Cursor Guillotine Part 1-3
Clicker, mouse, pointer, tracker, the unassuming little arrow you see on your screen is the vehicle in which we journey through the digital realm. It responds to our every command, at our mercy, fulfilling the tasks that it is given. Its streamlined angular shape smoothly glides across the tabs and interfaces fluidly transitioning between the surfaces. The control bar icons stand to attention as it passes by, enlarging themselves to tempt the user to click, inviting them in. As we press the button on our mousepad it flicks between the programmes, the fans begin to whir as the software boots up and our screen is a flurry of activity. The programme windows extrude and contort all over the screen as the, the cursor remains the constant within the madness, panoptic, an onlooker in the process. As we switch between programmes, be that a game or a Word document, the cursor shape-shifts to suit our needs, transmuting into an I-beam, crosshair or the dreaded spinning pizza of death. It is constantly communicating back to us, it lets us know through its form the action that can be undertaken, like a soldier reporting in, waiting for orders, waiting for our next move. By extension it acts as our digital hand, grabbing and dragging, clicking, pulling and pushing information across the display. Its use is monitored, every movement, every destination, every IP address we visit, like our fingerprints, the cursor leaves a mark through cookies and data an invisible trail that can be held accountable, transcending the boundary into the physical.
In Edinburgh, at the intersection where The Royal Mile meets George IV Bridge there exists an ornate brass plaque, I used to walk past this daily on the way to my bar job, never taking much notice, as a resident of Edinburgh you don’t often stop to take in the tourist attractions and titbits that are found in so many places around the city. I would always see it out of the corner of my eye but was always in a rush, on the phone, avoiding the sea of tourists that would inevitably ask me where the castle was or I was too busy listening to some tripe on my Ipod. For some reason, on one dreary day in 2014 when the royal mile was relatively quiet, running early for work I stopped and finally read the plaque.
It reads: 'The site of the gallows is marked by three brass plates set at the edge of the pavement in front of this notice. George Bryce, the Ratho Murderer, was executed here on the 21st of June 1864, the last public execution in Edinburgh'
By all accounts Bryce was simple man with a rather unexciting life, like with most murders, his was one of lust and anger, the victim would be Jane Seton was a friend of Bryce's lover Isabelle. Being a son of an innkeeper it became apparent to the two women that Bryce had a difficult relationship with alcohol, Jane would discourage the girl from pursuing the relationship on account of his aggression and drunkenness, finally Isabelle took heed and broke it off with Bryce. On receiving the information that Jane had caused the break, he broke into the nursery she was working in late at night and attacked her, during the fracas she broke free and escaped, running up the road with Bryce close in pursuit. Eventually he caught up with her, at one of the nearby cottages just down the lane, he proceeded to pin her against the door then slitting her throat with a razor.
Though his crime was barbaric, by todays standards it is not entirely shocking, what is shocking however is the way in which he died. News spread fast throughout the city as Bryce was put on trial, he pled guilty and because of numerous eyewitness accounts and the wealth of evidence he was sentenced to hang. Though death was still a punishment for 200 crimes in Scotland at this time, for it to be public was getting less frequent. Because of the rarity of the spectacle and the exposure the case had gained, thousands of people turned up to see Bryce hang.
It is usual practice in a hanging, that a trapdoor would open within the platform, the person would then fall through with the noose tied to the scaffold above them. This method would break the persons neck causing a relatively quick death, what was also the case at this time was that the bottom of the platform would be shrouded in black cloth to inhibit the view of the audience. For whatever reason, on this day, the executioner Thomas Askern of York, had got this simple practice completely wrong and the execution turned out to be a disaster.
With the crowds waiting with bated breath, Bryce finally took the last drop, however, Askern had forgotten to give the rope enough slack, leaving only two feet of rope for Bryce to hang from, more horrifically instead of dropping out of site, he would hang in full view of the crowd, his neck did not break, instead, he hung there slowly dying through asphyxiation for up to 40 minutes.
Upon seeing this, the crowd quickly turned and a riot ensued, their exasperation and anger soon turned on the authorities and the executioner, pelting them with stones and chasing them away from the scene. The councilors narrowly escaped from the mob with their lives in tact but their reputation tarnished. Considering the crowds reaction and in light of the mistakes that they had made, the council decided that there was no place for public execution in an enlightened modern Scottish society. It would seem the public had finally lost their appetite for such blatant and visible barbarity.
Wikileaks has supposedly exposed a many secrets since its formation in 2006; government documents, press scandals, war crime evidence, detainment and torture footage, fraudulent activity are but to name a few. The information that they post is always viewed with scepticism, not only because it often if aimed directly at demolishing and discrediting the very top of the traditional top down capital system but also because they choose to keep their informants and whistle blowers anonymous, shrouding their sources and investigative journalism in mystery.
In 2010 at the hight of the US's war on terror, Wikileaks revealed whats known as the Collateral Murder Footage of a 2007 Bagdad airstrike in which Iraqi journalists and civilians were killed by the US air force. The footage gained worldwide notoriety for its graphic content that was now available freely online, but moreover it sparked a fierce debate between US authorities, Wikileaks and Press outlets about the accountability of these killings, was it a war crime? Was the government to blame and did they know that they were journalists? Or, was it just a conspiracy theory? Did the insurgents really pose a legitimate threat?
The events of the video are as follows, after statements from Wikileaks about the content of the video, images of the victims as well as some statements from eyewitnesses and officials the video then switches to a grainy black and white camera feed. The viewpoint is taken from the gunners perspective, a cross-hair is visible in the centre of the frame, with other details around the perimeter, the rangefinder, date and statistical information. The footage also contains the audio recording of the conversation between the gunner, pilot and the command operative on the ground. As the recording progresses, it is uncertain of the nature of their reconnaissance, whether there is any threat at all or it is just a routine check.
The helicopter crew identify a group of men walking through a town square, over a short discussion – about 20-30 seconds long- they suspect that 6/20 of the 'targets' have AK47's and initially they believe one of the journalists is carrying an RPG (this turns out to be a camera). As the helicopter circles overhead, the cameraman in the group appears to take cover, it is at this point the gunner then asks for permission to engage believing that he is about to fire the RPG. The ground controller quickly gives clearance and the group are shrouded in a hail of bullets. The dust takes a minute to settle and visibility is regained after which the corpses can clearly be seen. Most are identified as KIA but there is one survivor, the cameraman and journalist Saaed Chmagh who is appearing to be crawling away along the pavement. As he struggles along of his, dragging himself along with his arms, the gunner can be heard over the intercom, 'Come on buddy, all you gotta do is pick up a weapon'.