Satellite Sentinel Project’s Co-founder George Clooney appeared on NBC’s “Rock Center” with Brian Williams on January 9 to talk about celebrity, privacy, and his “other passion,” the Satellite Sentinel Project.
The idea for SSP came on a trip to Sudan in October 2010 as Clooney and Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast pondered the potential for satellite surveillance.
“Why can’t I be a guy with a 400-mile lens, a tourist, taking pictures and sticking them on the Internet? Like Facebook or something, you know, here’s my pictures of my vacation from space,” Clooney said in the interview.
Clooney mentioned that the International Criminal Court, or ICC, is considering SSP imagery in cases against war criminals. Sudanese Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein is already under scrutiny for war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan. Evidence of Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF's, airpower, as cited in SSP reports, was requested by the Office of the Prosecutor from the Director of Investigations at the ICC. This request is an important step along the way to building a case for indictment. In TIME magazine, Mark Benjamin recently reported that according to the ICC, SSP imagery combined with field reporting from the Enough Project is providing a significant portion of the evidence for the investigation.
The public nature of SSP’s imagery is central to the project’s mission and objectives. SSP did not directly submit imagery to the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, but according to Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Caitlin Howarth, the fact that the court followed the reporting on its own illustrates the potential impact of the project. “One of the best things about publicly releasing our imagery (versus operating solely in back channels and State Department corridors) is that it can be used in ways that we don't always anticipate or pre-determine,” Howarth said in an email.
Because SSP’s reports are available online, and the DigitalGlobe satellite imagery is downloadable in high resolution from Flickr, they can be used by any investigator interested in war crimes committed in Sudan. Says Howarth, “There's a reason why we publish our findings for the whole world to see – it’s not 'just' to ensure that the whole world is watching. It’s to empower the whole world to see, to speak, and to act to promote and protect human rights.”
“Who knows if this will have any effect,” Clooney said. “But all we can do is keep doing it… I’ve said this before, but I’d like indicted war criminals to enjoy the same level of celebrity as me. That just seems fair. That’s all I ask.”
Photo: George Clooney and John Prendergast meet with elders in Abyei (Enough / Tim Freccia)