Securitizing the Global Norm of Identity: Biometric Technologies in Domestic and Foreign Policy

Guernica - Pablo Picasso 1937

Pablo Picasso. Guernica, 1937.

Securitizing the Global Norm of Identity: Biometric Technologies in Domestic and Foreign Policy

For presentation at Global Norms Under Siege: Non-Intervention, Human Rights, and Abstention from Torture, 20 May 2005, Queen’s University Belfast, N. Ireland.

Author’s contact details:

John Measor
Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies
Stocker Road
University of Exeter
Exeter EX4 4ND
Email: jmeasor (at) shaw (dot) ca

Benjamin J. Muller
Department of Political Science
University of Victoria
PO Box 3050
Victoria, BC V8W 3P5
Email: bmuller(at)uvic(dot)ca

Securitizing the Global Norm of Identity: Biometric Technologies in Domestic and Foreign Policy

In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade’s unforgettable moment of brutality and overkill is Falluja…
Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail, ‘This is our Guernica’
The Guardian, 27 April 2005i

They’ll be fingerprinted, given a retina scan and then an ID card, which will allow them to travel around their homes or to nearby aid centers, which are now being built. The Marines will be authorized to use deadly force against those breaking the rules.
Richard Engel, NBC reporter, 8 December 2004ii
21st Century Guernica: (Dis)Ordering Places

In November 2004 the world watched – periodically, depending on the focus of the media gaze – as the US Marine Corps engaged so-called ‘insurgents’ in a brutal battle in Fallujah, Iraq. For all their high-tech weaponry, precision munitions, and exceptional training, in their search-and-destroy mission occupation forces all but obliterated Fallujah. During the month-long siege of Fallujah by American forces more than 200,000 residents fled the city. Out of these ruins, occupation forces argued they were erecting a ‘model city’, replete with a high-tech security infrastructure centered on biometric identification strategies to manage returning citizens. Returnees are fingerprinted, retina scanned, and issued a mandatory identity badge displaying the individual’s home address and collected biometric data. In this context, the gratuitous destruction of Fallujah appeared, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often retorts when pushed on current events in Iraq, to be precisely ‘according to plan’.
It is trite to say that we live in interesting times; not so trite, however, are the meditations of many contemporary thinkers and writers surrounding the way modern liberal politics embody what is increasingly known as ‘the state of exception’. In the context of contemporary international norms, and even constitutionalism, one might consider the extent to which ‘exceptionalism’ is itself becoming a norm of/in world politics. In some sense, the gratuitous destruction of ones enemy is a thinly veiled norm of modernity, not to mention the subsequent reordering and repopulation of these ruined spaces/places. Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail’s invocation of the wanton destruction of Guernica and Grozny, brings to mind Pablo Picasso’s poignant painting ‘Guernica’. Unlike any other, this painting commissioned for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris depicts the horrors of area bombing; wrenched buildings, contorted animals, and maimed people, brutally and hopelessly intertwined in a shambles that betrays the order of the cubist form. Out of such bewilderment how does (re)introduce order?
The violence and cruelty of bombing civilians and annihilating a city/place through such violence is palpable in Picasso’s painting; thus, one is left with a feeling of hopelessness in the face of the overwhelming destructive capacity of modernity. Practically cliché, however, is the extent to which this destructive capacity is in marked contrast with the simultaneous productive potential of modernity. Imbued with a certain measure of American triumphalism it speaks to the remnants of a post-Cold War hubris. Lingering in the American political imaginary, one finds a unique (re)productive arrogance that dominates; destruction is no longer the problem, but rather the rapidity of reconstruction.iii In fact, as is noted by advocates of biometric technologies in Iraq (and elsewhere), problems with spelling local names and the alleged overdependence on interpreters is resolved, as personal data is collected with relative ease through technological means.ivMoreover, it becomes apparent that modernity’s potential precludes the need to come ‘face-to-face with the Other’,v the ramifications of which are multiple and widespread.
Notably, the state of exception acts as a condition of possibility for both wanton destruction and the particularities of the reconstruction. It is only in a state of exception that the shooting of protestors is an acceptable measure, and where the overt management of the population as a condition of reconstruction is feasible. In this paper, we consider the introduction of biometric technologies in Fallujah, or more precisely, the ruins of Fallujah. Variations on the strategies of management and control exercised in Fallujah are proliferating across Iraq (and Afghanistan), raising similar concerns regarding the management of local populations – and indeed the definition of their membership (citizenship) in the community – by occupying military forces. In fact, the so-called ‘biometric automated toolkit’ or BAT has become an integral part of the US authorities arsenal. How different, then, is the use and rationale behind the application of biometric technologies as a constituent part of homeland security compared with its employment in pursuing foreign policy objectives? We argue, that the use of biometrics for the management of the population is constitutive of contemporary securitized (exceptional) politics, and while more apparent, the case of Fallujah is not dissimilar to ‘domestic’ homeland security initiatives and the securitization of citizenship. Moreover, it speaks to an evolving global norm of securitized identity, emphasizing the mutually constitutive relationship between domestic and foreign policy, or at the very least destabilizing conventional notions about the separation between these spheres, which are reified in the discourses and disciplinary regimes/knowledge of International Relations and Comparative Moreover, it speaks to an attempt to exercise bioplitical technologies of power as forms of subjugation and control/management, which in turn constitutes the subject under such ‘exceptional’ circumstances as Agamben’s homo sacer.
The paper begins by briefly introducing the state of exception, and the extent to which the introduction of biometric technologies are representative of the politics of exceptionalism. As the title of the paper indicates, we consider these securitizing moves, namely the introduction of biometric technologies, as underscoring constitutionalizing trends, or at the very least, the untenable differentiation between domestic and foreign policy. In this specific case, in much the same way that modern technology has rendered conventional articulations of space and time obsolete, the simultaneous use of biometric technologies as a part of both domestic homeland security strategies and foreign policy objectives, biometrics begin to challenge articulated limits of identity and place. We then examine the case of Fallujah, which is arguably an exemplar in the wider case of Iraq, wherein the struggle to gain the biopolitical ascendancy of sovereign power is asserted by occupation forces in an effort to take control of biopolitics – the management of life. As a result of the destructive violence executed by occupation forces, identity is rearticulated on the principles of biometrics and to draw on Giorgio Agamben’s work, some Iraqis are articulated as homo sacer; namely, the 15-45 year old males who were not given the option of leaving Fallujah prior to the siege in November 2004. In this sense, while cognizant of the disturbing story of destruction represented in Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, the story here is much more about the destructiveness of reconstruction, and the struggle over sovereign power in its biopolitical form. We conclude with some reflections on the arguments presented, and their wider application in the Iraqi context.

