You may not read Arabic, but the pictures speak for themselves.
March 22, 2003 6:36 PM   Subscribe

You may not read Arabic, but do the pictures speak for themselves? [warning: graphic images] One big difference between Desert Storm and the current operation is the emergence of Gulf satellite news stations such as Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, beaming live into homes across the Arab world. Questions of access aside, it's a given that these news sources will be broadcasting materials that inflame opinion, and would never get past the 'taste and decency' rules of British or American stations. Trouble is, most westerners don't read Arabic: so, should we be bookmarking such sources for another perspective?
posted by riviera (37 comments total)
Horrendous pictures; unfortunately I can't find any web-based Arabic to English translation tools (the Tarjim site doesn't seem to work.)
posted by cbrody at 6:59 PM on March 22, 2003

I've got a summary of sorts from people who have been watching Al-Jazeera today, where these pictures have been on a loop: they're from bombing in Basra, where Al-J is announcing 50 people killed. (Google news is quite good if you search for 'Al-Jazeera'.)

I know that I've seen no pictures from Basra from the British sources (and by extension, American sources, since there are obviously syndication agreements going on). But I also know that my non-existent Arabic limits my ability to judge the stories accompanying the pictures. What I know for sure, though, is that millions of Arabs are seeing pictures on an hour-by-hour of a kid with the back of his head blown off.
posted by riviera at 7:19 PM on March 22, 2003

Just to remember all the european readers that with a cheap satellite setup ($200 more or less) you can get all your free live video from all the arabian networks and many free european/american networks by pointing the sat dish to HotBird, 13E. There's free Al-Jazera,BBC,FoxNews,Iraq TV and a ton of other channels. More info here
posted by elpapacito at 7:27 PM on March 22, 2003

Slightly OT, but does anyone know a technical reason why Google doesn't support Arabic>English translation?

They list support for Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese... I would think that there are more speakers of Arabic in the world than French... (or at least as many).

They don't support Russian, Greek, or any eastern Asian languages either... are there technical issues with translating things with "non-standard" characters?

(those are horrible pictures, with horrible implications for future US-SW Asian relations... to be sure)
posted by cadastral at 7:30 PM on March 22, 2003

horrendous pictures indeed :-\ but no, they don't speak for themselves, regardless of the text that accompanies them. who's to say that boy isn't a victim of his own leader...? i don't trust al-jazeera to tell me the truth anymore than i trust saddam's minister of "information". i mean isn't this the news org that's been insisting that on thurs only 3 missiles were launched against baghdad, or some such nonsense...? and isn't saddam that whacky guy inclined to put innocents in the line of fire to make his enemies look bad...?

(argh, wait a minute, didn't i already change the subject a few days ago...? we're not supposed to be discussing the war anymore...!)
posted by t r a c y at 7:39 PM on March 22, 2003

It's odd that he'd be wounded like that.

Looks like a powder burn right above the nose, but it's hard to tell. The cranium shattered like that, and the back of the head blown out - I could be wrong (and probably am) but I don't think that was a .223 or a 9mm wound. Could be a 9mm, but the muzzle would have to be right at the back of the skull, right where the spinal cord goes in at the top of the vertabrae to get that sort of hydrostatic shattering.

It's hard to get someone to sit still for something like this. I don't see it as a head shot from a distance with a .223.

And only the one? You'd think there'd be more, if the US military was rampaging around slaughtering civilians. Or is this the most 'photogenic' one they could find?

I'm no coroner, I only play one on the Internet. Given Saddam's past history - I think the odds are good this 'fatality' was manufactured to order for propaganda purposes. Or the boy was killed for another reason (to settle a grudge between families or something) and being used for this?

The wounded folk - well, what goes up (AA fire) must come down. Sucks to live under Saddam, for sure. If he isn't starving you to build palaces, you gotta worry about spent AA falling on your head.

posted by JB71 at 7:41 PM on March 22, 2003

Wasn't there supposed to be an english version of this site? Funny, but, did WE (USA) invent the internet?

