America’s Double Standard: The Liberation of Journalists Laura Ling & Euna Lee vs. Ibrahim Jassam
All that’s missing is the hero’s welcome: that ubiquitous twenty-four/seven media circus that accompanies every Big Story on the latest media darling (heroes, victims, pop stars and nutwings alike) to capture the American fancy. No doubt, every network is clamouring to be among the first to claim an Exclusive Interview with Laura Ling or Euna Lee (or with anyone who’s ever known these women, from 1st grade onward). Queues of talking heads have been lined up and put on standby. No doubt, the two freed journalists’ homes have already become backstage lots for the paparazzi, some being drawn from their previous posts at the gates of Neverland.
Freedom-loving Americans everywhere are poised with flags in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to roll out their teary-eyed patriotic rhetoric: By golly, here in America, we know a thing or two about freedom! Not like these godless countries that imprison innocent people and throw away the key!
It is, of course, an occasion for celebration anytime a wrongfully imprisoned human being is released. Today, Euna Lee and Laura Ling know this firsthand. And they surely feel a great debt of gratitude to Bill Clinton for serving as ambassador to their liberation — which gives these women a unique voice for the cause of falsely imprisoned journalists everywhere. They could do this; they could use their voices. After all, they have the media’s ear — but only for a moment, because it’s only a matter of time before they are usurped by the next media darling. Laura Ling and Euna Lee can use their voices to deliver this most powerful message: silencing the voice of even one journalist anywhere silences the voice of truth everywhere.
The question is, will they do this? Or will they succumb to the lure of fame — to the whirlwind of the media frenzy, the magazine covers and book deals, so that they can tell us exactly what we already know? Namely, that oppressive regimes routinely silence journalists — whether through intimidation, imprisonment or death — specifically to keep people from knowning the truth.
Should Euna Lee and Laura Ling choose the path of right — which is to serve as ambassadors to liberate journalists around the world who are currently being held in captivity by oppressive regimes — I have a suggestion for their first assignment: go to bat for Ibrahim Jassam. Tell the world about how this Reuters photographer has been falsely imprisoned for nearly a year now, held without formal charges, without even a semblance of due process.
Tell the world about how, on September 1, 2008, Ibrahim Jassam’s home was stormed in the middle of the night by men with dogs, who broke down his door — barking orders and terrifying the grandparents, children and grandchildren inside. Tell them how Ibrahim Jassam was taken into custody and thrown into jail, without charges. Tell the world about Ibrahim Jassam, even if it means poking a sharp flag-stick in the eye of your liberators. Tell the world that the United States — with the approval of both the Bush and Obama Administrations — used imprisonment to silence the voice of a journalist in Iraq. And while you’re at it, maybe you can tell the stories about the others. Because Ibrahim Jassam is not the only voice to be silenced in Iraq.
Iraq has remained in 2008 the most dangerous country [in the world], with 15 deaths since January. This is, however, significantly lower than the 50 journalists killed in 2007 (a drop of 70% in the number of victims) and the 48 killed in 2006. Since the beginning of the war in March 2003, at least 265 journalists have perished in this country. — from the Press Emblem Campaign, Geneva report, released in December 2008: 95 Journists Killed in One Year in 32 Countries
A media watchdog group [the Committee to Protect Journalists] said it has urged President Barack Obama to end the US military’s practice of detaining journalists without charges and asked for a full investigation into killings of journalists by US military forces. . . . Officials with the New York-based group took the United States to task, saying the detention of journalists without trial by US authorities in such countries as Iraq has reduced America’s standing in the world and emboldened other countries to do the same. . . . [Wall St. Journal editor] Paul Steiger noted in [the letter to Obama] that 14 journalists have been held without due process for long periods in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Sixteen journalists have been killed by US fire in Iraq, he said. “We don’t believe that these are deliberate attacks, but they have not been adequately investigated,” Simon said. — excerpted from an Associated Press report published in the New Zealand Herald, February 11, 2009
Granted, using your voices to reveal these ugly truths would be a real buzz-kill to the media frenzy surrounding your release from North Korea. But it’s the right thing to do. And someone needs to do it. If not you, then who?
Obama should follow Iran’s example and release Ibrahim Jassam. But, in the absence of outcry and protest from other journalists, Obama has little to lose by ignoring Jassam’s case.— excerpt from Jeremy Scahill’s May 2009 piece, Iran Freed Saberi; When Will US Free Jassam?
The question is, will you do it? Will do everything in your power to free Ibrahim Jassam? And, if you choose not to, will it be because you prefer the path of fame and fortune? Or because (be truthful now) you are afraid of the consequences — even as the worst you will likely suffer here on American soil is obscurity?
Truth is, it’s become clear that no U.S. president, former or current, has any intention of taking a stand against the false imprisonment of our own. That role is, and always has been, carried by the media — by journalists like yourselves. The media rose to your cause, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. To what cause will you now choose to rise? To uphold the integrity of your profession? Or to become, much like the paparazzi covering your story, a cheap and gaudy farce — mere clowns, masquerading as journalists?
Ibrahim Jassam’s brother, Walid, visited him recently in Camp Bucca, the desolate, tented U.S. prison camp in the desert in southern Iraq, and found him close to breaking point.
“He used to be handsome, but now he’s pale and he’s tired,” said Walid, who insists his brother had no contacts with insurgents. “Every now and then while we were talking, he would start crying. He was begging me, ‘please do something to get me out of here. I don’t know what is the charge against me.”
“I told him we already tried everything.”
— excerpted from from the May 24, 2009 Los Angeles Times article, U.S holds journalist without charges in Iraq: Ibrahim Jassam is the latest journalist the U.S. has arrested and not presented evidence against. A media group notes such actions hurt U.S. standing when it speaks for press freedom and rule of law.
Mantis Katz for the canarypapers
For more reading:
NPR: July 20, 2009 U.S. Military Holds Iraqi Journalist Without Charge
Salon: May 11, 2009 Roxana Saberi’s plight and American media propaganda
New York Times February 2008 When We Torture (by Nicholas D. Kristof) The most famous journalist you may never have heard of is Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who is on a hunger strike to protest abuse during more than six years in a Kafkaesque prison system….
The New York Times May 1, 2008 Sami al-Hajj Reported Freed (by Nicholas D. Kristof) I’ve heard that Sami al-Hajj, a journalist who has been held — and mistreated — for six years in Guantanamo is now in a plane en route back to his native Sudan. His plane is supposed to arrive this evening.
The Independent UK: September 25, 2008 Six years in Guantanamo: Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman, was beaten, abused and humiliated in the name of the war on terror. He tells our correspondent about his struggle to rebuild a shattered life….
Glen Greenwald: October 2006 Unclaimed Territory What the Bilal Hussein detention reveals about the Bush administration: Bilal Hussein is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer who was detained by the U.S. military in Iraq back in April — almost six months ago. Along with 14,000 other people around the world (at least), he continues to remain in U.S. custody without being charged with any crime….
American Journalism Review: January 2007 Behind Bars The story of Pulitzer Prize winning AP photographer, Bilan Hussein, who was ultimately held for two years, without charges, by U.S. forces.
Associated Press: April 16, 2008 AP Photographer Bilal Hussein Released (also see the video, below, for the emotional reunion between Bilal Hussein, his family and his AP colleagues, upon his release from prison).