Homo Sacer and the State of Exception
Drawing on the work of Nazi constitutional theorist Carl Schmitt, but also a Hobbesian and Weberian heritage, the revival of deliberations over the state of exception is found in contemporary work by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Although many of those not beholden to the triumphalism found in post-1989 commentaries turned to Schmitt, some specific resonances were absent. In particular, one of the critical points for Agamben regarding the state of exception is becoming the norm sent many writers and thinkers scrambling. In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent introduction of anti-terrorist legislation and homeland security strategies, however, this contention is much less radical. Specific pieces of anti-terrorist legislation such as Bill C-36 in Canada, the USA PATRIOT Act, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), or even the American Homeland Security Act of 2002, involve at a bare minimum some ‘sunset clauses’, if not in fact subjecting the entire piece of legislation to such a clause. Of particular importance, is the way in which sunset clauses give a certain impermanence to exceptional or emergency powers. While the sovereign might indeed, to borrow from Schmitt’s dictum, ‘the sovereign is he who decides the exception’, it is not intended to be carte blanche power. If it were, exceptional powers would no longer be ‘exceptional’, but the norm, or what is termed the permanent state of exception. The question then is, what gives the state of exception its permanence, and what are the implications to the members of the political community in this state of exception?
On the one hand, to follow Agamben’s lead, the state of exception arises at an intersection between the legal and political; a civil war, an insurrection, an armed resistance.vii Moreover, the state of exception is the result of a ‘political crisis’, indicating that they should be understood in political terms and not juridical-constitutional grounds.viii For Agamben, what is particularly challenging about the state of exception is the way in which it functions in a ‘zone of undecidability’, or what he and others have referred to as a ‘zone of indistinction’.ix As the sovereign is both the law and outside the law, and subsequently has the power to suspend the law, there is a sort of legal sanction to the state of exception which is extra-juridical. Therefore, as Agamben contends, the state of exception is awarded a certain legal status, such as the notion of the ‘legal civil war’ he explores.x Furthermore, and perhaps most important to the transformation of the state of exception becoming the norm, is the way in which exceptional powers, or permanent states of emergency, become important technologies of governmental control. Here Agamben accurately notes, the state of emergency is not always openly declared in a technical sense, yet statutory amendments and changes that occur in the background speak directly to the permanence of the state of exception.xi Moreover, the suspension of conventional legislative and judicial powers and the concentration and centralisation of power in the hands of the core executive, constitute the state of exception. The ways in which this creeps into hidden statutes that lie in wait, ready to spring forward when required, and the general way in which this state of exception seems to have become an effective technology of rule for contemporary governments emphasises the permanence of the state of exception. Much of this speaks directly to Michele Foucault’s point that modern politics is biopolitics, in so far as sovereign power is preoccupied to a much greater extent with the management of life as a particularly important technology of power.xii As Foucault notes:
Biopolitics deals with the population, with the population as a political problem, as a problem that is at once scientific and political, as a biological problem as as power’s problem.xiii
For Giorgio Agamben, what is particularly important about Foucault’s thesis is the way in which one understands the sense of this transformation towards biopolitics and the ‘management of life’. Hence, Agamben’s dialogue about ‘form-of-life’ and the power(s) that constitutes multiple forms of life as the ‘form-of-life’. In other words, it seems impossible to isolate ‘naked life’ from the ‘form-of-life’ that is political life.xiv
Inasmuch as its inhabitants [of the camp] have been stripped of every political status and reduced completely to naked life, the camp is also the most absolute biopolitical space that has ever been realized – a space in which power confronts nothing other than pure biological life without any mediation.xv
In this ‘zone of indistinction’ that is the political space of the exception, homo sacer or sacred man becomes indistinguishable from the citizen. Hence, in the same way as the ‘zone of indistinction’ is exceptional – extra-juridical – the subjectivity of the inhabitants is also extra-juridical, as they are deprived of rights and prerogatives to the point that committing any act toward them no longer appears as a crime.xvi
In our analysis, if Fallujah is indeed a space/place of exception – as in broader terms we might argue that Iraq on the whole is subject to a state of exception, as is the domestic space of the US under conditions of the war on terror, which further emphasizes the mutually constitutive relationship between domestic and foreign policy – then to what extent are the inhabitants homo sacer? In considering the specifics of the Fallujah case, while not all inhabitants are clearly articulated as homo sacer, certainly those perceived as most threatening by occupying forces are constructed as such. Furthermore, our analysis emphasizes the extent to which the application of biometric technologies by US led forces is at the very least a contributing factor to this (re)articulation of Iraqis or in this case Fallujahns as homo sacer, or indeed might be a necessary although not sufficient condition for this particular (re)articulation. Before discussing the specific case of Fallujah, however, some brief words on biometric technologies and the specifics of contemporary applications in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Biometrics and the BAT
Biometric technologies involve the measurement of physiological characteristics, generally in digital form.xvii The breadth of allegedly measurable physical characteristics appears limitless, at least according to the industry literature. The most popular biometric applications are face recognition vis-à-vis digitised facial scanning, iris scans, retinal scans, and digitised fingerprinting. These conventional biometric applications reinforce notions of the body as a solid, stable entity of which definable and quantifiable parts can be subject to measurement. However, so called ‘esoteric biometrics’ take not only the unique aspects of the body, but the actual physiology, which, for lack of a more suitable phrase measures the bodies ‘output’. Esoteric biometrics include: facial thermography (the pattern of facial heat caused by the distinctive blood flow under the skin); DNA; body odour (measuring ‘rolatiles’: the chemical substances that cause odour; gait (measuring the distinctive manner of walking); foot dynamics (considers not only the size of the foot, but dynamics, such as pressure analysis relating to the shape of the foot, the ‘foot geometric’ regarding timing of steps, and ‘dermatoglyphics’, which uses the measurement of footprint ridges to measure friction).xviii The reason to offer some examples of esoteric biometrics is not simply for its shock value, but to emphasize the vision and belief in ‘the body as password’ that permeates the biometrics industry and the literature. It also exposes the industry and its advocate’s long term vision, indicating both a belief in the sustained need for biometric technologies, and their suitably futuristic (re)solutions of/for these needs.
