Anywhere but nowhere

A story of mine entitled ‘The Beatification of John C. Yoo’ is published this week as part of the Resident Thinker programme for artist Alex Hartley’s Nowhereisland.

Here is what it says about the 52 Resident Thinkers on the Nowhereisland site:

From the moment the expedition team set sail to the Arctic in September 2011 until the final weekend of the Cultural Olympiad in September 2012, Nowhereisland will have a different Resident Thinker each week. Our 52 Resident Thinkers will be drawn from environmentalism to peace activism, broadcasting to stand-up comedy, sustainable farming to human rights. Each week’s letter will be the focus of live public discussion here online and you can follow previous conversations in response to previous thinkers here.

As part of all this, the poet Salena Godden and I traveled down to the Eden Project in Cornwall to read in the verdant splendour of the Eden Project’s Biotik stage. The gig was part of The Eden Sessions arts and music programme. It was great fun to share a gig with Salena of course, and the lush surroundings made this one of the more surreal venues I’ve read at over the years. Sweat dripped amidst the citrus trees and sunflowers, while above our heads swallows darted and swerved beneath the giant honeycomb structures of the geodesic dome, but the artificially stabilised climate and the raised temperature of Eden’s Mediterranean Biome were in marked contrast to the extreme weather that had been hitting much of the UK that same day, the widespread flooding caused by which was all too evident from the train the next day.

‘The Beatification of John C. Yoo’ is an extract from a larger work, which draws on research begun when I was writer in residence at the Science Museum, London, including extensive interviews with contemporary climate scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre, Open University and the British Antarctic Survey. As such it was not written especially for Nowhereisland, but it seemed an apt contribution to what has become a wide-ranging discussion that over the past forty-three weeks — or indeed since Alex Hartley first set foot in 2004 on an uncharted island that had been exposed by a retreating glacier off the coast of Norway — has explored questions of climate change, human rights, migration and national vs international interests, policies and jurisdictions. Consequently I am delighted to see my story published for the first time in that context.

Click-through the image (left) or here to read the full text version of ‘The Beatification of John C. Yoo.’

As you will see, comments on Resident Thinker pieces are welcomed, so if you do read my piece — or indeed those of other Resident Thinkers such as artist and musician Yoko Ono, exiled journalist Forward Maisokwadzo and Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit — do please feel free to contribute to these discussions. I look forward to hearing what people think.

Here is the text of a short explanatory footnote which gives some further background to ‘The Beatification of John C. Yoo’:

This text is derived for satirical purposes from then US Assistant Deputy Attorney General John C. Yoo’s memo to the US Department of Defense of 14 March 2003, comprising an 81 page legal justification and argument for the legitimacy of US armed forces’ and secret services’ use of torture against non-US nationals during the so-called ‘war on terror.’ It was de-classified and reproduced around the world in 2008. The text above was produced by redacting around 99% of Yoo’s memo to create a series of simple anti-torture statements (in strict order of the appearance of their constituent parts in his original text and without any rewriting or insertions, this extends to capitalisations, italics, spacing and punctuation, which are all Yoo’s own) in repudiation of his own chilling argument to the contrary.


Sharp-eyed readers will recognise that the title of this post is taken from the title of a great song. I know K.C. White’s reggae version best, but here is the original recording by Gene Chandler and Barbara Acklin from 1968.