There’s no option but to cringe and recoil if you saw the video. Blindfolded, naked and bound prisoners are being shot dead by a man in army fatigues.
There’s laughter and banter in the background. The focus of the cell-phone camera then shifts to more bodies, their limp heads lying on little patches of blood.
It was released last week by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, which alleged it showed Lankan army soldiers executing LTTE cadres in January.
The sequence of violence reminded me of the Daniel Pearl execution video, which recorded the beheading of the Wall Street journalist by his captors.
The videos of course are only similar in the violence they depict; the alleged participants are from opposite sides of the spectrum.
The Lankan government expressed immediate outrage. It said the video was doctored and the victims could well be missing soldiers. The so-called soldiers in the footage do not have badges to reveal regiment or rank.
Channel 4, first to air it, said it could not authenticate the video.
But the video seems to have dented the unenviable reputation of the Lanka government a little more. There have been calls to investigate it from rights bodies.
The government already faces allegations of indiscriminately shelling — which it also denied — the ‘no fire zone’ in the final days of the war. Further, rights groups and aid agencies have criticised the condition of the refugee camps where 2.8 lakh Tamils are housed. Their rights of movement continue to be severely restricted and the coming monsoon is expected to flood their miserable lives with more misery.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa regime brought the war with the LTTE to an end. It now has a unique opportunity for reconciliation.
If the video was a fake, the government could carry out a forensic test on it – by a neutral organisation – to prove it so.
And if there was even an iota of truth in it, it should investigate and swiftly punish the culprits. Cringing from doing so is not an option; Sri Lanka’s fragile future hinges on hard decisions and humane gestures like that.