For journalists, Iraq is a continuing danger
It's been more than 16 months since CNN's former chief news executive Eason Jordan made what even he now regards as inarticulate comments about the U.S. military's role in the deaths of journalists working in Iraq.
Inarticulateand incendiary: Under fire from conservative bloggers and others for his suggestion at a forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the military may have targeted and killed a dozen journalists, Jordan resigned, saying he wanted to spare the network from being tarnished by "conflicting accounts" of his statements about the "alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq."
Today, with the Iraq war securing the morbid title of the most deadly conflict for reporters in modern times, Jordan remains passionate about the plight of journalists in Iraq. He prefaced our conversation last week by saying he does not believe that the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists, though "it certainly has happened."
"All have been mistaken identity, but that doesn't excuse them," Jordan said. "And that was the key issue I was trying to raise, not very eloquently, in Davos. Journalists are being killed. Journalists are being detained."
And most of them are Iraqis.
The Committee to Protect Journalists last week reported that 73 journalists including 52 Iraqishave died in Iraq, surpassing the rolls for both the Vietnam War and World War II. And though many Iraqi journalists have routinely been imprisoned, a man believed to be the last documented detainee held by the U.S. military, Ali Mashandani from Reuters, was released last week, said Joel Campagna, the CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
But keeping track of detained journalistsmost held on suspicion of "insurgent activity"is a murky business, and Campagna said that on the day of Mashandani's release, Reuters reported that an unnamed Iraqi journalist working for an international news organization was still in U.S. custody. In 2005, CPJ documented seven cases in which Iraqi journalists working for news organizations including CBS, the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse were held, some for periods exceeding 100 days, before being cleared and released.
"Iraq's an extremely complicated and dangerous assignment, but to us it's unacceptable that journalists can be taken off the streets while doing their jobs and then held for weeks or months without charge," Campagna said. Or even a year: Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a cameraman working for CBS, was shot in the leg by U.S. troops and detained last spring after he'd been cleared to film the aftermath of a car bombing. He was held in Abu Ghraib for a year until a panel of Iraqi judges in April said the military had insufficient evidence of "insurgent activity" against the 25-year-old Iraqi.
The military claimed in leaks to the media that Hussein's confiscated videotape contained footage of four separate incidents, proving he was a member of an insurgent group sent to document the aftermath of its dirty work. "The charges were exposed as a complete, conscious lie," said New York lawyer Scott Horton, who helped represent Hussein. "There was never anything else on the video but the 18 seconds taken before he was shot."