War and video: Some thoughts on the flood of graphic “conflict clips” online

RTR2KPM5.jpg

(Bullet holes are seen on the windshield of a car used by insurgents after an attack at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. Ahmad Masood / Reuters)

The Guardian invited me to write a quick opinion piece on the explosion of new sources of graphic online conflict videos, and what that sudden availability of explicit, violent material means for news coverage and for each of us as individual witnesses. Snip:

I do believe that truth is a good thing. And to the extent that the flood of bloody videos pouring out of Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere right now document the truth, they are important. As commercial cable news networks (at least, in the US) evolve into something more like entertainment channels than the news outlets they began as, our access to these ugly streaming truths matters even more. Distant shots of missile drops are less likely to inspire empathy than a YouTube clip of a man in Libya whose lower jaw has just been blown off, who is still shouting for freedom. And yes, that video exists; the tireless Twitter chronicler Andy Carvin at NPR (@acarvin) tweeted it last week, along with many other videos like it. (I don’t know how he does it; I could not keep up his tolerance or his pace.)

But human beings do not have an endless capacity for empathy, and our capacity is less so in the mediated, disembodied, un-real realm of online video. At what point does access to war gore become harmful to the viewer, and at what point do each of us who observe this material for the purpose of reporting the story around it, become numb or begin to experience secondary trauma?

“I keep having to remind myself that we’re bearing witness,” Andy told me recently, when we were discussing how the volume of material was affecting him personally. “Otherwise, I think I would’ve lost my mind.”

Atrocity Exhibition(Guardian “Comment is Free” blog, thanks Matt Seaton)

Related: At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has a piece up gathering thoughts on this topic from others around the web today.

Libya: Woman struggles to tell foreign journalists of kidnapping, rape by Qaddafi militia

A Libyan woman burst into the hotel housing the foreign press in Tripoli Saturday morning and fought off security forces as she told journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of the Qaddafi militia. After nearly an hour, she was dragged away from the hotel screaming.” (New York Times)

Her name is Eman al-Obeidy. CNN’s Nic Robertson was present, and his tweeted account is screengrabbed here. “CNN camera was violently snatched, systematically smashed to pieces and video footage stolen,” he wrote. “Some journalists were beaten in blatant display of regime thuggery.”

“Journalists are demanding to see her. David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times and I went to officials in charge who claimed they don’t know who took her, or where she was taken.”

A related Reuters item is here. Above: A related Sky News clip. The UK Telegraph also has video coverage. (via @acarvin).

Where are the UN resolutions to protect civilians in Bahrain?

Slate’s Tom Scocca reminds us that the west’s willingness to rescue pro-democracy protesters from brutal, murderous middle-eastern despots is highly selective. If you’re rebelling against a dictator who’s been a thorn in America’s side, you get airstrikes and UN resolutions; if you’re rebelling against tyrants who are forthcoming with their oil or ports, you’re lucky if the Secretary of State will bestir herself for a round of finger-wagging as your comrades are coldly murdered in the streets.

The helpful thing, if you’re overwhelmed by so much news going on at once, is that Bahrain is roughly the same story as Libya–only instead of pro-democracy protesters being murdered by a terrorist-sponsoring monster of a dictator who has been on America’s enemies list for ages, the pro-democracy protesters are being murdered by a government that is America’s very own dear ally. And where Qaddafi brought in foreign mercenaries for support, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain brought in troops from our even more vital ally, Saudi Arabia…

So basically, take all those proud feelings about the United States standing up for freedom and human rights in Libya and turn them inside out, and vomit into them. That’s Bahrain.

Would a No-Fly Zone Over America Save the Democracy Movement in Bahrain? (via Making Light)

Saudi Arabia sends counterrevolutionary goons to Bahrain

Saudi Arabia will split its security forces, lately much occupied with suppressing protest at home, and will send them to Bahrain to help put down the popular uprising there.

Witnesses said security forces surrounded the protesters’ tent compound, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the activists in the largest effort to clear the square since a crackdown last month that left four dead after live ammunition was fired.

Activists tried to stand their ground yesterday and chanted “Peaceful, peaceful” as the crowd swelled into thousands, with protesters streaming to the square to reinforce the activists’ lines, forcing the police to pull back by the early afternoon.