The possible applications for biometrics, it would seem, are only limited by one’s imagination. Biometric technologies have generally been employed in the private sector, such as in high-security sites like financial institutions, secure nuclear or chemical facilities, or for the security of particular products, such as the narcotics necessary for anaesthesiologists. Biometric technologies are also not strangers to the panoptic sphere of surveillance, consistently used to track the comings and goings of employees in large institutions. Contemporary debates over the applications of biometrics are subject to some very particular phenomena of both the contemporary information age and the post-9/11 security context.
The events of 11 September 2001 definitely had an impact on the biometrics industry, if only to open a policy window for already supportive legislators. Doing much more than preach to the converted, however, biometric technologies were strategically presented as the panacea to the security problems of the post-9/11 world. Caught in the paradox between securing borders and bodies and the imperatives of the neoliberal global economy, states were attune to the representation of the ‘security problem’ that the biometrics industry was so quick to articulate.xix
The proposed applications of biometrics for the purpose of securing borders and bodies are generally for biometric or biometric ready passports, visas, permanent resident cards, and national identity cards. The general emphasis is for Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTD), allegedly contributing to increased efficiency and heightened security, thus satisfying the dual requirements of the imperative free movement of the global economy and the post-9/11 supposed security imperatives. Throughout these debates, however, the (im)possibility of securing bodies and borders generally appears to fall outside of the space of biometrics politics. As Simon A. Cole maintains, based on its assumptions about the security of the body itself, this entire project may in fact be misguided:
Indeed, the body itself may become a rather antiquated way of defining the individual. A wide variety of new technologies – sex reassignment, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, cosmetic surgery, organ transplantation, and so on – all point toward the demise of the nineteenth century notion of the body as solid, stable entity and the advent of some new conception of bodies as mutable and flexible… We may cease to think of ourselves, or to identify ourselves, strictly as physically unique bodies and begin to think of ourselves as somewhat more ethereal entities for whom bodies and body parts are merely resources.xx
While there are ways in which Cole’s contentions might challenge the introduction and claims of biometrics, the introduction of biometrics might also be interpreted as contributing factors to this rather fetishised account of the body. In other words, if the body becomes password, does it cease to be the body?xxi On such questions and others, the literature, government commissioned reports, and public forums generally fall silent.
Following on form arguments made by Robert Putnam and others, Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach assert that the separation between domestic and foreign policy is increasingly untenable; domestic policies influence international affairs, and vice versa.xxii To this end, biometric strategies towards the (re)articulation of the body as password and the general securitization/criminalization of what Agamben refers to as ‘bare life’ or even homo sacer itself appear mutually reinforcing in the spaces of both domestic and foreign policy. In the domestic space, the new ‘normal’ biopolitical relationship between the citizen and the state affords sovereign power the ability to appropriate and register the biological life of bodies.xxiii In the ‘international’ space, biometrics is becoming an ever powerful tool on war on terror’s battlefield du jour. Rather than simply ‘managing the battlefield’ in the classical strategic sense of the word, biometric technologies serve to narrow the field of politics, wherein the citizen is increasingly rendered a suspect, or as Agamben might say, homo sacer, which can be legitimately subjected to such disciplinary technologies.xxiv In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Biometrics Automated Toolset, otherwise known as BAT, is employed throughout the theatre of operations in order to keep a database of terrorists, insurgents, local workers, and detainees.xxv Like Simon A. Cole’s notion of ‘suspect identities’, or more apt Agamben’s homo sacer, the subject is deprived of rights and prerogatives, and can be legitimately tamed, controlled, disciplined, and even destroyed. As the listed categories indicate, terrorists are on equal footing with local workers, as an overall management of identity is pursued, where the subjectivities of those in question are (re)articulated as homo sacer; they can be detained, shot, tortured, as they are stripped bodies in the exceptional zone of indistinction. Equally relevant here, is the proliferation of the use of these measures, not to mention the rapidity with which they can be deployed.
According to reports from the US Marine Corps, the BAT system is effective, mobile, and user friendly:
In a matter of seconds, a Marine working at a gate or check point can collect biometric data from an individual, search the database in the computer, and look for a match with the many other records already in the database… ‘Success with BAT comes from the relative ease of collecting good quality biometric data and then searching for a person using that data’, Jon E. Davis said.xxvi
The system uses iris scans, taking a digital image of the eye and storing it in the database with other personal information and relevant personal history. In addition to the claimed dependability of collected biometric data, the ability to circumvent even a superficial nod at cultural sensitivity is noted when extolling the virtues of BAT:
Biometrics also solves the current problem of matching spelling of local names, which is often encountered even when an interpreter is available. The majority of Marines working the gates are able to learn how to operate the system in a matter of days.xxvii
Instead of coming face to face with the Other, one can avoid this in any substantive way through such measures, as the Other is simply rearticulated through biometric applications into the suspect identity. Moreover, the productive possibilities of such face-to-face encounters are eradicated; they take too long, require too much cultural investment, and respect local knowledge in the face of the imposed ‘new normal’ biopolitical measures of the state. Remember, the majority of Marines can learn to operate BAT in a matter of days; understanding the complexity of local identities takes much longer. To return to Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, this would appear to be the real horror of contemporary war’s destructiveness: not the annihilation of structures and the bombardment of infrastructure, but the rationalization of knowledge vis-à-vis the rearticulation of identity.

