Thursday, February 19, 2015

Images of unspeakable human cruelty

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

These are not scenes from a movie that can be shaken off as soon as one steps out of the dark theater. But even movie scenes can be so disturbing that they leave traumatic imprints on one’s mind. How much more true-to-life barbaric acts against helpless persons purposely recorded for the world to see? And shown almost on real time?

These past days we have been served up images of human cruelty committed against fellow human beings. These are not only still photographs but also moving images that show the unspeakable cruelty that humans are capable of doing—and showing. The perpetrators immediately flaunted their horrible acts via electronic media even while the blood of their victims was still warm on their hands and on their bladed weapons.

I am referring to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that emerged to prominence sometime last year to declare the establishment of a caliphate that would dominate the world. In the meantime, they terrorize and kill while invoking the name of God.

Closer to home, we have been made to see—presumably by the perpetrators of the heinous deeds—video footage of the aftermath of the Jan. 25 armed clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, between the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front/Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters when the SAF troopers tried to serve arrest orders on two terrorists believed to be hiding in the area. More than 68 persons died, 44 of them SAF troopers. All is over but the blame-throwing. And the high cost of the botched operation continues to shake the Aquino presidency.

In that video footage recorded by cell phone, SAF troopers, wounded but alive, are shown being finished off at close range, stripped of their uniforms, firearms and ammunition, and personal belongings. The perpetrators shout praise to God and even answer phone calls and tell the callers that the phones’ owners are lying dead in the cornfield of Mamasapano.

What kind of human beings are these that they can commit such inhuman deeds with the name of God on their lips? Why such cruelty, not only to their victims but also to the intended viewers of the video? While many people shudder and throw up at the sight of the bloody images recorded at home and abroad, the images serve the purpose of presenting the perpetrators as the despicable people that they are and their causes anchored on cruelty.

Why line up 21 Coptic Christians, dressed in orange overalls, and make them face the camera, while the killers dressed and hooded in black stand behind with their sharp blades, ready to make heads roll on the sand?

We have seen many historical photographs of victims of war and human cruelty, but only recently have we been seeing footage of cruelty shot with the intent to terrorize. Many gruesome war images of the past were recorded by war photojournalists, if not by soldiers themselves, with the intent to inform.

Those war images of the past that came out of darkrooms have become museum pieces, among them by Robert Capa (1913-1954) and by the Vietnam war photographers. Now, with high-tech equipment, journalists in war zones can show real-time, blow-by-blow accounts. Even so-called citizen journalists can supply rare footage from remote, dangerous areas.

Among the historical images of cruelty are the ones that show the piles of dead and emaciated survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps and skeletons in Cambodia’s Killing Fields. I have the books “The Last Days of Dachau” (Germany) and “The Rape of Nanking” (China) that show photos of the aftermath of war and the victims, dead and near-dead.

I remember actually seeing some survivors of the Rape of Nanking, already old and feeble, who presented their case at the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo in 2000 where Asian sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army presented their own cases. One or two of them were in the World War II photographs shown on screen. They were young girls then. It was a dramatic, emotional moment for the victims, an eye-opener for us born postwar who liked to think that we had no world war of our own.

But nothing beats these recent video images—selfie types—that were uploaded online to flaunt and taunt, to show triumph and conquest, to horrify and terrorize. My left-handed compliment: Thank you for showing us the human face of evil, for showing us that evil is indeed abroad in the land.

There is a Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture). It is an international human rights treaty of which the Philippines is a signatory.

The Convention defines torture as: “[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

Terrorists and the like do not honor this. What we saw on video was more than torture or punishment. It was pure evil. #