Waiting for the Guards – Amnesty International’s video on torture

Unsubscribe is Amnesty International’s new campaign against human rights abuses (by Western Governments including the US and UK) under the guise of the war against terror. 

The following video, featuring Jiva Parthipan as the prisoner, is shocking and one of the most compelling videos against HR abuses I have seen on the web. As the AI website notes,

Waiting for the Guards is not a normal film. What you are watching is a real person going through the excruciating pain of Stress Positions over a period of 6 hours. We decided that the only way to show the horror of this “enhanced interrogation procedure” used by the CIA and others was to show you the reality of it. There is no acting from the prisoner. He is in pain. Real pain. 

The video on YouTube alone has been viewed over 44,000 times. You should also not miss the story behind the production of the film.

I think AI, in depicting the sheer brutality of torture through this video, creates outrage against torture. This is no mean feat. Grabbing the attention of those who in a media rich world are bombarded with information on HR abuses is tremendously difficult. We normalise violence, and egregious HR abuses such as Abu Graib and Guatanamo are media stories for consumption in the morning en route to office, an RSS feed on our desktops or at night on evening news. 

AI’s video and the larger unsubscribe web campaign creates that sense of outrage that is necessary and vital to take actions against government’s that aid and abet torture. 

What I’m interested in is whether, over time, AI and other HR organisations have be more and more visceral in their depiction of torture to combat the inevitable erosion of interest and commitment to stop torture by those moved to action by this campaign. Put another way, over 44,000 people have watched Waiting for the Guards, but how many of them have signed up for AI’s campaign, participated in virally marketing it and raising awareness against torture? And while web campaigns have long tails, it’s also the case that they have a very limited active life – people move on, life goes on, attention is scattered, competing initiatives steal participants, social networks evolve and move on. 

To this end I wonder if AI has any statistics on just what impact unsubscribe has made in the policies of the governments to which the campaign is aimed at and those most at risk of torture the campaign intends to protect. Further down the line, it would be interesting to hear AI’s take on web media and HR campaigns conducted on the web. Far as I can gather, this film is not one that AI will show widely in terrestrial / cable TV networks around the world. In using the web as the primary source of information dissemination and activism, this campaign is accessible by those in the West, but not as easily by those without broadband access in other parts of the world.

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