HBM117: Grave Oversight

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From KCRW. This is here be monsters and a quick morning that this episode includes descriptions of genocide. I had been investigating a mass grave northern Afghanistan for years, it was dug out of the ground and my colleagues, and I needed to find out all we could about who took this alleged mass grave site. We began looking retrospective satellite imagery, and we found a a shot was basically a backhoe at the site removing soil from two pit locations. That moment is where I saw the potential application of satellite imagery analysis for evidence collection. I saw the possibility. For what we could do proactively. Even before crime had been committed. This was in two thousand nine back then getting you know, even to three small shots was a big deal. There's this sort of assumption of nipping this idea that we can see micro movements. No one is tracking you as an individual with a satellite. People look like little dots that they look like little dots. We once had a moment where we can fuse. Thank god. We caught it. But we confused what we thought was a formation of infantry with what turned out to be a herd of Longhorn cattle. And so while resolution is improved analysts and the technology are not omnipotent. They are fallible. I think the biggest misunderstanding is that, you know, satellites are not the I of sore on in additional -i the where they are most dangerous is in analysis failures through negligence, it's drawing conclusions that you scientifically can't make. I would say when I was younger. I was much more driven by Geico. In this. This changed for me over time. I learned it really early on when we lost our witnesses in the dossier. We investigation Afghantistan when they were murdered. You know, I was in my early twenties. I didn't then I was so young. I didn't realize what the stakes were. They were bystanders. They had done the right thing because they had seen a wrong, and I felt culpable and their death. And suddenly everything I was doing was driven by the ghosts of five or six dead, Afghan backhoe and truck drivers. Ever since then, I know what the stakes are in human terms. I take that very very seriously. Here. Be monsters the podcast about in ambient protective effect, the podcast about the unknown. On the newest episode of Nocturne. There's really nothing else. Like late night, Colin shows on the radio other humans in real time. Just chatting you're separated by space. But there with you anywhere, the radio waves can reach you. These really remarkable to know that the thousands of miles away in the dock shooting kangaroos, but listing the Oprah Graham fine knocked her or every listen to podcasts on week from today. Southern Dan will vote whether to break away from the north of many fear could result in mass, atrocities and even genocide. North and south foot and ugly. Civil war that lasted decades and claimed the lives of two million people mainly African south and predominantly Arab north for almost forty years over the past six decades, the conflict was over differences in ideology, politics resources land and oil the most recent war raged from nineteen eighty three to two thousand five fighting killed an estimated to many people you've got understand the political context at this point, the US national Security Council is pushing for peaceful succession of south Sudan. Meanwhile, Sudan says where we're not gonna do anything. We're fine in south Sudan says we're pretty worried. Now this fighting there once more in one of the most remote corners of a vast country. Raymond had been working as you meant Tyrian and human rights investigator for more than a decade when he turned his attention to sedan the largest country in Africa as prepared to split into two. The conflict was mainly between two groups this armed forces or SAF, which is the official military branch of the Sudanese government in the north and damn people's the beret tion or SPLA guerrilla movement in the south after decades of fighting the north and south reaching agreement that would make south Sudan, independent from Sudan. But three regions remained unsettled Blue Nile and south Kordofan. These regions are rich with oil and fertile farmlands and reclaimed by both north and south. Civilians in these regions. Mostly nomadic shepherds and farmers were caught in the middle vulnerable to violence from both sides. Few years prior won't to investigating alleged war crime in Afghanistan. You've been introduced to the idea of using satellite imagery for evidence collection. You wondered if this approach could be more proactive was passive instead of just using satellite imagery to document crimes. After the fact, maybe you could figure out a way to see attack coming and sound the alarm before the atrocities even occurred. He wrote a proposal for project nicknamed bat signal and sent the proposal to Google hoping they'd let them work with Google earth. His proposal send the desk for a few years until it got the attention of George Clooney, Clooney and other organizations invested in the finals project, they called it satellite sentinel project. Actor and activist. George Clooney has a new project to use satellite technology. Here's how he hopes the satellite sentinel project will work. The Sudanese government had already been accused of committing genocide in Darfur a region in western Sudan, just a few years before all this high ranking Sudanese officials, including the president and members of his cabinet had even been indicted by the UN's international criminal