Regardless, it's funny that Iraq said it didn't have Scuds and other things when the UN was inspecting, yet, as soon as we go in there, there they are. WTF.

I'm saddened by things. People will die. All because a leader of a country would not simply follow what the UN get rid of all your nasty weapons.
posted by ericdano at 7:58 PM on March 22, 2003

The first caption says "Among the victims of the American bombing of Basra." The Arabic qasf can also mean shelling, not just bombing.

A similar "face without a head" photo was earlier captioned as a victim of American bombing on Ansar al-Islam positions in N. Iraq. The article, in fact, leads with events in the north. No idea if it is the same unfortunate's corpse or merely similar wounds on people hundreds of miles apart. al-J can be a bit sloppy at times, so I wouldn't doubt them reusing and recaptioning a photo.

I have to say that their internet coverage is really poor, lacking the first person depth of the embedded journalists reporting for British and US news outlets. I can't speak for their main TV coverage, as my cable company can only get me 1/2 hour or al-J headlines a day.
posted by ednopantz at 8:02 PM on March 22, 2003

I'm no coroner, I only play one on the Internet.

Any chance you could play a human being with some tiny amount of empathy on the Internet?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:02 PM on March 22, 2003

JB71, the anti-aircraft artillery aren't just bullets, they're shells. They're designed so that they explode after a certain length of time passes so that they don't go raining down on the people who've shot them. This also makes some flack but it doesn't affect aircraft much, the main reason is so you don't get a lot of casualties. This was on CNN last night.

Also, if you look down farther on the page the kid is under concrete, it may still have been a staged event, but most likely it was a result of a bomb blowing things up seeing as that's what they're designed to do.
posted by substrate at 8:04 PM on March 22, 2003

I reported on this about two hours ago and have asked for a translation.

There is at least one other picture taken by the same photographer on the al Jazeera website, but there is good reason why there aren't more... The cameraman who took the pictures is from the UK. After taking the pictures, he was taken to the hospital because of a nervous breakdown. When cameras arrived to him, they asked him what happened, he broke down and started to cry.

Incidentally, I heard about the report of 50 civilian casualties in Basra from Canadian Radio One news, which mentioned al Jazeera as the source.

For those interested in translating Arabic, using might be a good - albeit a non-free - solution.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:09 PM on March 22, 2003


No Scud missiles Have Been Fired Yet

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference that the Iraqis have not fired any Scuds and that U.S. forces searching airfields in the far western desert of Iraq have uncovered no missiles or launchers.

AP story... all of 2 hours old.

You're horribly misguided.
posted by cadastral at 8:12 PM on March 22, 2003

Thanks for the link. It does give pause....On the other hand, is Al Jazera sufficiently independent to be used as a source for causalty counts and accounts? Have they reported on the horrors of Saddam Hussein's regime, for example, and those of the neighboring dictatorships? The Mullahs of Iraq?

I really hope Hussein was killed the other night, and that this will all be over in a few days.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:15 PM on March 22, 2003

Sorry to post again so quickly. al-J is reporting 50 causalties with 4 from a single family, but no attribution as to the source.

I take what al-J takes with a grain of salt. During the Afghan war, they used to front page whatever the Taliban told them, no matter how unlikely. All American reports are sourced to spokespeople or officers, but all facts, such as casualty counts, are just stated. No mention of sources for information at all. This might come from official Iraqi MiniInfo sources in Basra or not.

Your half-assed Arabic translator signing off.
posted by ednopantz at 8:15 PM on March 22, 2003

"it's funny that Iraq said it didn't have Scuds and other things when the UN was inspecting, yet, as soon as we go in there, there they are."

There was one news report saying a scud was fired, but that was later corrected. Have you seem any photographic evidence of scuds?

"People will die. All because a leader of a country would not simply follow what the UN get rid of all your nasty weapons."