Fallujah: ‘Exceptional’ Place and the creation of Homo Sacer
The US invasion and near-total destruction of Fallujah in November 2004 attempted to create an extraordinarily powerful space of exception within the Iraq being shaped by US policies. US Marines assaulted the city using aerial bombardment and ground forces in an effort to pacify Fallujah and its inhabitants, to undermine support for the insurgency, and establish central control for the national election scheduled for 30 January 2005. It has proven particularly difficult to investigate the nature of the new geopolitical ordering – and its associated biopolitical strategies – as US authorities, acting as the de facto sovereign with their occupation of Iraq, prevented independent observation of the attack and subsequent actions and the general security situation in the country continued to deteriorate preventing even independent Iraqi or international humanitarian investigation. However, reports indicated the widespread use of white phosphorus, the attack and closure of hospitals within the city in an effort to suppress witness reports of the type and severity of injuries and deaths, and to implement a strict biometric control on the citizens of the city.
Situating Fallujah in the context of Iraqi politics and its experience with the occupation forces is critical in identifying its place within policy planners’ designs for Iraq. Prior experience had led US decision-makers to see Fallujah as a space necessitating the ‘suspension of the norm’. It emerged as a space of in-distinction between order and disorder within which sovereign power decides the confine between life and death and where, from that confine, it attempts to put in order that which lies ‘outside’. Fallujah, with its long history of resisting central control only magnified by its experience with the American occupation, had doubtlessly rebuked American attempts to control the city. These attempts saw US military forces increasingly identify it as unique and exceptional in its role in the insurgency.
However, Fallujah’s opposition to US actions, and its inhabitant’s role within the insurgency were more tied to geographical location and the historical composition of the city’s population. Sitting at a crossroads of the Euphrates River, the Amman-Baghdad highway, and the north-south corridor connecting the Western Arabian Peninsula and Mosul and Aleppo in the north – an ancient trading route – Fallujah had long been an important node in the development of trade and culture flows between multiple societies. Centuries of marriage, tribal and commercial flows had cemented a local culture that found great prosperity in the heady days of Iraqi development with the influx of petro-dollars. Its early acceptance of salafi and even Wahabbi strands of Islamic thought from the Nejd to the south and its embrace of trade and cultural ties to Mosul and Alleppo created a worldview divergent from that of Baghdad. Under an avowedly secular Ba’thist dictatorship Fallujah found itself resisting central control and modernist trends emanating from ministries in Baghdad. Like all of Iraq it suffered under the aerial bombardments of the 1991 war,xxviii and the deprivations and humanitarian devastation brought on by economic sanctions from 1990-2003.
However, with the US-led invasion of March 2003 Fallujah found itself bypassed by both major fighting and the incursion of US occupation forces within the city itself. With the fall of Saddam local tribal leaders ousted local Ba’th Party officials, asserted local control of the city, prevented looting, and selected the pro-American Taha Bidaywi as the new mayor of the city. US forces would not enter until April 2003, an action that erased some goodwill, especially when many in the city had been hoping the U.S. Army would stay outside. Facing the emergent insurgency across Anbar province US forces worked with Bidaywi and established the ‘Fallujah Protection Force’, composed of men from Fallujah, to police the city and help fight the resistance. On 28 April 2003, a crowd of 200 youth gathered outside a local school where US forces had established their base of operations in the city, to protest the presence of US forces in the city generally and in particular to see the school vacated so that classes could begin. This developed into an altercation in which 15 Iraqi civilians were killed and dozens injured by US gunfire. Continued protest, brought on by the rising anger at US forces deployment within the city, forced redeployment outside the city, but also reoriented Falloujah’s traditional opposition to outside control to opposition of US dictates.
The city’s strategic location within Anbar province, home of the increasing insurgent opposition to US occupation of the country, saw increased US military action in the surrounding villages and cities. This brought the interwoven community apparatus – tied together through marriage, clan and tribal linkages – intimately into contact with the conflict. Fallujah and its environs provided insurgents with access to the transportation arteries critical to both the US military occupation and its political incarnations – the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and then the US-sponsored Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Moreover, the emergence of Islamist jihadi elements amongst the increasingly diverse insurgency – painted as ‘foreign fighters’ by the US military – merged with the city’s historic Islamist character to establish it as a permissive locale for such fighters – real or imagined. The increasing voice of the Association of Muslim Scholars (Hayat Al-Ulama Al-Muslimin) – a group based out of Fallujah representing some 3000 mosques across Iraq – only furthered the perception.
On 31 March 2004 insurgents in Fallujah killed four private security contractors working for Blackwater Security USA. With the insurgents quickly melting away following the attack on the Blackwater SUVs a crowd of local youths began to beat and stone the vehicles and bodies – eventually hanging the dismembered remains from a bridge over the highway. The images of the corpses and their treatment received immense media exposure worldwide, and US military forces quickly responded by surrounding and quarantining the city.
With the city council unable or unwilling to identify and hand over ‘those responsible’ for the act US forces launched an assault on the city on 4 April 2004. The assault on the city met fierce localized resistance and after several days much of the city was not under US military control. Attacks on mosques by US forces, who identified them as legitimate military targets due to their use by insurgents, and the assault upon a major urban population, saw the expansion of the insurgency both in geographical scope – from south of Baghdad to Mosul – and in the lethality of attacks on US forces and their chosen Iraqi administrators. With increasing Iraqi and international approbation of the assault the US military declared a ceasefire on 9 April, and the ensuing negotiations between city leaders and Baghdad saw a formal agreement declared on 19 April 2004. The attempt by coalition forces to regain control of Fallujah, dubbed ‘Operation Vigilant Resolve’ by military planners, led to more than 40 US military deaths and estimates of the number of Iraqi deaths in the attack ranged from 271 (according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health) to 731 (according to Rafie al-Issawi, the head of the city hospital). The US military’s failure to pacify the city saw it rise as both a symbol of a specific strain of Iraqist identity and as a concrete locale of resistance to US occupation. US military and political statements left the distinct impression that the assault was in retaliation for the attack on the Blackwater personnel, rather than as part of a larger strategy to combat the insurgency or to pursue the rule of law across Iraq.xxix The appearance of US actions as reactionary increasingly dominated media coverage of events in Iraq. The failure to procure evidence of Iraqi WMD possession undermined the justification – and legal basis – for invasion, the torture and detainment of innocent Iraqis in the thousands made US authorities appear vindictive in the face of the insurgency, and the thrust of the attack on Fallujah – destroying an urban landscape and its inhabitants to mete out reprisal against a handful of insurgents purported to be in their midst – vengeful and wanton in its destruction.
