The 23- year old who shot down seven people in Toulouse, including three primary school toddlers, a rabbi, and three soldiers of North African descent in France, had a video camera strapped with a harness to his chest. According to France’s Interior Minister the youth identified as Mohammed Merah was recording the agony of his victims even as he shot them dead. The video, which recorded wide-angle footage, came in very handy as a clue for the French police in the run-up to the manhunt. They could watch it on the computer to build a profile of the killer.
The question that haunts one is: why was Merah filming his ghastly attack? Was he going to show this “trophy video” to other recruits of whatever terrorist organisation he claims he belonged to, if he had survived the manhunt? Or was he going to spread his message of hatred on social networking sites such as You-Tube, Facebook or MMS?
They say, what goes around, comes around. Perhaps, it was not an irony then that a sophisticated “video camera probe” used by the French police finally helped trace the killer in the apartment block in Toulouse where he was holed up. The killer knew that the game was up when the probe hunted him down. He jumped from the second floor balcony and died to a hail of bullets.
On 22 July, 2011 mobile phone cameras caught the Norwegian terrorist who killed 87 persons. His victims were youth attending a summer camp on an idyllic island in Norway. On July 7, 2005, when the London bombings occurred, cameras on CCTV footage caught the bombers -- filmed them leaving Luton together and spreading out from Kings Cross. This played a huge role in the investigations that followed.
Nearer home, during the November 26, 2008, Mumbai attacks, Kasab and his partners were again filmed on CCTV security cameras prior to their attacks at the Chatrapati Shivaji railway station. The toll was over 200. For the entire duration of the hostage drama the nation sat glued to the TV channels constantly beaming the fire billowing out of the Taj Mahal Hotel at Gateway of India with hostages and terrorists battling it out inside. On You Tube, till date you can watch the “India TV” channel talking to one of the alleged terrorists, Imran Babar live from Nariman House even as the hostage drama was on!
The camera is now omnipresent. The video has indeed become a witness to our modern times.
On May 2, 2011, the world was told that Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda supremo was dead. Bin Laden had been hunted down in their safehouse in Abbotabad in Pakistan. Videos taken by US marines on the operations enabled the world to see the dramatic pictures of the world’s most dreaded terrorist sitting and benignly watching videos in his room. The bearded leader, who had captured the world imagination ever since he masterminded the September 11, 2001, Twin Tower destruction in New York , appeared hooked to the same video medium which he had put to such good use to spread his al-Qaeda propaganda machinery earlier. The 9/11 videos, till date, are one of the most watched videos on the internet. There are approximately 522 million hits on You Tube to watch 9/11 videos. “Never before seen video on 9/11” continues to pop up on You Tube with amateur photographers having been eye witnesses to the event. Many of them had filmed the aircraft flying into the twin towers, an image that must be the most played out in television history.
The world watched the still photos and videos of Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the entire team sitting huddled at a desk in White House and watching the final moments of the operations being carried out against Osama. There are 70 million hits on You Tube for this. However, Pentagon decided at what point the video grabs of the last moments of the al-Qaeda chief would be censored. It showed the manipulation of images. Show what you want and conceal the rest. For example, there are no images of where and how Osama’s body was disposed of. There is still a controversy about whether the al-Qaeda chief was buried at sea or was flown back to the US for cremation. What happened to the mortal remains of Osama remains mired in controversy and is a puzzle till date. Someone has certainly filmed it –perhaps it is only a matter of time before it is leaked for public consumption.
No one, however, excelled in using the video to shame the coalition allies more than the whistleblowing website, Wikileaks. The Iraq war videos, leaked by Wikileaks on 25 July, 2010, showed the world how innocent Iraqi civilians were killed by the US Army. This was followed later by more leaks on how civilians in Afghanistan were being killed by the 1.2 lakh occupying allied forces in the country. The videos leaked by Wikileaks were the same videos taken by the US armed personnel as they zoomed in on their victims.
One video released by Wikileaks and which can be watched on You Tube called “Under tree” gives you a sense of the callousness and horror of the hot pursuit of civillians simply sitting under a tree near a river bank. The US personnel filming the scene and giving the command to carpet bomb are heard on audio using profanities against the Afghans and the Taliban. Pentagon was embarrassed, to say the least. And the reprisal against Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, was swift.
In February, the alleged burning of the Koran in Afghanistan by the members of the US Army was filmed by someone and shown to the Taliban. It resulted in widespread protests and reprisals against the US Army stationed in Afghanistan. Earlier, similar reports of US soldiers urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban triggered anger.
Videos of kidnapping and hostage-taking, which are on the rise in every part of the world, and video tapes of the hostages released every now and then become the point of bargaining for the hostage-takers such as pirates, naxals, and the Taliban.
Videos again exposed the brutal killings by the Sri Lankan Army of Tamil civilians – children, women, and men and also LTTE functionaries. UK’s prominent TV station, Channel 4, in a documentary titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing fields: war crimes unpunished” this month showed images of LTTE chief Prabhakaran’s young son, Balachandran, lying dead. The 12-year-old had been shot at close range. His chest was riddled with bullets.
The image was probably a part of a “trophy video” taken by the Lankan Army . The British TV crew which had done another documentary on atrocities on Sri Lankan Tamils last year – “The Killing Fields”, appears to have got hold of more footage this time. It is these videos that were used to argue for the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHCR this month.
Mobile phones and the videos they grab have also been driving headlines in India in other areas. A sleaze scandal hit the Karnataka Legislative Assembly which involved Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs watching pornography on their mobile phones. Filmed by alert TV cameramen from the visitors’ galleries above, the “Porn gate” scandal was the first instance of its kind in independent India. Alert news TV camera filmed another screen (the mobile phone) displaying obscene images in the sanctum sanctorum of democracy – the Legislative Assembly. Reports that there were similar scenes in the Gujarat Assembly caused another storm.
Video in Andamans taken by policemen of Jarawa tribe women forced to dance in the nude to lure tourists exposed the extent tour operators would go to indulge in human safaris.
Last year, the New Year had begun with images of Mumbai cops dancing with the underworld dons at a New Year’s eve party. The images had been captured on mobile phones and released to TV channels.
The camera is omnipresent. And it is recording our history- the good, the bad, and the mostly ugly.