She stands in the empty room, a deplorable, terrible, pitiful sight. Is it Margaret Hassan? Her family believe so, even though she is blindfolded. I’m not sure if videos like this should ever be seen - or perhaps the word is endured - but they are part of the dark history of Iraq, and staff of the Arab Al Jazeera satellite channel have grown used to watching some truly atrocious acts on their screens.
The “execution” - the cold-blooded, appalling murder of Margaret Hassan, the Care worker who was a friend as well as a contact of mine - is among the least terrible of the scenes that lie in the satellite channel’s archives.
Kidnapped by men in police uniforms, it is now November, 2004, and Margaret has already made her last appeal. Viewers saw her begging Tony Blair to help her, to withdraw British troops from southern Iraq. “I beg of you to help me,” she says in a voice of great distress. But there was then another tape which Al Jazeera refused to show, in which Margaret was coerced into claiming that she gave information to American officers at Baghdad airport. A man’s voice prompts her to keep to a text. “I admit that we worked with the occupation forces …” she says. It is untrue, of course. Margaret was against the whole Anglo-American invasion. She would never have spied on Iraqis.
Then comes the last tape. She is standing in that bare room in a white blouse, a blindfold over her face, her head slightly bowed and a man approaches her from behind holding a pistol. He points it at her head and places what appears to be an apple over the muzzle - a primitive form of silencer? And then squeezes the trigger. There is a click, an apparent misfire, and the man retreats to the right of the screen and then reappears. Margaret Hassan doesn’t move although she must have heard the click. The man is wearing a grubby grey and black checked shirt and ill-fitting, baggy trousers, a scarf concealing his face.
This time the gun fires and the woman utters a tiny sound, a kind of cry, almost a squeal of shock, and falls backwards onto the floor. The camera lingers on her. She has fallen onto a plastic sheet. And she just lies there. There is no visible blood, nor wound. It is over. Should such terrible things be seen? Margaret’s immensely brave Iraqi husband told me I had his permission to watch this, but still I feel guilty.
Al Jazeera aired the pictures and the written demands but then cut the next scene. It shows the 18 men trussed up and blindfolded in front of a ditch. A hooded man then fires into the back of one of their heads and - along with other men off-camera - goes from one body to the next, firing again and again. Some of the victims are still alive, their legs kicking and the hooded man goes to each one and fires again into their heads. Then, in the background, a bearded youth approaches the camera, holding an Islamic flag. He is singing.
That official was Margaret Hassan.