Friday, December 14, 2001

I have studied a lot of mathematics in my life. For example, I am familiar with the fundamental theorem of probability theory, which basically states that it is very likely that extremely unlikely coincidences occur from time to time. One such coincidence, I would like to suggest, is the find of a video in an abandoned house in Kandahar - a video in which Osama bin-Ladin confesses the September 11 atrocities.

I suspect there are a lot of deserted houses in Afghanistan these days, and that they consist a large amount of fairly insignificant stuff. Furthermore, I suspect that only a small fraction of these houses have been searched and that only a few items in each house have been thoroughly examined. Yet, some American soldiers found a video film and - probably equipped with a remarkable sixth sense - decided to watch it. You can imagine how amazed and excited they must have been when they discovered who starred in the film: 'Hey, that's our guy! And he's confessing!!' Extraordinary coincidence, I have to say. Perhaps a bit too extraordinary?

Yes, there is the fundamental theorem of probability but still, you have to get a little suspicious. Is this video really real?

We were talking about special film effects on a lecture some weeks ago. Dr Fleming informed us that special effects today are so sophisticated we can no longer see the difference between a computer animation and a film shot the old-fashioned way. The question asked was, does this matter? Is it important to know what is 'real' and what is not?

As for validity as evidence in a court of law, yes it does matter. In the case of the bin-Ladin film it is of crucial importance. As you have already figured out, I feel doubtful about this film and - given the circumstances under which it was found and the possibilities of today's special effects - I certainly don't think it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that bin-Ladin is guilty of the terrorist acts. To me, these events stress that we have to reconsider how we look upon film footage in legal terms. To my knowledge the debate has not yet started, but it is an extremely important one from a civic security point of view.


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