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Posts Tagged ‘Euna Lee

America’s Double Standard: The Liberation of Journalists Laura Ling & Euna Lee vs. Ibrahim Jassam

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media clownsAll 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.  

Reuters photographer, Ibrahim Jassam, imprisoned without charges since September 2008.

Reuters photographer, Ibrahim Jassam, imprisoned without charges since September 2008.

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?

Abu Miriam, holds a photo of his brother, detained Iraqi journalist Ibrahim Jassam.

Abu Miriam, holds a photo of his brother, detained Iraqi journalist Ibrahim Jassam.

 

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.

 

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Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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 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

2007 photo: A young boy hoping for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

2007 photo: A young boy hoping for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

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). 

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183 Times is the Charm: The Accusation (by Torture) of a Young Mother Named Aafia Siddiqui

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NOTE: The post, below, is from June 2009. To see our most recent post on Aafia Siddiqui, published 1/19/2010, see:  The New American Justice: Aafia Siddiqui’s Trial by Water

HAS IT BEEN ONLY 317 YEARS?

From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended. (“An Account of Events in Salem,” from the University of Missouri — Kansas City website)

The hunt was characterized by unrestrained torture and and an obsession with getting tortured witches to name other witches. (from Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia, by William E. Burns)

"Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

"The Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

By now, most Americans — having heard the word “waterboarding” at least 183 times over the past month — seem to have grown immune to the visceral horrors attending to that particular techinque that the International Red Cross terms “suffocation by drowning.” We’ve surely grown immune to human suffering. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have reduced the topic of torture to a mere parlor game — an exercise in sophistry — as the left and the right mentally wrestle with questions whose answers have been known for centuries: Is waterboarding torture? Does torture ‘work’?

[Click here to read the rest of this introduction on U.S. policy and torture. Or just skip the intro entirely, and keep reading onward, into the stories of several individuals (with particular focus on Aafia Siddiqui) who have been falsely arrested, illegally imprisoned, “disappeared,” subjected to extraordinarily rendition and/or tortured over the past 8 years — and counting.]

An American Story

Imagine this: You are a 41 year-old man, a U.S. citizen, born in Kansas, an Army veteran, married with three children, practicing family law in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon; you pay your taxes on time, have never had a brush with the law. You are the quintessential “average American citizen.” Imagine, then, your surprise when the FBI descends on your home and fingers you as the mastermind of the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people and injured over 2000. Your name is Brandon Mayfield, and it’s official: You have just been arrested as the mastermind in an international terrorist plot.

“But I haven’t left the country in over 10 years!” you protest. “And I’ve never even been to Spain! How could this happen?”

Turns out it was your fingerprint. The FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) identified your fingerprint as a possible match to the one found on a plastic bag near the Madrid bombing. The match was then verified in quadruplicate by FBI fingerprint experts, which lent full credibility to the claim in their affidavit: “….the FBI lab stands by their conclusion of a 100 percent positive identification.” It was the fingerprint, see.

‘Lucky’ for you, your incarceration lasted only 2 weeks. The Spanish police identified the real mastermind (some guy from Algeria), prompting the FBI to dismiss the charges against you. In return, you file a a civil-rights lawsuit against the U.S. government. Herein, more facts emerge. Turns out, the Spanish police had already rejected the FBI’s identification of your fingerprint — twenty-three days before your arrest — as “conclusively negative.” Perhaps that would have been the end of that, if not for the smoking gun: you were also a Muslim convert.

Convinced of your guilt, the FBI spent those twenty-three days doggedly pursuing a case against you, with an intensity that the Spanish Police found perplexing. As one commissioner said, “It seemed as though they [the FBI] had something against him, and they wanted to involve us.” Lacking probable cause for search and seizure, the FBI turned to the nifty new provisions in the Patriot Act, which allowed them to entirely sidestep your Fourth Amendment rights, via “sneak and peak” warrants.

Turns out, you and your wife hadn’t been imagining things. Your door lock had been tampered; someone had been in your home. You were being watched. It was the FBI who, in your absence, snuck into your home, your office, and even the family farm in Kansas,“surreptitiously, photographing papers, downloading hard drives, and planting listening devices.”

But you were ‘lucky.’ You had, at your disposal, due process — stuff like habeas corpus, and an attorney to represent you in a U.S. court of law. Your case was fairly clear-cut, too. That is, once the facts were allowed to see the light of day. In the end, the FBI aplogized and you were awarded a $2 million settlement. And in 2007, a federal judge ruled that those nifty Patriot Act provisions used by the FBI to sneak into your home actually violated the U.S. Constitution.

