death Ethics

Execution and Exploitation at the Hands of Terrorists

12:09:00 PMKaitlin Fellrath

[Warning: this post contains graphic description.

Last week, the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a 22-minute propaganda video showing one of their prisoners being burned alive.  First Lt. Moaz al-Kasabeh was a Jordanian fighter pilot who was captured in December after his plane was downed over Syria.  Kasabeh was doused with accelerant, then placed into a metal cage.  An ISIL fighter then lit the fire with a torch.  Kasabeh burned to death over the course of two minutes.  The last minutes of the film show ISIL fighters bulldozing the cage containing his charred body.  The video was shot and edited to appear like a Hollywood film, with different angles and close-ups showing the man's agony as he was consumed by the flames.

Just the description of Lt. Kasabeh's brutal murder is enough to make one sick.  As someone who unwittingly came across images of the actual video on social media, I can tell you firsthand that it is the most disturbing footage I have ever seen.  They are images that once seen, cannot be forgotten.  

When ISIL released the video, news agencies and other media organizations were forced to decide whether or not to show the video or provide links on social media and other web pages.  ISIL releasd the video to terrorize and intimidate the international coalition that is fighting them across large swaths of Iraq and Syria.  With that in mind, many news agencies across the world refused to share the video on TV or online so as not to act as a platform for terrorism.  However, some news organizations and social media sites have chosen to show the video and images to demonstrate the extent of ISIL's brutality.  These organizations have their own code of media ethics, and I am sure many of them are sincere in their desire to communicate the barbarity by which ISIL operates. 

But that is the point.

ISIL has become infamous for its use of media to spread terror.  They wants the world to know what they are capable of, and showing the videos of the decapitation and immolation of captives certainly seems to play into their hands.  By now, no one is questioning their depravity, and watching a video of a man being burned alive seems rather superfluous when so many others are suffering under their terror.  

I would like to offer a second reason why news organizations should not share the video of Lt. Kasabeh being burned alive.  It is out of reverence for him as a person.  

Lt. Kasabeh is a real person who was caged and then burned to death.  If news organizations choose to show the video, they must not use his murder as a means to an end, even if that end is a noble one.  That is a real risk for news and social media coverage of ISIL brutality.  The person can never be only a means to an end, and Lt. Kasabeh's death, and the deaths of the other captives, should not only serve as propaganda used to foment international action.  

Some may contend that by showing the video, news media are ensuring Kasabeh's death is not in vain by encouraging action.  This seems to have been the case in his home-country of Jordan, where coverage of the video has prompted heavy airstrikes in ISIL-held territory.  

I would, in turn, respond that any broadcast of such footage would be an occasion of use, no matter how noble the motive, and even if it is done out of a sincere desire to honor his memory.  The video itself was intended as a provocation.  It was filmed and edited with the intent to incite reaction from both ISIL followers and their opposition.  Kasabeh was not just brutally murdered, but he was exploited for the ends of a terrorist organization.  A second occasion of use, even by the "good guys," is feeding off of the exploitation of another person.  It would be similar to sharing "revenge porn" in an effort to encourage anti-revenge porn legislation. 

The man in the video cannot only be “the man who was burned to death by an evil terrorist organization.” He is Moaz al-Kasabeh, someone's son, someone's friend and a human person.   

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