[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]
Over the past four months, we’ve tried to feature and contextualise videos we felt should be seen and debated by a wider audience. Today’s featured human rights video is something completely new.
You may be one of the millions who have sought it out online – or you may have decided to avoid it. Someone – a friend, a colleague, a relative – may have emailed it to you, or called you up to tell you about it. You may have seen a clip of it on the TV news. One way or the other, you’re likely to have an opinion on it, because it’s made for a memorable start to 2007, as political cartoonist blackandblack’s cartoon illustrates:
Click here to launch blackandblack’s blog in a new window.
If anyone was still in any doubt that sousveillance was one of the ideas of the year, then the Saddam video should put that beyond doubt. What’s different about the cellphone footage of the execution of Saddam Hussein, former dictator of Iraq, is that, aside from being probably the most watched web video in history, it has re-ignited a global debate on a perennial human rights issue: capital punishment.
Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar links to both the official and unofficial videos here – on a personal note, I found it one of the most disturbing videos I have yet had to watch, so viewer beware…
Judging by the Iraqi government’s indignation at the unofficial footage, and the ambivalent reaction of many major media outlets (as detailed by Armenia-based Onnik Krikorian here), they were the only ones genuinely surprised that a cameraphone was smuggled past the security checks into the death chamber. If whoever filmed it had surrendered his cellphone before the hanging, the world may never have seen beyond the mute, carefully-edited, tastefully-faded-out official video of the proceedings.
The real story emerging from the Saddam video is that, in laying bare the huge gap between the managed official account of his execution and the far messier reality, it has provoked people – and many bloggers – to reflect less on whether Saddam merited his fate, and more on the nature and appropriateness of that fate for the age we live in.