Thursday, 21 October 2004

Press Credentials

Over at The Command Post, you'll see a disturbing report about journalists in Iraq, what they're reporting and why.

Simply put, unless they report what the terrorists want reported, they get targetted.

Furthermore, the terrorists have internet connections, and the ability to check your "bona fides". Unless you've got an unbroken track record of being unremittingly pro-Saddam and anti-American, you're history. The terrorists examine the credentials of the press very carefully. Fortunately for the world's press, a lot of them qualify.

Camera teams are now firmly "embedded" with the terrorists, allowing their carefully-crafted scenes to be reported "live", though they may need several takes to get it right.

Example: An initial report from the AFP, via the ABC :
US air raids have destroyed two buildings said to belong to top Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the restive Iraqi city of Fallujah, however residents say the attack killed a family of six.

"Multinational force-Iraq struck two adjoining Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorist safe houses in northeast Fallujah," the US Army said in a statement.

It made no reference to any casualties in the strike, but said that "several Zarqawi terrorists" had been using the buildings to plan attacks.

In Fallujah, a rebel-held city west of Baghdad, locals said they pulled a family of six from the ruins of a house hit in the dawn strike.

"The house was completely destroyed by a missile dropped from an American plane and we have pulled from the rubble the bodies of four children, a woman and a man," said one resident, Bassem Mohammed.
Some time later, a new report, from an "embedded" Reuters camera team. also via the ABC :
A Reuters witness saw a man and a woman and four children, two boys and two girls, being pulled out of the rubble of a razed home in the rebel-held city of Fallujah, about 50 kilometres west of Baghdad.

The US military denied a family of six was killed, saying it launched four strikes against safehouses used by Zarqawi's fighters.

"Intelligence sources indicate a known Zarqawi propagandist is passing false reports to the media," it said in a statement.

Reuters television footage showed men chanting "There is no God but Allah!" as they carried the body of the father of the family of six.

"Is this the gift that [interim Iraqi Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi is giving to the people of Fallujah?" asked one man, pointing to the small bodies of two of the children lying in the trunk of a car. "Every day they strike Fallujah."
Gosh, what a coincidence, that a Reuters camera team should be on hand just at that very moment, some hours after the event. The trouble is, that no intelligence is perfect: civilian casualties in such air raids are pretty much guaranteed, no matter how much you try to avoid them (both for humanitarian and propaganda reasons). We just don't know: what we do know is that there's a concerted propaganda effort underway. Sometimes they gild the lilly, and go a bit too far for plausibility:
The US military says its almost nightly strikes on Fallujah are carefully targeted at fighters led by Jordanian militant Zarqawi, who it says is holed up in the city.

But residents say they know nothing of Zarqawi - some even doubt his existence - and that the US raids kill civilians.
The Beheadings? Zionist propaganda. Zarqawi? Never heard of him. There is no "Zarqawi". There is no "resistance" in Fallujah.

To give you some idea of the constraints reporters are working under, go visit Back to Iraq 3.0 :
Saturday around 2 p.m or so, John was picked up about 500m from our hotel compound. He turned out of the front gate, took the first right -- as most of us do -- and a car stopped in front of him and a tailing car pulled in behind him. Four men with pistols jumped out and three of them managed to force their way into the car, putting guns to the heads of John, his driver and his translator. They then took him to western Baghdad, held him overnight and interrogated him.

We're not sure what all happened during his captivity, but he was able to persuade his captors that he was an Australian and a friend to the resistance and not to the Americans. It appears, by the kidnappers' statements and questions, that they were nationalists and not jihadis, lucky for John. Also, he was lucky for not being American, because the kidnappers said if he had been, they'd have killed him quickly. They had tracked him for three days, they said, and proved it by asking him why he had gone to the Green Zone and to the Palestine on two separate days. This was how they were able to pick him up so easily.

At one point, one man disappeared, saying he would check out John's story. He came back after about 15 minutes, John said, convinced John was who he said he was. We suspect they Googled John, because they referenced previous stories he had covered.

After some hours, his captors relaxed and said that he would be released in the morning. But before he was released, a sheikh from a village near Fallujah arrived. He again interrogated John, but this time it was much more aggressive questioning, John said. Finally, the sheikh said that while they were convinced he was a man of good heart and a journalist, he would not be freed Sunday as promised because Australia was a member of the Coalition and thus, a “warring nation” as Zarqawi has said. Instead, the sheikh would consult with his supervisors in Fallujah on what to do.

Now, this was serious. There's no doubt the sheikh would return to fetch John and turn him over to al-Tahwid w'al-Jihad. So, in a fit of humanity, after the sheikh left, the nationalist captors took John and released him. We're unsure of the ramifications of this act at this point and if there will be any retaliation within the Sunni resistance or against us. It's possible.

As frightening as John's experience was for him, it shows that journalists' plans for “security through obscurity” has been blown out the window. John's captors said they received a phone call that he was on the move and that the time for taking him was now. This fits in with our intelligence that there are kidnap teams up and down Jadirya Street looking for us. His captors said they had penetrated the staff at the Hamra Hotel, where many of us live. They have people in the compound watching us. They know who we are and they're looking for “soft targets” -- reporters moving around with little security or few precautions.

John was lucky -- very lucky. He was picked up by nationalists who, we hear, are getting out of the kidnapping and beheading business. He wasn't an American. He had a pedigree of lefty, anti-war reporter. And he fell in with a (more or less) kind-hearted bunch who were just doing their job as national resistance fighters.
And the SS were just a bunch of guys doing their jobs, who by 1945 were getting out of the Extermination and Genocide business. Al Capone was just a businessman who was getting out of the Murder and Extortion business. Kind-hearted guys, the lot of them. Real softies, just doing their jobs.


I have a lot of respect for the author, Christopher Allbritton, and am disappointed that he's written this stuff.

So the next time you hear a report from a journalist in Iraq, ponder on whether they're telling it like it is, or adding to their credentials should they get kidnapped.

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