Tuesday 8 September 2009

Martyrdom videos: inconclusive evidence

A recently concluded trial, commonly referred to as the "Airline bomb plot", featured as evidence so called martyrdom videos. Excerpts from these are available on the BBC News web site:

Taken at face value, they do suggest that the speakers intended to take their own lives in acts of violence against others. Savant says "I have sacrificed my life", Khan speaks of "shahada" (martyrdom) and Zaman of "jannah" (paradise, the reward for martyrdom).

These videos did not, though, persuade the jury to convict any of these men for conspiracy to murder. More remarkably, this was the second jury which did not believe that the videos constituted sufficient evidence to convict these men. The Daily Telegraph observes that "it indicates that at least three members of each jury chose to believe the men’s defences", namely that they were "simply making a protest 'documentary'".

This has direct relevance to the explosions in London on July 7th 2005. Often it has been asserted that the "martyrdom videos" of Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer are conclusive evidence that they were responsible for those explosions. The Official Narrative (published before Tanweer's video) cites Khan's video as evidence of his culpability. Yet in neither video do Khan or Tanweer mention sacrificing their lives or martyrdom. In that respect they are less explicit than the videos referred to above which failed to secure convictions.

The two juries in the "Airline bomb plot" trials have demonstrated that "martyrdom videos" are not decisive evidence of guilt. They are pieces of evidence to be weighed just as all other pieces of evidence must be in order to reach an overall conclusion. They do not automatically trump conflicting evidence. If the weight of conflicting evidence is greater, then a more innocent interpretation must be put upon the videos.

If these "Airline bomb plot" videos with their explicit references to martyrdom are inconclusive, those of Khan and Tanweer cannot be conclusive without corroborating evidence.