Fri - March 5, 2004

How Does It Feel?

Today's New York Times has a terrifying article about the complete disintegration of law and order in Haiti. What makes the article so upsetting, aside from the graphic descriptions of violence and revenge, is this Reuters photograph of a man identified only as Tiroro, left, and an unidentified member of a band of vigilantes about to exact their revenge on Tiroro under which the article runs.

Tiroro faces eternity

The Times describes the circumstances around Tiroro's death as follows:

After what the thugs did to his son, no punishment seemed harsh enough to Roland Lysias.
Two months ago, loyalists of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide kidnapped his 21-year-old son, Junior, and tortured him, chopping off his hands and feet and poking out his eyes before burning his body, because he had supported a militant opposition group, Mr. Lysias said.
So on Wednesday, when an armed band of vigilantes found the man he said was responsible for his son's death, a pro-Aristide militant known as Tiroro, he watched with satisfaction, he said, as they beat him unconscious, threw gasoline-doused tires around his neck and set him on fire. He described how the chanting and cheering crowd threw rocks at the man's burning body, indifferent to his screams for mercy.

This is one of the most fascinating and horrifying images I've ever seen (even more so than the Eddie Adams's infamous photograph of a Vietcong prisoner being executed in the street) for all that it shows and all that it implies--its powerful intimacy and complete lack of humanity--and looking at it and reading the accompanying article fills me with questions:

  • What are those two men thinking? Why that pose? What is the vigilante holding to his mouth?

  • Is that really Tiroro? Did he really do what the vigilantes are about to exact revenge for? If so, does he now regret what he did? Does he know what's about to happen to him? Were his screams for mercy reflexive, or did he really hope to have his pleas answered? Was the revenge ultimately "successful"?

  • How did the photographer get that picture? Was he or she actually in the vehicle with them? How much danger was he or she in? Did he or she even think about that?

  • If the tide of power shifts again in Haiti (as it's sure to), will that unidentified vigilante find himself in Tiroro's situation at the hands of Tiroro's friends? Does the vigilante feel safe and justified? Did Tiroro feel safe and justified if and when he committed the crimes he's alleged to have committed?

  • Would either of them care to know the verdict in the Martha Stewart case?

In short, it's one hell of a picture.