Monday, August 14, 2006

Part 4 - Act 2: The Red Cross workers

In this Act, there are three scenes. Two first two are very similar, the main changes being the actors.

To see how these first scenes are played out, we must go to the wreckage of the house where a body of a girl - clad in orange pyjamas - is being recovered. We see this in the photograph on the left, with a bearded Red Cross worker handling the body, alongside "White Tee-shirt".

In this next frame, a video grab from the Aljazeera news footage, we see the same Red Cross worker emerging from the wreckage to the outside, still carrying the body of the same girl. The hand in the right-hand section of the shot indicates that someone is reaching out to take the body. In the top left corner can be seen the edge of the collapsed wreckage, marking the exit point from the basement, which we have seen in earlier shots.

The video record now stops, so we cannot see precisely, from this source, what happens next. But we do see a still photograph (left), which shows a Red Cross worker holding the dead child, with the arm of another person gesticulating downwards (body out of shot) indicating - it seems - that the body should be positioned on the stretcher in view, already occupied by another body. The inference from this shot is that the body of the child is about to be placed on the stretcher. Of interest here, incidentally, is the number of photographers in view, plus a video camera operator.

This photograph, however, is almost certainly posed as, from other footage (4:56 minutes in), we actually see a Red Cross worker rushing round the corner with "orange pyjamas" on his way towards the ambulances. In this frame we see him being stopped by "Green Helmet", who is gesturing towards the stretcher alongside which he is standing. There could be, of course, an innocent explanation for this, with "Green Helmet" simply pointing out that there is no need to carry the body when there is room on the stretcher. But another construction is that "Green Helmet" has uses for the body.

For whatever reason the instruction is given, the Red Cross worker stops, turns round and obeys it. We see him here starting to place "orange pyjamas" on the stretcher". "Green Helmet", on the other hand, seems to be signalling to someone out of shot. A possible inference is that "Green Helmet" himself is obeying directions from someone else.

In this the third of our "grabs" from the sequence, we now see the Red Cross worker actually place the body on the stretcher. Although the definition is poor, it is clear enough for it to be seen that the stretcher is already occupied by the dead man in the white shirt.

This means we have two separate sequences of the same body being placed on the same stretcher, but with a different cast of characters. As we later see the body being carried down the lane by a Red Cross worker, if this scene is genuine, the other must be staged.

Now we see this photograph. "Green Helmet" has been joined by the man in a baseball hat - we shall refer to him as "Baseball Hat". This type of hat is often the badge of Hezbolla and we see this man in many frames elsewhere, apparently directing operations and giving what seem to be orders. Double-click to enlargeTied in with the previous frames, it is evident that the pair is removing "orange pyjamas" from the stretcher.

Let us now remind you of the evacuation route for casualties laid out in this area. This can be seen from the video and a composite of four "grabs" shown right (double-click to enlarge). The route is straight down the hill to a corner, where the bearers turn left and then continue down a route which takes them to the "staging area" and eventually "Stretcher Alley" (see satellite image). This, however, is not to be the immediate fate of "orange pyjamas".

Act 2, Scene 1

In this next sequence, in what is the start of Scene 1, we see "orange pyjamas" back in the arms of a Red Cross worker - and there is something odd about the location. The worker is, in fact, over the edge of the slope, away from the opening of the wreckage from which the body was recovered. This is in the opposite direction to which he would have to go if he was taking the body to the ambulance area.

In this, the first frame of the Aljazeera footage, we catch him stationary, looking down to his right, evidently under the direction of the photographer closest to him. Note also the other cameraman (extreme left), the two behind him and the one in the centre of the frame, partly down the hill. The Red Cross worker is obviously at the centre of a staged photo-shoot.

In this next "grab" taken from the sequence, we see Red Cross worker stride forwards - still under the direction of the cameraman closest to him - providing ample opportunities for a series of shots showing off his trophy. He is receiving close attention from the photographer in the foreground, who seems to be taking close-up shots of the burden carried by the worker.

Then, as the Red Cross worker continues forwards, we see revealed yet another camera operative (this looks like a video camera), demonstrating the extent of the shoot. Note also - from this and the previous picture where the Red Cross worker has been set slightly down the rise - he is climbing uphill over the rubble. In this frame, he is about to step onto the level ground. Crucially, note that the worker has red sleeves to his uniform.