court for crimes against humanity. If the staff went on the offense and attempted to take contested regions by force Sudan, risked further indictments sanctions outside military intervention. Satellite sentinel project was a private civilian operated intervention with no ties to the US military. But even so in annual in his team hoped that publicly releasing any evidence of violence or even the intention of violence would be enough to deter sedan from drawing more IRA from the international community at any given time. There are a half dozen commercial satellites over the north south border of Sudan, the project will get high resolution photographs of Sudan from those satellites post them on their website that website that way you at home can monitor what's going on on the ground. In southern Sudan. But we'll the world watching make a difference. Our exclusive gases morning George Clooney, joining us from Los Angeles. So Georgia happy new year to you. So George let's say in the report we wanted to see if being under surveillance, but change the calculus if they knew they were being watched would they make different decisions would they not attack? This idea that we were going to project in ambient protective effect that somehow this data could could protect people. Now, I would not put so much faith in data itself. A nation is born in south Sudan is nothing less than electric. What was Africa's largest nation is split into two cells on this one of the poorest develop places on the planet. It may have oil but land disputes over contested voter areas with the north still unresolved problem in the future. But now though the festivities overshadow such views and south Sadan eagerly awaits recognition by the United Nations as the one hundred ninety third country in the world. Satellite. Sentinel says it shows a fresh wave of violence in the hotly contested region between south Sudan, which just voted for independence and the government in the north satellite. Settle manage to obtain. This video confirming that parts of two villages overflown by the satellite were indeed burned. The hope is that distributing these images might prevent violence from escalating. Release a midnight which would be morning Africa time because we wanted to hit the news cycle on the BBC. And we wanted to be able to to basically be morning news east Africa. People are handing out in Sudan laminated. Purportedly? Laminated copies of our ports to people are hiding in caves, and there was an apocryphal story told me by an individual worked for foundation said that he was in Sudan in the asked people where they got their early warning information from and they pointed up, and they were referring to George Clooney satellites. And this is important every major attack by the SAF. During our eighteen months would be at night often under cloud cover on long three day, American holiday weekends. Now, we don't know why for sure but the probabilistic assumption is that they thought we weren't working. And we can't prove this. But there are moments that seem to us that their trade craft their means of. Avoiding detection. Was evolving because we were in the game. The team and I began to realize that they were going to tack right at the cusp of the reins. Strategically it meant they would be able to run under cloud cover. And so as the rains, come and obscures our view in it allows deniability. So I I remember I think it was February. We caught our first burner. We would call a burn village burner. Those early burners. There was evidence of selection that someone had walked on the ground with a torch in chosen what to burn. Analysts say this picture documents the deliberate burning of some three hundred residential buildings in the region of Sudan. It was taken by privately owned satellite for an organization, call satellite sentinel, and then posted on the internet. Some of these areas are affectively off limits to journalists, and sometimes the public never sees ground level footage of what's happening in places like this. High above the clouds Nathaniel and his team could see four swells in strategic areas in land claimed by both north and south roads being built seemingly in the middle of nowhere, tanks trucks lining up in the brush. Patterns. They noticed told the clear story Ave town capital of one of the contested regions was about to be attacked by the south Sudan armed forces. Satellite sentinel project released a report about a month before the attack to try warned civilians violence was imminent. Some people had enough warning to get out in time. Many did not. The civilians during the night appeared to run from the town. This was a tragedy. But for us you've got understand that we got it. We saw we said they're coming, and we caught it. I'm sure there were many civilian casualties. But the fact is you want him to be able to get out of kill box. And hear the door was still open in time. By early June. We're seeing massive force. Well, move north of town, including gigantic armed convoy moving through Kadugli. And op met Haroon was the governor for south Kordofan, which could lead then was the capital of. Met Haroon was basically the the the ground guy in Darfur in two thousand eleven he's indicted for crimes against humanity for genocide. When Haroon showed up in the spring that was that was a sign. Villian close is the state governor the international criminal court has challenged him with crimes against humanity in duffel addressing the troops Buffoni attack on rebel base. He says you must hand the place. Clave sweat crushed. You don't bring them