Al-Qaida posted a video on militant websites yesterday of Warren Weinstein, a 70-year old American contractor working in Pakistan for the American aid program. Weinstein has been missing since gunmen tricked his guards and kidnapped him from his Lahore home last August. In the video, Weinstein claims that al-Qaida will murder him if President Barack Obama does not give in to the group’s demands.
These demands were outlined in a video al-Qaida released last December and included the end of any strikes by America and its allies on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza and the release of prisoners held by the Unites States on suspicion of involvement with terrorist groups. In the most recent video, Weinstein asks Obama to act quickly, as delays would make things worse for the prisoner.
In the video, Weinstein is seated in front of a platter of food and eats several bites as he speaks. He alleviates some of the initial worries raised after his kidnapping by addressing his wife, Elaine, and informing her that he is receiving all the required medications for his heart problems and other health issues. Though it’s difficult to tell through the poor recording quality whether Weinstein is truly in good health, all signs point to his general wellbeing. Nevertheless, it’s questionable whether releasing this video to an American audience is ethical. On one hand, the public has a right to the truth, but on the other, broadcasting this video exposes the desperation of an American citizen begging for his life.
Though we generally consider media communication a positive tool that inspires understanding and information exchange between different countries, classes and people, it is important to recognize that such tools are not inherently good. The meanings they create depend on the individuals wielding them. In this case, a terrorist group utilized online forums and video technology to facilitate a tragic ransom.