The UN didn't support this action -- they supported further inspections. Also, we have yet to see any proof of "nasty weapons". I suspect they'll find plenty of "proof" eventually, however, even if the US have to plant such evidence / dig in the areas where the Iraqis reported burying some of it.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:16 PM on March 22, 2003

The cameraman who took the pictures is from the UK. After taking the pictures, he was taken to the hospital because of a nervous breakdown. When cameras arrived to him, they asked him what happened, he broke down and started to cry.

Insomnia, let me go balistic on you for a second. You just reported friend of a friend info as unvarnished truth. This whole situation is very susceptible to hyperbole. Please be more careful.
posted by ednopantz at 8:23 PM on March 22, 2003

Did Al Jazera report that, according to a Pakistani newspaper, the US has already used nuclear weapons?
posted by ParisParamus at 8:26 PM on March 22, 2003

Mr. Shanks:

I do. I think this war is a terrible thing, and I think the UN is terrible for not having headed this off years ago - which is what they were supposed to do. We appeased and dithered and put off - and this is what it comes to because the UN didn't have the balls after GW1 to make Saddam disarm like he agreed to at the end of the war twelve years ago.

In regards to this photo - I'm not an unquestioning media consumer. Show me a photo of a car wreck, and I try to figure out directions and speeds. When I see things like this, I try to figure out what happened. Guess it's a personal fault.

I'm sorry my analysis of his wounds disturbed you - but I'm not going to be shown a photo like that and told what to think about it (basically that the US military did it, some way or another) without working to form my own conclusions. Again, I apologize. I'll keep such speculations to myself in the future.


Good point on the AA shells. From "Remembering the Blitz"
The shrapnel from the AA shells was as dangerous as any debris from bombs, and a good reason in itself to stay in the shelter. At the height of a raid, it could be heard rattling down on the hard surfaces of roof and path.
I'd also wonder about the quality control for fuses of the AA shells - but that's as may be. I'm also curious about that concrete - it looks kind of fibrous. A building panel of some sort, perhaps?

posted by JB71 at 8:31 PM on March 22, 2003

cadastral, Google plans to add more languages but only when the translation meets their standards. They are limited as a licensee to SYSTRAN's available languages. It's actually one of the more difficult artificial intelligence challenges, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's a while before Arabic is added.

I would imagine there are non-trivial technical issues with translating non-Roman text, even Cyrillic alphabets which have many letters in common, but certainly with Arabic and Asian languages which don't even have similar phonetic-letter structures, not to mention non Indo-European grammars. So, yes, harder than Spanish. There are also business considerations: internet use is exploding in China, but electronic penetration remains limited in the Arab world.

Iraq hasn't apparently fired any Scuds, but it has been using smaller, theater weapons such as the al-Samoud, the modification of which to exceed the 150-km limitation under the armistice and UNSC resolution was one of the last flaps before diplomatic efforts fizzled. The missiles that hit Kuwait were apparently the al-Ababil 100-km range missile, which like the al-Samoud are Iraqi-manufactured derivatives of the Russian SA-2. The Scuds, which were bought directly from the USSR, were almost all used up in the Gulf War. (What concerns me is that he's saving what he has left for a strike on Israel -- which is all they'd be good for, for his purposes -- at a critical moment. That's assuming they work.) At any rate, the el-Ababils were legal for Iraq to possess, though with the accuracy available firing them on civilian areas such as Kuwait City is probably a prosecutable war crime. If anything is.
posted by dhartung at 8:46 PM on March 22, 2003

You may not read Arabic, but do the pictures speak for themselves? [warning: graphic images]

You weren't raised in a police state, where questioning can get you shot, so should you believe what these pictures claim to show? [warning: potential graphic lies within].

