Magazine article Variety

Clooney Turns Spotlight on Bad Actors

Magazine article Variety

Clooney Turns Spotlight on Bad Actors

Article excerpt

Almost four years ago, George Clooney looked up at the East African stars and wondered why no one was looking back.

"About nine people had just been slaughtered in a town near us, so we're sleeping out in the desert," he recounted to Variety from his retreat in Italy. "I just kept saying 'How is it you can Google Earth my house and anybody can take a picture of me anytime, anywhere, and you can't do that with a war criminal?'

"I thought, well, it seems to me that we should even the score a little bit."

That planted the seed for the Satellite Sentinel Project, which takes satellite images of global hot spots, passes them on to professional analysts and releases its findings publicly.

Activist John Prendergast, who was in the desert with Clooney that night in 2010, says, "George and I envisioned it as sort of an experiment: Let's see if a government willing to commit genocide to stay in power could possibly be moved with the right amount of exposure." In short, it was a test of the old maxim that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The project pioneered the use of satellite imagery for combatting human rights violations. DigitalGlobe provides satellite photos for SSP; analysts receive them with no digital enhancement, so there can be no doubt about tampering.

Three years later, the results of SSP's experiment are in, and Clooney and Prendergast agree: They have been mixed. So while continuing its mission, the SSP is refocusing its spotlight on those who'd prefer to remain in the shadows.

SSP's satellite images and analysis had an obvious impact at first, says Clooney: attacks on civilians shifted from daylight to nighttime, or to cloudy days, as militias and armies avoided the eye in the sky.

Some governments and groups "are certainly pissed off at us," says Akshaya Kumar, who doubles as Sudan coordinator for Satellite Sentinel Project and Sudan and South Sudan Policy Analyst for the Enough Project. "The government was able to say without any challenge, to the international community 'People are lying, they just have a second agenda, there's no proof of this.' Now with this satellite imagery there is a counterweight to that. We have been able to corroborate the reports of really brave citizen journalists working in places like the Nuba Mountains and Darfur and say, 'This is what they say, and our satellite imagery confirms (that).' "

SSP has documented the re-emergence of the infamous Janjaweed as a paramilitary force fighting around Sudan, and even beyond its borders. It expanded satellite observation to the neighboring Central African Republic, using infrared to penetrate the forest canopy. SSP images have been used by prosecutors at the Inti. …

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