Now we see the figure in a still photograph, supplied by Reuters. This is very much clearer than the video footage, and - suitably cropped to take out the photographer climbing the rise in the background - was used to illustrate a "professional doing his job". The picture is not "faked" in the ordinary sense - there is no photoshop doctoring - but the scene is nonetheless false. It has been wholly staged for the benefit of the camera.

The scene above is followed by another still photograph, this one taken by Mohamed Messara for epa/Corbis. It shows the full figure of the Red Cross worker, his expression bemused, if anything. Behind him, one presumes, is the bomb crater resulting from the Israeli air strike, which may be the reason why this location has been chosen for the shot.

In the background, this time to the right of the central figure, just visible under the body of "orange pyjamas" is the photographer seen in the previous frame. He has positioned himself for a shot and appears to be in the act of taking it.

Now we are back to the Aljazeera video footage. The video sequence shows the Red Cross worker has entered the lane without turning, which puts his original location - where the photo-shoot started - opposite the lane. Also revealed here is "Baseball Hat" who is acting for all the world like a stage director, giving directions and orders to clear the way so that the remaining photographers can get their shots. Is this Mr Hezbolla managing the scene?

Here, in the final "grab" I have taken from the sequence - although there is plenty more footage on the video - we see our man having moved on a few steps to reveal yet another photographer. To the right of Red Cross worker is yet another, and there is another worker up ahead. We see the two later in the video sequence joining up together, marching down the lane towards until they are out of camera-shot.

Act 2, Scene 2

For whatever reason, the photo shoot with "Red sleeves" was not enough for the assembled journalists. In this second sequence (although it may have been staged earlier - we do not have a time-frame we can use) the whole shoot is re-staged, but this time using a different Red Cross worker holding the body - distinguishable by his white sleeves. This is Act 2, Scene 2, starting off from a slightly different point. Here, though, from these sequences, we can see the clearest evidence of staging.

Firstly, the Red Cross worker is placed at the location. Only once his "minders" are satisfied with the positioning does the bearded man in the white shirt - acting as the "Prop master" - hand him the body of the child. Another Red Cross worker to his side takes hold of the head in what is evidently a pre-arranged pose, the pair acting as a duo.

Now that the actors are in place, with the "prop" suitably position, "Baseball Hat" moves in to check the arrangements and give last minute instructions to the actors.

Note the two video cameras behind the actors (this and the next frame) and what appears to be a still cameraman, patiently waiting for the action to begin.

With everything evidently to the satisfaction of "Baseball Hat", the cameras roll and the party sets off - one Red Cross worker bearing the body, the second tenderly supporting the head - with the "Prop master" watching anxiously. The scenario, the apparent concern, and the ludicrous posing of two workers carrying one body has been set up for the benefit of the cameras.

One of the beneficiaries is Nicolas Asfouri of AFP/Getty (image reference #71539658 - the same photograph also seems to have been attibuted to AP's Nasser Nasser). Here the Red Cross party has taken a few steps forward, well onto the level ground. You can see from the background (with the peach-coloured beam) that the worker is just below the exit from the wreckage, from which point the girl's body was extracted.

One would assume from the still photograph that Asfouri has snapped the party as it passed him, but - once again - the video record gives the game away.

Here in this "grab" we see the party, but it is stationary for quite a few seconds, posing for the photographers. In this frame, we see "Baseball Hat" hovering in the background giving directions, but he clears the scene - standing in the background looking away - to give Asfouri a natural-looking shot.

Note, incidentally, the man in the background, to the right of the frame facing away from the camera, with the tee-shirt embossed with a number "3". In Asfouri's shot he is also in the picture, but some distance away, about to enter the wrecked basement. This gives you some idea how long the pose was held.

Confirming through the still photography the fact that the pose was held, we have another frame (attribution unknown) which virtually matches the video picture. The young man in the numbered tee-shirt and "Baseball Hat" are in roughly the same positions. No one who witnessed these sequences could come to a conclusion other than these shots were quite deliberately staged. Nor indeed could any picture editor, in receipt of both frames, be under any illusions.

Somewhere in all of this, the carrier of the body manages to break away for a solo appearance - unless this was done separately, before or after the dual shoot. A jaundiced eye might consider the pose somewhat contrived, but reference to the other frames would readily demonstrate that it had been wholly staged.