How do you say NO CREDIBLITY in Arabic?
posted by ParisParamus at 8:57 PM on March 22, 2003

Good o'l USSR: between Iraq, Syria and North Korea, that's quite a legacy. Well, at least Mr. Putin recognizes the unclean hands, and is staying on the sidelines. Why couldn't France and Germany have done that at the UN?
posted by ParisParamus at 9:01 PM on March 22, 2003

ParisParamus - In an age when almost any type of evidence (especially visual) can be faked, what is "Credibility"? Why should people in the Mideast trust the US line when official US rationals for the current invasion of Iraq have shifted, day by day, like the weather?

Think of "Wag the Dog" (the movie) and the incident it pointedly referred to - we would be fools to imagine that government PR flacks around the globe have not internalized this message. There is now an infinite supply of victims - from all sides of a given conflict - to televise.
posted by troutfishing at 9:10 PM on March 22, 2003

"Insomnia, let me go balistic on you for a second. You just reported friend of a friend info as unvarnished truth."

I merely relayed information that a Kuwaiti provided on the article, as was clear from my link. That doesn't mean it's unvarnished truth. Still, if I have to believe in pictures or words, give me pictures, thanks...

The only people I know of who claim to be reporting the "truth" in this war are the US military, which explains why they had so little to say at today's press conference.

Frankly, it appears to me that everyone is reporting just what they've heard or what others have told them, and very rarely what they've actually witnessed. Such information is then spun and sanitized appropriately, assuming it is even released...

I think it's safe to say that there isn't one major news source that hasn't mentioned at least a dozen significant factual errors since this war began, and all of them seem to have a slant to the reporting. Why should al Jazeera be any different, or any more or less credible?!
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:47 PM on March 22, 2003

Jesus, what "credibility" do you need?
It's a picture of a kid with his head blown apart.
This is what happens when bombs fall.
posted by 2sheets at 9:58 PM on March 22, 2003

The Arab press biased? OMG, no way. Only Fox and hate radio are biased, and you're nothing but a warmonger if you don't agree. Actually you're a warmonger anyway, because it's my third favorite word, right behind imperialist and hegemony.

posted by Beholder at 9:59 PM on March 22, 2003

The Washington Post reports on this...

Apparently, they've been showing all sorts of grizzly video footage from Basra's hospital, with interviews from victims and witnesses, etc.

Pravda says that one of the dead is a Russian national.
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:36 PM on March 22, 2003

People in the Americas can enjoy much of that content also. Telstar 5 has many FTA foreign networks (including Iraq TV) but strangely enough Al-Jazeera is missing. Here's a list.

The problem is satellite dealers here are too stupid to sell the DVB equipment to pick it up. Sad, really, when I enter my local satellite shop that's merely a ghost of it's former self and they tell me "Yeah, were considering getting into FTA DVB stuff in the future". "No, we don't sell polar mount Ku dishes". "Diseqc? What's that?"

Really, the best way to get unbiased information is to watch the unedited wild newsfeeds, although it'll consume a lot of your free time finding them. Give up on CNN and get a real dish. They're free if you ask about your neighbourhood. Mine was all of $50.
posted by shepd at 10:38 PM on March 22, 2003

How do you say NO CREDIBLITY in Arabic?

"Fox News Channel"
posted by owillis at 10:54 PM on March 22, 2003

The back of his head was blown off by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire returning to earth.
posted by dack at 12:24 AM on March 23, 2003

Ah yes, the US can do no wrong, thus the photo is a fake

ah no, quite the opposite over here at my house. but bullshite comes from all corners and i'm not willing to take at face value any info coming from the iraqi gov't or a news org that has been known to twist the facts. just the way i take everything that comes from the american gov't and cnn with a kilo of salt. without our being eye witnesses the most reliable truth that's ever going to be available to us is that the child is dead.
posted by t r a c y at 1:43 AM on March 23, 2003

Not quite sure what all the debate is about. Looks quite clear to me that a human being, yes a real person, had their head blown off. The exact cause is immaterial. People should be saddened not pontificating about whose hands are clean. Everyones are dirty except for those innocents who will surely die.