US authorities did not abandon efforts against Fallujah however. The growing insurgency and its Islamist variants only heightened Fallujah’s position in the eyes of occupation authorities. What was needed was a justification, and alternative project to promote US military control over Fallujah. Seven months later, following increased insurgent activities across Anbar, and with the nominal cover of the ‘sovereign’ Interim Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi, US forces again surrounded and invaded the city. Dubbed ‘Operation Phantom Fury’ by US forces and al-Fajr (the Dawn) by the Iraqis involved, the assault on the city began 7 November 2004.
For the week preceding the assault civilians and non-combatants were urged to evacuate the city and some 200000 of the city’s 250000 residents fled into exile as internally displaced persons (IDPs) with no government or occupation assistance. In this action – promoted as a humanitarian gesture by the US forces – lay the basis of a new Iraq as carried out by the occupation. For, as international and regional pressures staid the hand of military action against the city in April 2004 on humanitarian grounds, what was preventing the military defeat of the insurgency was the failure of US authorities to decipher and disrupt the articulation of Fallujans identity; the network of connections between local affinity groups and familial bonds, linguistic and other identity markers that allowed the population to maintain a sense of their own place and solidarity. Breaking this solidarity would be necessary to break the tacit consent for the insurgency in Anbar.
In so doing however, it required the creation of new identities, crafted by the needs of foreign logics implemented through the use of force. Fallujans were systematically divided into four distinct categories. Women, children, and the elderly were to be displaced to an unknown locale – no humanitarian provisions were forthcoming from either the US military forces or the “Iraqi” authorities in Baghdad. Nominally identified as ‘Iraqis’ they were to step aside while the cleansing of the ‘non-Iraqi’ elements in Fallujah took place and then return to ‘vote’ in the elections to select representatives and confirm their status as ‘new Iraqis’. Those noncombatants unable or unwilling to leave were encouraged to avoid contact with anyone outside their homes, to survive without drinking water and electricity (which was shut off prior to the invasion) and on the meager foodstuffs they could procure. Lost to the vagaries of chance their survival was abandoned as ‘rules of engagement’ stipulated by the invasion forces expanded scope of lethality. These noncombatants, whether now displaced outside the city or left under the rubble of their home’s remains, were nominated to be ‘new-Iraqis’ and to be the embodiment of what US forces were fighting for – for their Iraqiness, their soon-to-be democratic identity. Return to the city – to Fallujahns homes and lives – was predicated on the removal of the ‘old’ and the acceptance of the new biometrically catalogued and determined identity.
Combatants, insurgents, foreign fighters, jihadis, and regime ‘dead enders’ were to be expunged from Fallujah – the ‘old Iraq’ removed – no longer would language, history, architecture (in a city known as the ‘city of mosques’) or familial, clan or tribal bonds inform identity – rather the use of biometric information gleaned in antiseptic technological precision would determine who was Iraqi, all others were to be killed. No longer would the individual and collective determine identity markers by choice, but rather the authority of the occupation would implant it on them. The new sovereign would color its subjects; expunge the alternative, the past, the indecipherable – the ‘other’. Nowhere did this stand out as much as with a final group not identified by US authorities, were those 15-45 year old males who were noncombatants by choice. They were by dint of their gender and age remade as homo sacer and unable to vacate the city. Guilty of the crime of existing as ‘old Iraqis’ capable of defying the new order – even if they chose not to – they were banned from society with all of their rights as citizens (indeed as human beings) revoked by the de facto sovereign. Identified by Giorgio Agamben as holy men homo sacer were individuals to whom Roman law no longer applied. The mirror image of the sovereign homo sacer was excluded from the law allowing him to be killed by anybody – the exact fate of the 15-45 year old Iraqi males of Fallujah. Agamben notes that from its origins law has maintained the power to define what “bare life” was while at the same time gaining power over it by making it the subject of political control. The power of law ascribed to the sovereign the ability to actively separate citizens (political beings) from human beings (“bare life”). In the Fallujah of 2004 – the zone of exception created by US sovereign military force – the application of law itself was/is being held suspended.
After several weeks of intense fighting US and Iraqi authorities invited Iraqi civilians to return. Some came to recover belongings left behind in the haste of departure, some to reconnoiter an assessment of the feasibility of returning to their homes, but most stayed away. Unwilling to return to the newly created reality of their previous reality, unwilling to accept the strictures of a biometrically determined identity, and unable to live in the devastation of the ‘new Guernica’ the people of Fallujah are now dispersed across the Iraqi tableau. While the military assault on the city reduced it to rubble and scattered its inhabitants the effort to reorient or reconstruct the localized political identity failed. Connections of the ancien society – tribe, clan, family, language, architecture, faith and ideology – trumped attempts by the occupation authority to create a ‘new Iraqi’. In much the same way the Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari articulate the state as a ‘scripting machine’ that ‘over-codes’ alternative ways of coding the bodies and territories,xxx US forces as agents of the state have attempted to ‘captured’ the Iraqi people. The local knowledges and taxonomies that make the identity, whose roots are in the ancien society possible, cannot be accessed by these forces; hence, they are subjected to the state’s methods of capture. Moreover, the subjectivity or subjectification vis-à-vis the state is often rather seductive, as the contestation of existence within a statist political organization can itself be the manner through which one is constituted as a ‘subject’. As in the case of ‘indigenous subjects’ in North America, it is only when their own existence within the state is contested that they are constituted as indigenous subjects, and the state’s capacity as a ‘machine of capture’ is revealed. The long term ramifications of such attempts remains open in the case examined here, but the struggle between existing localized ‘codes’ of identity, space, bodies and territories and the over-coding capacities of the state is critical aspect of the material impact of US led occupation forces in Iraq.

