There are few, if any, non-military professions that expose its practitioners to the measure of risk that journalism does. Yet some independent journalists answer the call with the hopes of providing a vital public service in a dangerous world.
Too frequently these reporters are targeted by combatants and pay a heavy price for their service. There is presently a journalist being held in Iraq whose fate is unknown and dire. This reporter’s captors are determined and are known for acts of brutality. The reporter’s family is being kept in the dark and the government is helpless.
I am not referring to Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor correspondent that is being held by a group of Iraqi insurgents. Her abduction has been reported widely by the media in the U.S. and throughout the world. There is another reporter in detention about whom less is known and whose story is not being told. Abdel Amir Yunes Hussein is a journalist who was working for CBS on April 8, 2005, when he was wounded by U.S. soldiers and taken in to custody. They have been holding him ever since on the vague charge that there is “probable cause to believe that (the detainee) poses an imperative threat to coalition forces.”
The U.S. has produced no evidence that Hussein posed any threat, a charge that Hussein denies. But they continue to keep him incarcerated at Abu Ghraib without formal charges or access to an attorney.
And that’s not all. Sami Al-Hajj was working as a camerman for Al-Jazeera in Afghanistan when he was arrested as part of the “war on terror.” He had been shuttled around several prisons and now resides at Guantanamo Bay. He also has baseless charges hanging over his head, but he has been held with no legal rights for over 4 years. Hajj reports that he has undergone torture and that his captors have been trying to coerce him into testifying that there is a link between Al-Jazeera and Al-Qaeda.
The U.S. military has a history of violence against Al-Jazeera. In 2001 they bombed their offices in Kabul, Afghanistan. In 2003 their office in Baghdad was bombed, killing a cameraman. The Pentagon described both incidents as mistakes. And then there is the notorious conversation wherein British Prime Minister Tony Blair had to talk President Bush out of bombing Al-Jazeera offices in Qatar. [As an aside, the British government has charged the reporter who disclosed this conversation, with violating the Official Secrets Act, despite the government’s contention that the conversation never took place].
Reporters Without Borders has released a report on these acts of overt hostility to journalists trying to cover the war on terror. It includes additional examples of reporters who were arrested and released with no charges being brought. It also reveals an antagonistic pattern of behavior on the part of the U.S. toward the press. This report, and the others cited above, suggest that the U.S. is not providing a particularly good role model for the emerging democracy they claim to be building in Iraq.