Oh, and what world do you live in where sending an invasion force of over 250,000 or dropping bombs from B52s won't result in some horrific death for those people unfortunate enough to live in Iraq.
posted by cmacleod at 3:54 AM on March 23, 2003

is Al Jazera sufficiently independent to be used as a source for causalty counts and accounts?

Its independence isn't to be doubted: it's based in Qatar, and was founded by people who were set to start a BBC Arabic TV service until the Beeb decided to abandon the project. Al-J has gained a reputation for its criticism of certain Gulf regimes: something unusual in a world of state-controlled networks.

Its accuracy on the other hand, is still in the air.

Not quite sure what all the debate is about.

I suppose what it's about is that the British and American broadcast media don't show such pictures because of well-established 'taste and decency' guidelines. Which is to be accepted, to some extent. Trouble with that is that it creates a window for Arab channels to show the grisly footage, and also claim that Western networks are censoring dead-Iraqi pictures for propaganda purposes.

What's certain is that Americans are seeing sanitised pictures of 'Counter-Strike: Iraq' and getting reports from embedded journalists who are plainly thrilled at the chance to get to ride in US tanks. And Arabs are seeing dead children. And that media polarisation creates a kind of timebomb, because it means that the majority of Americans will judge the Arab response to this war without being aware that the Arabic world has been seeing such pictures.
posted by riviera at 5:47 AM on March 23, 2003

What strikes me is the "total disinformation" quality of news from the war - from the US media, Al Jazeera, and the Iraqi Government: I don't trust any of these sources all that much. I suspect that we'll get better information about the war in about three months or so, though I suspect that a lot will be suppressed. I also predict that a good half dozen Hollywood "Iraq 2" blockbuster flicks are in the works, with pentagon cooperation (a la Blackhawk Down") negotiated in advance.

A lot of Iraqis are, I'm sure, glad that Hussein regime is going down. And I've no doubt that many are also welcoming the US troops. But - especially given the .....err.....special political aptitudes (I used to work with 'special' adults. The Down's Syndrome folks were by far the most fun) of the Bush Administration (see: "The Arrogant Empire"), I'd guess that many Iraqis will hate the American occupiers of Iraq within six months to a year. At that point, however, the US public will be distracted by the "Iran Crisis" and the buildup to invasion.
posted by troutfishing at 6:21 AM on March 23, 2003

Let's be realistic -- Al Jazeera and the Iraqi television have "reported" a lot of lies recently. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether the image is real and even if it is, how the person really died.

While the truth almost always lies between the two sides (such as Al Jazeera and Iraq vs BBC and CNN), I believe that the nature and amount of propaganda produced in Iraq by regional networks discredit them significantly in this case. Not to say Western networks are spotless, of course.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:35 AM on March 23, 2003

How do you say NO CREDIBLITY in Arabic?

"Fox News Channel"

Wow, it's the same in English, too!
posted by y2karl at 10:01 AM on March 23, 2003

Let's be realistic -- Al Jazeera and the Iraqi television have "reported" a lot of lies recently.

Lumping Al-Jazeera with the state-run Iraqi channel is basically daft. I can happily accept that the state-run channel is feeding propaganda, and that Al-J tends to the sensational, but can you provide evidence of specific recent 'lies' from the Qatari network?
posted by riviera at 12:43 PM on March 23, 2003

That timebomb you describe riviera has been ticking for at least 20 years. Arab Television (usually state controlled) has always provided a continuous stream of this kind of shocking images, mainly from Israel/Palestine. The standard nightly news format (after the first ten minutes showing officials getting on and off aeroplanes) is five to ten minutes of the latest horror, with images far more graphic than anything shown in the West.

It makes me wonder though, if our news were not self-censored as it is, would we be so willing to let these matters just dribble on inconclusively. There's something to be said for shock (and awe).
posted by grahamwell at 4:43 AM on March 24, 2003

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