In some sense, the issues raised in this paper are situated at the intersection of various issues, dilemmas and literatures. The somewhat straightforward material case of the application of biometric technologies by US led forces in Iraq masks the complexity that lies behind this strategic decision/application. Because of its historical, religious, and strategic importance, the particularities of Fallujah as a case study complicate matters. The extent to which the discourse surrounding the application of biometric technologies is overwrought with preoccupations of efficiency, cost effectiveness, and specific articulations of ‘security’, conceals its role in the biopolitical obsessions of late modern state authority, and the state’s role as a ‘machine of capture’. Finally, as the question of sovereign power in the Weberian sense is ambiguous at best in the Iraq situation, and becoming murkier as the days pass, the conditions of the state of exception that amplify sovereignty and reconstitute subjects as homo sacer is both compelling and disquieting.
In our paper, we move to explore the extent to which the application of biometric technologies by US led forces are an important part of the assemblage that both constitutes the exceptional sovereign state as a machine of capture, but also how in so doing, attempts are made to rearticulate/over-code Iraqis, or in this specific case, Fallujahns as homo sacer. In terms of the biopolitical mechanisms of discipline and management, reconstituting citizens as homo sacer fortifies sovereign power in the state of exception, and permits extra-juridical acts which are no longer seen as a crime. Therefore, not only are attempts made to over-code local knowledges and taxonomies of identity associated with the ancien society, but in doing so, bodies and territory is (re)articulated within the extra-juridical setting of the state of exception; the efficient application of biometric technologies simply acts as the material condition of possibility for this move. The important question in human terms, is how (un)successful such moves have been and currently are. As Picasso’s Guernica reveals, while there is much to be said of the (ir)rationality of war, its destructiveness and the consequent human suffering is paramount.