At Bahrain University, Shia demonstrators and government supporters held competing protests that descended into violence when plainclothes pro-government backers and security forces forced students blocking the campus main gate to seek refuge in classrooms and lecture halls, the Associated Press reported.

Saudi Arabian forces prepare to enter Bahrain after day of clashes

Al Jazeera cameraman killed in Libya, in government ambush of news crew

Screen-shot-2011-03-12-at-5.47.jpg

Al Jazeera has announced that one of its cameramen, Ali Hassan Al Jaber, was killed after a reporting team for the Arabic-language channel was ambushed by government forces near the town of Benghazi.

The news sparked an outpouring of emotion and support for the network and the slain cameraman.

Wadah Khanfar, the director general of the Al Jazeera Network, announced the death in broadcast remarks, saying “the network will not be silent after death of our cameraman” and would seek to prosecute the perpetrators.

Read a longer account, with archives of tweets from people close to the story, here.

Libyan forces turn on Gadaffhi, declare “Free Benghazi,” capture foreign mercenaries

Soldiers and police in Beghazi, Libya’s second city, have thrown in with protesters on the ground and declared the city to be “Free Benghazi.” The Guardian is carrying eyewitness reports of more than 4,000 foreign mercenaries being brought to the country to fight for Gadaffhi, some of whom are in custody of the revolutionary army. The “ransacked” government buildings are flying pre-Gadaffhi-era flags.

An air force officer, Major Rajib Faytouni, said he personally witnessed up to 4,000 mercenaries arrive on Libyan transport planes over a period of three days starting from 14 February. He said: “That’s why we turned against the government. That and the fact there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”

Numerous witnesses in Benghazi have said that while artillery was used against citizens, air force planes did not fire on them here. They did, however, according to Faytouni, drop two bombs inside the Rajma military base to stop weapons falling into the hands of anti-government forces.

“The two colonels who defected in MiGs had refused orders to bomb the people,” he said, referring to a pair of air force officers who fled to Malta in their jets on Monday. He added: “There were also two helicopters that flew to Tunis.”

All around Benghazi there were indications that Gaddafi has lost control of the city. The military is no longer operating checkpoints, which are now manned only by a handful of traffic police. Every physical sign of the dictator has been taken down or burned. While there has been no violence in the past two days, angry demonstrators are driving through city firing Kalashnikov rifles into the air and demanding Gaddafi cede control and leave the country.

Libyan city dubbed ‘Free Benghazi’ as anti-Gaddafi troops take control

Free dial-up ISP for Libyans

XS4ALL, a fantastic, hacker-friendly ISP in the Netherlands, has thrown open all its modem lines for free use by people in Libya when and if their network access gets blocked by the government. DPCosta sez, “It’s expensive (international call), but can be very handy in an emergency. The number is +31205350535 and the username/password are xs4all.”

XS4all biedt Libiërs internet/XS4ALL provides Internet Libyans (Thanks, DPCosta, via Submitterator)

Realtime analysis of Libya tweets


Trendsmap’s Libya page is a real-time dashboard for all the media emerging from the Libyan uprising, with handy charts showing which subtopics are rising and falling (e.g., Venezuela’s down, Tripoli is peaking).

Libya Trends – Trendsmap (Thanks, Bufferout, via Submitterator!)

Glued to events in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain

Events in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain are moving fast, but the Guardian’s moment-to-moment coverage has me glued to my screen today:


View Mapping Pro-Democracy Protests in Libya in a larger map

• Libya: Security forces in Benghazi have shot dead at least one person and injured a dozen after opening fire on mourners at a funeral for protesters killed in earlier demonstrations. Special forces stormed a protest camp in the eastern city at 5am.

• Bahrain: Thousands of protesters have retaken Pearl Square in the Bahraini capital after Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered troops off the streets.

• Yemen: One protester was killed and seven were hurt in clashes with security forces in the capital, Sana’a.

• Algeria: Riot police in Algiers have broken up a planned march by thousands of pro-democracy campaigners.

Libya and Bahrain protests – Saturday 19 February

YouTube channel — Libyan protests (Warning: contains graphic violence and death)

Mapping Pro-Democracy protests