government abuse at home, such as sex workers or bikers. I remember myself having read about threats against prostitutes by Oslo police but didn’t reflect on it until the same animals from the organised crime department of the Oslo police that had previously harassed prostitutes beleaguered my apartment in Oslo for a full month in winter 2011. Only when the gap between different victims of a misconceived war on organised crime unite will a truly civic liberal culture and the rule of law prevail in our fragile democracies.

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