i Quoted in Milan Rai ‘Turning Point Fallujah: How US Atrocities Sparked Iraqi Resistance’ Electronic Iraq 4 May 2005 (accessed 9 May 2005)

ii John Lettice, ‘Marine Corps deploys Fallujah biometric ID scheme’ The Register (accessed 10 December 2004)

iii Joxie – Rumsfeld Doctrine; creation of chaos…

iv Cpl. Chris Prickett, II Marine Expeditionary Force, ‘Coming to your town soon? Tracking locals with the BAT of an eye’ Marine Corps News 28 March 2005 (accessed 11 May 2005)

v See Emmanuel Levinas…

vi On the role of the distinction between foreign and domestic policy to the disciplinary knowledge of IR and CP, from a critical perspective see: David Campbell, Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992); Yale H. Ferguson & Richard W. Mansbach, ‘Political Space and Westphalian States in a World of ‘Polities’: Beyond Inside/Outside’, Global Governance Vol. 2, No. 1 (1996), pp. 261-287; Jim George, Discourses of Global Politics: A Critical (Re)Introduction of International Relations (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994); Michael J. Shapiro, Methods and Nations: Cultural Governance and the Indigenous Subject (New York: Routledge, 2004); R. B. J. Walker, Inside/outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

vii Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception trans by Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 1.

