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.

Amnesty International’s unsubscribe campaign: Compelling, visceral and cutting-edge

In I am an enemy of the State, I said that Rajapakse regime’s war was not in my name. Amnesty International’s unsubscribe-me web campaign is based on a similar sentiment. As the website notes,

Unsubscribe is a movement of people united against human rights abuses in the ‘war on terror’. The threat of terrorism is real, but trampling over human rights is not the answer. From Guantanamo Bay, rendition, torture and waterboarding – we unsubscribe. 


Jiva Parthipan, who recently emailed me, is featured on this site and his production gives you an idea of the compelling nature of the content featured in the AI campaign. 

What’s of particular interest in AI’s web campaign strategy is the embrace of social networking, email, video and instant messaging as a means of disseminating information on HR abuses as well as awareness about the unsubscribe initiative.


Spreading the word
Spreading the word

I’ve been following AI’s web campaigns for quite a while. They haven’t always got it right. In How not to go about an online petition – Amnesty USA’s online petition on Sri Lanka I wrote against what was a very daftway of going about an online petition against HR abuses in Sri Lanka. 

Clearly, lessons have been identified and learnt. Unsubscribe-me.org for me is compelling because of Jiva’s performance in “Waiting for the Guards”, which I’ve blogged about separately.

Leveraging web media, video and social networks, AI’s campaign shows us a glimpse of the role of HR defenders in the future and how campaigns support Human Rights will be run, complementing of course the irreplaceable work of HR defenders at the frontlines of violent conflict.

Casualties of War – Visualising the dead in Iraq

NYTimes Faces of the Dead

The New York Times features an interactive info-graphic that is a sombre reminder of the human cost to the US Armed Forces in Iraq. From J.T. Aubin in 2003 to David Stelmat a few days ago, the first tab of the special section is devoted to all in the Army who have died in Iraq, that is now a shade under 4,000.

The second tab is an interactive timeline of the deaths. The two invasions of Falluja alone, we learn, cost over 400 deaths. Over half of those dead are between 18-24 and the majority from the US Army.

This powerful visualisation is a visceral reminder that wars today, fought and reported about like computer games most of the time, is still a costly, brutal affair – sometimes necessary perhaps, but always bloody. I wonder though how many people will change, or at the very least, register a slight shift in their opinion of the war in Iraq by looking at this. Compelling it may be, but I somehow feel that those in support of the war will look at it and use it to suggest that all these deaths should not be in vain, whereas those opposed to the war will look this as grim markers of of a war that has done little or nothing to help their government’s soi-disant war on terror.

What the NY Times significantly does not show are the numbers of private security contractors and mercenaries killed in Iraq. As noted in this article written a little over a year ago:

The dangers faced by contractors working in Iraq were laid bare last night by new figures showing hundreds of civilians employed by the Pentagon alone have been killed in the country since 2003. In a graphic exposé of a hitherto invisible cost of the war in Iraq, it emerged nearly 800 civilians working under contract to US defence chiefs have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt doing jobs normally handled by the military.

The casualty figures, gathered by the Associated Press, make it clear the US Defence Department’s count of more than 3,100 military dead does not tell the whole story. 

In Sri Lanka it’s clearly a different story. As Iqbal Athas notes:

“If you add up all the figures given by the government from the beginning of the separatist war until now, it would have wiped out the population of the north twice over,” says Iqbal Athas, consultant editor and defence correspondent of the Colombo Sunday Times and correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly.

“Similarly if one were to adopt the figures put out by the Tamil Tiger rebels, that would have depleted the ranks of the military considerably.”

Picture that.