Amnesty International Unsubscribe Waiting For The Guards

Amnesty International has launched an online campaign, “Unsubscribe”, a series of films on enhanced interrogation techniques being used in prisons around the world. The first film in the campaign is the 2:30 minutes “Waiting for the Guards”, highlighting the use of stress positions by the CIA when they interrogate prisoners.

Waterboarding scene from Amnesty International commercial


A man with his head hooded, crouches on a pedestal, whimpering as he balances on the balls of his feet, bent double with his hands handcuffed behind his back. It’s likely that he’s been chained into this position or told that he’ll face worse treatment if he moves. The prisoner’s interrogator gets bored waiting and calls his daughter on his mobile phone.

Click on the image below to play the video in YouTube

Amnesty International is using this video to highlight the plight of captives in the fight against terrorism who are face the use of such practices labelled “enhanced interrogation techniques” by their users. It is their contention that the CIA torture techniques of stress positions, sensory deprivation and sexual humiliation were used at Abu Ghraib and other prisons around the world. Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention prohibits the degrading treatment of prisoners of war. It was only in August this year that President George W Bush made it clear that Article 3 applied to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Amnesty International is calling for an end to all secret detentions, and for detainees to be given access to lawyers, medical care and monitors.

“The suggestion is that they suffer a bit of discomfort, when in fact they endure quite severe pain,” said Sara MacNeice, Amnesty’s campaigns co-ordinator. “We are sending the message that this is ill treatment, but we should be calling it by its rightful name.”

Filming for “Waiting For The Guards” was shot by directors Marc Hawker and Ishbel Whitaker, owners of the award winning DarkFibre. Hawker and Whitaker decided to find an actor to be put in the stress position for real, rather than reconstructing it. Jiva Parthipan, a Sri Lankan performance artist, agreed to try out the ordeal.

“Our feeling was that if we were to fake it, or do something more abstract, it would not communicate the real horror and dehuminisation that these techniques involve. We wanted to show the truth. Our media space is full of images of super-violence and we wanted this film to stand out and have its own dignity and clarity. Above all we wanted the film to be emotional.”

“We then thought about the interrogators. We needed some kind of narrative structure to counterbalance the images of the prisoner in pain. Our thoughts were about how torture dehuamnises everyone, including the interrogator. The part of the interrogator was played by Richard Loudon, an actor and member of Sheffield’s seminal Forced Entertainment. Stress Positions is all about time duration. Its not short sharp shock. So we imagined the interrogator in our film just simply waiting, getting bored… and talking to his daughter on his mobile phone (a simple, ordinary daily life type thing). We found this juxtaposition probably more authentic and chilling than if we had cast the interrogator as some kind of psychotic.”

Hawker and Whitaker filmed the spot over eight hours in a damp, cold basement of a disused office building. Because Jiva would be in pain and there was danger to his health, they had a paramedic with them. Jiva was directed to stay in painful positions as long as he could. Whenever the pain got too much he was to shout the word “Green” and filming would stop and Jiva would walk around exercising his muscles.

“This was not easy for us. It’s not a normal thing to ask someone else to do. You feel dirty doing it. Every time it all got too much for Jiva and he shouted “green” we rushed over to comfort him and make sure he was OK. We had a strict regime that when it got too much for him we stop filming and he walks around the space exercising his muscles.”

“It was important for us to film this “beautifully”. We paid a lot of attention to this. We didn’t want to film it like a horror film or a docu drama. No exaggerated camera shaking. What surprised us was the actual filming was almost like a religious ritual. All of us, the film crew, everyone felt humbled by Jiva. The sounds of him whimpering, his heavy breathing, his shaking body had a profound effect on us all. It was almost as if he was a sacrificial lamb on our behalf.”