viii Ibid.

ix Ibid., p. 2. Also see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life trans by Daniel Heller-Raozan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998); Jenny Edkins, ‘Sovereign Power, Zones of Indistinction and the Camp’, Alternatives Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 3-26.

x Agamben, State of Exception, pp. 2-3.

xi There are various examples one could point to here, which speak to the way in which statutes lie in waiting to exercise their power during the state of exception. Perhaps more interesting and more relevant to discussions of the state of exception becoming the norm, particular statutory amendments are worth considering. These statutes are not subject to ‘sunset clauses’ that certain pieces of anti-terrorist and homeland security legislation have, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, which demand legislative and/or judicial review after a set number of years. For example, consider the amended article 38.13 of the Canada Evidence Act which is a statutory change, and as such is not subject to these ‘sunset clauses’ typical of ’emergency powers’, yet nonetheless effectively contributes to executive power and suspends the power of judicial review, concentrating power in the hands of the Attorney General:
38.13 (1) The Attorney General of Canada may personally issue a certificate that prohibits the disclosure of information in connection with a proceeding for the purpose of protecting information obtained in confidence from, or in relation to, a foreign entity as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Security of Information Act or for the purpose of protecting national defence or national security. The certificate may only be issued after an order or decision that would result in the disclosure of the information to be subject to the certificate has been made under this or any other Act of Parliament. (accessed 30 March 2005). Our understanding of these issues owes much to discussions with Benjamin Berger, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria.

xii See Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976 trans. by David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), passim, pp. 239-264.

xiii Ibid., p. 245.

xiv Giorgio Agamben, ‘Form-of-Life’ Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics trans. by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 3-14; Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.

xv Agamben, Means Without Ends, p. 41.

xvi Ibid.

xvii This section basis its description of biometric technologies found in the following sources: John Chirillo and Scott Blaul Implementing Biometric Security (Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2003); John D. Woodward, (Jr.) Biometrics: Facing Up to Terrorism (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Arroyo Center, 2001); John D. Woodward (Jr.) Super Bowl Surveillance: Facing Up to Biometrics (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Arroyo Center, 2001); John D. Woodward (Jr.), Katharine W. Webb, Elaine M. Newton, Melissa Bradley, and David Rubenson Army Biometric Applications: Identifying and Addressing Sociocultural Concerns (Arroyo Center, RAND, 2001); John D. Woodward (Jr.), Nicholas M. Orlans, and Peter T. Higgins Biometrics: Identity Assurance in the Information Age (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003).

xviii John D. Woodward (Jr.), Nicholas M. Orlans, and Peter T. Higgins Biometrics: Identity Assurance in the Information Age (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), pp. 115-136.

xix The Canada-US Smart Border Declaration, 12 December 2001 is a good case in point, as are other pieces of legislation passed in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001.

xx Simon A. Cole, Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

xxi For critical accounts of the body in the context of technology and the digital age, see the work of Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, of which much can be found on

xxii Yale H. Ferguson & Richard W. Mansbach, ‘Political Space and Westphalian States in a World of ‘Polities’: Beyond Inside/Outside’, Global Governance Vol. 2, No. 1 (1996), p. 261.

xxiii Giorgio Agamben, ‘Bodies without Words: Against the Biopolitical Tatoo’ German Law Journal Vol. 50, No. 2, (2004), pp. 168-169

xxiv See Ibid.

xxv Cpl. Chris Prickett, II Marine Expeditionary Force, ‘Coming to your town soon? Tracking locals with the BAT of an eye’ Marine Corps News 28 March 2005 (accessed 11 May 2005)

xxvi Ibid.

xxvii Ibid.

xxviii Including multiple incidents of mass casualties in local markets as coalition bombs strayed from their intended targets – the bridge across the Euphrates.

xxix The international exposure of the torture ongoing at Abu Ghraib prison by US officials broke on 25 April 2004 following more than a year of denial and cover-up of ICRC, humanitarian and Iraqi queries over the treatment of prisoners within the US-run prison system in Iraq and the efficacy of US military dragnets against the Iraqi population in its efforts to confront the insurgency.

xxx See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schozophrenia, trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: Viking, 1977), pp. 139-153. Also see Michael J. Shapiro, Methods and Nations: Cultural Governance and the Indigenous Subject (New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 33-67. Also see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), pp. 424-473.

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