back alive. We had space for them. Olga. Ready, ready ready? Grants aljazeera in the new mountains of Southern cO defense, Sudan. Could do glee as in the new mountains. So if you've envisioned could do glee, it's in this valley, there's the orchards mango groves on one side in bridges that run south, and it's a relatively big city. There's two stadiums giant soccer stadium, and there's even a Hollywood type sign, and it would say an Arabic Kadugli the town of peace and love and people who I know who have served in Kadugli as humanitarian say that before the killing was one of the most wonderful places, they were Sudan and that they loved it. Sentinel project has released new images, which it says are evidence that the Sudan armed forces is preparing a major offensive and Kadugli fighting has raged across Haddam tense border region since early two between the northern army and troops online to this. When you see a military checkpoint from space, it can tell you one of two things one is they're trying to keep people out of an area. Are the others are trying to keep people. One of the ways you recognize the difference about what a checkpoints purposes is which way the guns are facing. You know, I look back in like almost seems like we are naive. But there was this moment of. Why do you think Unser facing towards the town? It becomes very clear quickly that they are house to house clearing. The town. And we get this image of the tents swelling outside of the U. N compound Moby later learned is that was civilians that ran outside the kill box outside the checkpoints, and they had gathered at the UM base seeking sanctuary. Our sourcing is basically saying that it's a trap. Meanwhile, ach mid Haroon said that he wanted all of the people displaced to come to the stadium and to hear a speech about their future. So we know they're in big trouble. In Cambridge where we were the clouds had come in. It was raining in Kadugli where they were the clouds have come in. It was raining. Rela wrote famously ill -plore Dom core. It's raining in my heart. That's how I fell is. It began to set in that we were watching a systematic murder of an entire city. The clouds park after Haroon calls for them to come to the stadium. There's to try to on the ground, but there's no evidence of displaced people. They're gone. Now, there could have been as many as seven thousand people there. We don't know. And we don't know what happened afterwards, but we have to safely assume they're dead. And this was the moment I got the team together. And I had to give them the saddest speech. I've ever had to give to anyone because they were so cotton the dream of rescue. And I have to address them and say team. We're not in detection posture anymore, and we're not an interdiction posture. We are in documentation posture. It's on it's happening. And the the people we are watching from above. Will likely not survive, and we likely cannot save them. So you need to let go now we need to get into mental place where we let go over dream of rescue. And now our mission is to avenge them. We need ground knowledge immediately. Had to get the edges of the shot precise. Right. We couldn't do a big area. If we were off we would miss. So at this point. The enough project identifies the silver bullets horse. His codename was job from the Old Testament. I'm not gonna tell you everything about job. But. The night killing started in Kadugli around that time, I don't know exactly when jobs wife gave birth and it went badly the baby survived mama survived. But they were stuck in hiding. Their neighbors are being killed around them. The people are gone. There's house to house killing there's what we think could potentially be bodybags were getting the sum of all fears reports from the ground, and then he begins to direct us towards the grave. Is like at south from the radio tower. He said he had seen vehicles going there. There's one giant trench down there. So we were looking further up. He's like it's down. So we basically got a sense of shoe size. And we figured out that he could pay his way from the radio tower from one landmark down to the other at night. And with that we would have the math we needed to set shot. The fastest bird. We can bring in on location is quick bird a beloved satellite. The has. Now been decommissioned quick bird was our quickest way to guarantee hit as soon as possible. We are looking up at the sky and saying come on quick bird. I'm on because at that point we had to ground witnesses. And now we had to get the shot that. What independently corroborate the location of the grave? And I just I want pas here. And I want you to think about this. That a man. With wife and a child in danger in a place where his neighbors and family are being killed around him. I mean dogs carrying pieces of dead bodies around at night came he risks his life when he thinks he may not make it out to go and walk with his shoe size down to this grave. That man. The most vulnerable people in the world is suddenly responsible for a several hundred million dollar. US sponsored spacecraft. Everyone was you know smoke if you got him. We try to sleep and we get up in the morning. We got. We got it. And it was so close if the edge was off just a little we went a lost part of it. And it was an a place where just a few weeks before. There was nothing. Suddenly the not only was there. One giant tranche? There was three. Three trenches. In the south Kordofan region of Sudan, the new been people have been at odds with the Sudanese government for years. And now there's growing evidence. The