This is the last of this sequence, for which we have records - this one by AP's Nasser Nasser. It appears to be further on in the staged journey, taken with a wider framing to encompass much more of the wrecked building. Again, it is not a faked shot in the ordinary sense. What Nasser recorded did actually happen, but the action was staged. Furthermore, there can be no doubt that he and others participating were fully aware of what was going on. No-one at this point can pretend that they were unaware that the scenes were being set up for the cameras.


Between the point where visibility is lost and "Stretcher Alley", however, it seems that, whichever Red Cross Worker was last carrying the "orange pyjamas" must have tired of his burden. It is in this next photograph, by Nicolas Asfouri (ADP/Getty Images), that we see the girl's body again. It is alone on a stretcher (very similar to that on which it was originally deposited) - uncovered for the benefit of the photographers - and transported up to "Green Helmet's" waiting ambulance. The first of the stretcher bearers could be "White Tee-shirt", but we cannot see enough of him to be certain.

We know the girl's body is eventually placed in the ambulance because we also see shots of it being posed with a variety of other characters such as this one, in the uniform of a Lebanese soldier.

The picture, by AP's Lefteris Pitarakis, is particularly unpleasant as the man has the body by the scruff, treating it with less dignity than one would a rag doll. But, perhaps, this is no different from using the body as a prop by a succession of actors, all to gratify the needs of the photographers and their editors who so skilfully decided that they photographs they used were not staged. Somehow, though, that Red Cross workers were involved, who do represent that long tradition of impartiality, makes Gannon's mendacious publicity puff for "Green Helmet" seem all the more tawdry.

Act 2, Scene 3

Strictly speaking, this is an "act" all on its own (or part of the "Stretcher Alley" sequence) but, for convenience, we have included it here as it is also an example of Red Cross workers play-acting.

This scene is illustrated here from a sequence of "screen grabs" from a video taken reportedly from Aljazeerah. It starts with "Green Helmet" being interviewed about the disaster. Speaking in Arabic, in a remarkably high-pitched voice, we are told he says there are about 210 casualties in the wreckage. the point to watch, however, is the mid-point between "Green Helmet" and the interviewer, at the end of "Stretcher Alley".

Into view then comes a stretcher party, coming round the base of the building at the bottom of the slope. They come from the left, which is from the general direction of the wrecked building, from which the casualties are being recovered. As the party starts up the slope, the interviewer and "Green Helmet" pause to look at the group. Then "Green Helmet" dashes off down the slope to intercept it while the camera operator concentrates on filming the group.

As the camera focuses on the stretcher party, and it is clear that they are uniformed Red Cross workers, with photographers in attendance – two of which we can see in the frame. Although the picture is blurred, note that the leading stretcher-bearer is wearing his helmet at a slightly raked angle. The cameraman on the right has taken a shot and is changing cameras to get another shot.

Now, fully in view of the cameras up the hill (which we see in other shots is "Stretcher Alley" - having been staked out by the media), the stretcher party starts to walk slowly up the hill. Then, for no apparent reason (that we can discern), it suddenly comes to a stop. The workers put down their load, with one of the photographers hovering close by, over the stretcher. We can only guess, but perhaps they have been asked to stop by the photographers.

The sudden stop gives the nearest photographer the opportunity to take a close-up picture of the victim. Now, this is a highly charged situation at a disaster scene, with all the tragic implications. But of more concern to the lead stretcher bearer is his appearance - or so it would seem. He adjusts his helmet, putting it on straight, nice and neat for the cohort of camera crews and still photographers further up the hill. There is no sense of urgency and no rush. The pace is leisured. But then, inexplicably, the Red Cross worker repeats the gesture - both hands up to his helmet - apparently to put it straight again. This, in the context, is so unnatural that it could actually be a signal.

If this was a signal, one interpretation could be: "I am about to start". And, with the photographers having completed their work on the stretcher in place, the bearers immediately picked up their load and resumed their journey. Further up the hill, duly warned, the photographers are ready and waiting. Thus do the stretcher bearers progress in a leisurely fashion. In the sequence, they are then joined by "Green Helmet" who hovers around self-importantly. All the time, there is no sense of urgency or rush.

This completes Act 2, Scene 3.

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