2891436BG002_Ottawa_CitizenNow imagine that you are a 34-year old man — married, a father, a Canadian citizen for 17 years, Syrian-born. And, oh, a muslim. Imagine yourself going on vacation with your family to Tunisia in 2002 and, upon your return flight home to Canada, passing through the JFK airport in New York City. Here, you are detained in solitary confinement and interrogated for 12 days, then shackled and flown to Syria, where you are imprisoned inside a coffin-sized underground cell for 10 months + 10 days, being subjected throughout this time to beatings and torture sessions to extract information which the U.S. government is certain you own.

While you initially refuse to admit to something you didn’t do, the torture finally becomes so unbearable, that you will say anything to make it stop — up to and including making false confessions, admitting guilt to whatever terrorist acts your torturers accuse you. Your name is Maher Arar and — even as you are ultimately determined to be 100% innocent — your case is not as clear cut as Brandon Mayfield’s. You are, after all, a Canadian citizen. And, oh, a muslim of Arab descent.

Still, the facts of your case do eventually see the light of day. The Canadian government launches a Commission of Inquiry into your case and, in 2006 (three years after your release from your extraordinary rendition to Syria), you are cleared of all accusations. The Canadian government issues an official apology, and you are awarded a settlement of $10.5 million Canadian dollars. For their part, however, the U.S. government and the FBI refuse to extend an apology, official or otherwise (even as there were a few notable lawmakers of integrity on Capitol Hill who did issue personal apologies on behalf of the U.S. government).

[see also: Patrick Leahy’s interrogation of Gonzales on the Maher Arar case here, and the 1-1/2 hour video of the U.S. Congressional hearing on Maher Arar’s case here].

Seeking to clear your name, you file a lawsuit against the U.S. government for violating your civil rights. But the Bush Administration refuses to allow your case to come to trial, for reasons of “national security.” To this day, you are still on the U.S. terrorist watch list and are forbidden to enter the country.

The likelihood of your case going to trial in the U.S. is slim, as the Obama Administration has, so far, aligned itself with the Bush Administration, — having recently used the “state secrets” argument to deny trials to 5 other Bush Administration victims who were similarly flown to other countries to be tortured. According to Obama, the Bush Administration was right: allowing these innocent victims a trial could threaten national security.

Ibrahim JassamNow imagine this: You are a 31-year old man, an accredited freelance cameraman and photographer, working for Reuters in Iraq. On September 1, 2008,  U.S. forces, accompanied by dogs, storm your home in the middle of the night — breaking down your door, barking orders and terrifying the grandparents, children and grandchildren inside. You are taken into custody and thrown into jail, without charges. Three months pass. Still, no formal charges, no evidence, no due process.

In a stroke of democracy, the Iraqi central criminal court orders your release, for lack of evidence. The U.S. bars your release, however, saying you are a threat to Iraq security and stability. The protests of your family, of Reuters and international human rights and media rights groups fall on deaf ears. More months pass. To this day, you are still in jail, without charges. Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and you are but one of  dozens of  journalists imprisoned — without charges — under the Bush Administration.

You are, so far, luckier than some. According to Reporters Without Borders,  hundreds of journalists have been killed in Iraq, with many more forced into exile, imprisoned or simply disappeared. Too, some have been imprisoned for much longer than you. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Bilal Hussein, for instance, was imprisoned for two years. Al Jazeera journalist, Sami al-Haj was imprisoned for over 7 years, with 6-1/2 of these years spent at Guantanamo, where America sends “the worst of the worst.”

A young boy hopes for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

2007 photo: A young boy hoping for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

[Here it must be said that Sami al-Haj’s story, alone, is evidence enough that our leaders and media should give pause to the Bush Administration’s “intelligence” that has effectively colored the entire population of 240 Guantanamo detainees — including those who have been long-pronounced innocent, but also those whose guilt was cemented under confessions extracted through torture — as a mix of terrorists and men so dangerous that they cannot safely be released anywhere on the planet Earth, much less allowed fair trials that would, in all likelihood, clear the names of some of these prisoners, the only “threat to national security” being that their trials would reveal the extent of the U.S. government’s tyranny.]