government is using indiscriminate force to consolidate its hold on the region. In addition to these images of wounded children collected by al-jazeera newly released satellite. Images seem to show mass graves bodybags and the widespread presence of Sudanese government forces in the city of Kadugli. Satellite sentinel project grand for eighteen months from December twenty ten to June twenty twelve then total they released Twenty-eight public reports and developed a methodology for analysing images and ground reports in real time Harvard, which is home to set alight sentinel project continues to research and teach them at that, Allah g than a thing. You'll and his team developed fighting today in south Sudan has continued since two thousand eleven a lot of the people displaced in the conflict fled to the new mountains to live in hiding in caves, the Sudan armed forces denies that any civilians have been targeted in the conflict and says that their peacekeeping efforts are only acted upon rebels. Despite all the reports and press of our satellite sentinel project documented there's ever been a formal investigation. But the UN into the massacre at Kaduqli and augment Haroon was never indicted for his role as of late twenty eleven source job in his family were still alive. Nathaniel doesn't know where they are. Now, the Faneuil is now a lecturer on global affairs. Sales jackson. Justice takes a really long time. The real work of Justice, which is not about a movie star and a v league university. But about actually interviewing witnesses on the ground and having mandate jurisdiction to access those alleged gravesites until that's done will always feel. Our like our mission is still incomplete. There are so many critiques of salad sentinel over the years, but the one that I wish people would critique Gus most on is the question of why you've. What right. Do you have to act with this new technology experimental why on behalf of those who may be affected by your assumptions aspirations are bright, shiny thing. Who made you sheriff? And in the the issue is who made us sheriff while Harvard, George Clooney's money digital glow in their satellites satellites did a lot of things, right. But. Fundamentally, it was an imposed intervention was an imposed solution in many ways without the agency in voice of the people that we were acting four hundred and fifty miles above the earth surface. Presumably on behalf of. This was yes, it was always a hail Mary pass. Yes. It was done with the best of intentions. But the fact of the matter is that we must be clear. It was always an experiment and that in itself is problematic. We could see the invasion of AVI. Bay coming. So for for us. It was well what else are we gonna do sit on our hands. We were working on this story. Sudanese President Omar al-bashir was ousted in a military coup and arrested by the Sudanese government on April eleventh twenty nineteen he was removed from power after months of protests, Dan, over rising fuel and food prices and a few days later actually a few days ago. Other members of sedans ruling political party were also arrested including off met her own both Haroon and Bashir are wanted by the international criminal court for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. Garrett Tetum in produce this episode. He's a journalist filmmaker and composer out of Minneapolis. And he's worked with several times. Now, he got in touch with us after seeing Nathaniel talk about satellite sentinel project at the I affective all twenty eighteen we'll have linked to the annuals Iotov photos from satellite sentinel project and more of GARRETT'S work on our website, H, B M podcast dot com. I'm Bethany Denton and edited this episode with help from Jeff empty men. Music on this episode was composed by guaranteed them. Here. Be monsters is distributed by KCRW. Our senior editor there is Nick white additional support for freelance contributions from KCRW's independent producer project. Thanks for listening. More episodes soon. This season last notes from KCRW? How's the fuel to be like girl playing instruments? Well, feels of a man asking questions, I mean what? Had. I said no to this invitation from John Fahey, I would've for the rest of my life wondered what I'd missed. Thinking about Billy Tipton at very interesting time because I don't know that young people and older people agree on the meaning of trans. I love you for the greatest, Sean. I love that it is an unholy album made with holy method. Hey, everyone. I'm just hopper a music journalist and author and your host for season two of loss minutes. Unless notes relook at music's untold stories this season has packed. It's about legacies. How do they hold up? How do they change over time? Off the truly means beyond disco. Learn how decades on a sunken find new meaning something different than when it was written feel like it's up justifying women. Yeah. Now, fifty six, and it's freaking embarrassing embarrassing. Seventeen years old. You can't just write it off as being. Here from pioneering women who've been written out of music history. I get their producer says, no, no, no. We're not doing your music. We have a script here. And we want you to do the sound. Plus find out what happens when we apply. Our twenty nineteen politics to nineteen seventy four songs, we didn't think about it as we will all are band out of point. We lived the music. The first step ahead of the season of loss notes arrives April twenty fifth. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts.

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