(video, above) Associated Press report (39 seconds long) on Bilal Hussein’s release in 2008, with footage of his reunion with his AP colleagues and his family

Both Bilal Hussein and Sami al-Haj were released  in 2008. Neither was ever charged with a crime, even as their incarcerations were justified by a series of shifting accusations, based on top secret evidence that, for national security reasons, could not be divulged: Bilal Hussein (see AP timeline of his case here) was accused, at one point, of being caught in possession of bomb-making materials, while Sami al-Haj was alternately accused of videotaping Osama bin Laden, sending money to suspicious Muslim charities, and arranging for the transport of a Stinger anti-aircraft system from Afghanistan to Chechnya. Despite these ludicrous accusations, in appears that these journalists were guilty of nothing more than practicing journalism.

Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and you’ve been in jail for 9 months, without charges. Your misfortune is that you are being detained by the U.S. government. Had you been detained by, say, Iran you would have been afforded at least some semblance of due process — formal charges, an attorney, a trial, an appeals process. Had you been detained by, say, North Korea, your injustice would be given a voice in the U.S. media. Had you been arrested by anyone but the American government, you would be a poster child, of sorts, for media suppression under tyrannical regimes.

Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and your story is almost, but not quite, unknown in America. According to your family, which has been allowed only a handful of visits, you used to be handsome. “But now he’s pale and he’s tired,” says your brother, describing one of these visits: “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.”

Now imagine this: You are a 31-year old mother of three; you are also an MIT graduate with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. [In hindsight, there is cruel irony to the topic of your dissertation, in which you explored how people learn — specifically, the interaction between visual memory and perception. In your abstract, you wrote, “Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”] . It is late March of 2003. Just a few days earlier, the U.S. went to war in Iraq and — as is now known — the CIA, the FBI and the Bush Administration at large were working around the clock to put together the intelligence necessary to justifying this war.

Up until a year earlier, you’d spent 12 years living in America as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan. You’d originally moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend college and be nearer your sister and brother — a Harvard-trained neurologist and a Houston architect, respectively. While living in the U.S., you married a medical student in Boston, who went on to work as an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You gave birth to 2 children. Neighbors and friends described you as a devoted mother, spending the bulk of your time in the everyday routines of raising your children, overseeing play groups with their friends. You were also a devout Muslim and donated both time and money to charitable causes and missionary work to help less fortunate Muslims.

Because contributing to Muslim charities constituted a red flag in post-9-11 American, the FBI was watching you and had been since the fall of 2001. According to U.S. intelligence sources, your husband purchased night goggles and body armor off the internet in 2001, which he claimed were intended for big game hunting. Because of these purchases, you, yourself, were brought in for questioning by U.S. officials.  Although you were released after questioning, this interrogation served as further evidence that the post-9-11 hostility toward Muslims was escalating. This factored into your decision to return to Pakistan — a debate that had already caused considerable strain in your marriage: you you wanted to raise your children in America, while your husband wanted to raise them in Pakistan. In 2002 — with your marriage now on the rocks — you and your husband returned to Pakistan.

By March of 2003, you’d been estranged from your husband for over 7 months, during which time you lived with your mother and gave birth to your third child, who was now 6 months old. Three months earlier, in December 2002, you’d returned to the United States to apply for jobs in the Baltimore area, where your sister was now working at Sinai Hospital. After making several applications — and interviewing with both Johns Hopkins and SUNY — you opened a post office box to receive replies from prospective employers, then returned to your children and your mother in Pakistan.

Now imagine that the FBI believes the only reason you opened that post office box was to receive communications as part of an al Qaeda plot to blow up gas stations and fuel tanks in the Baltimore area. Imagine, too, that during the course of the FBI’s 18-month surveillance of you and your husband, they discovered that, during the summer of 2001, one of your former Muslim acquaintances from Boston had been wired $20,000 from Saudi Arabia (a sum which, according to the explanation given by a Saudi official to the Boston Globe, was sent to pay for medical treatment for the man’s wife).  Lastly, imagine that, the FBI believes that this $20,000 is connected to a purported diamond smuggling trip, made by a mysterious woman in the summer of 2001, to fund al Qaeda operations. According to the FBI, that mystery woman is you.

To this story add water, then quickly spin

It is now March 28, 2003. Just a week earlier, on March 20th, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Several weeks earlier, on March 1st, the alleged architect of 9-11,  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured. It seems that — during one of his 183 waterboard interrogation sessions — your name came up.

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