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Friday, July 18, 2008

WAR ON TERROR: AP Stringer Detained Over Filming of Two Murders, Questions Remain

Journalists are the most despicable people in the world. Read this article to know why!

From The Jawa Report
Two unidentified Afghan Women chat with each other a few minutes before they were executed by Taliban in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, on late Saturday, July 12, 2008.
(AP Photo/Rahmatullah Naikzad)

It looks like our story got some attention in Afghanistan. AP stringer Rahmatullah Naikzad was detained for two days after he filmed the brutal murder of two women by the Taliban accused of prostitution. The incident was first noted by us here and, as Fox News reports (hey, you guys don't know how to link?), "the AP has been following this case closely with some concern," after we raised several questions about Naikzad's relationship with the Taliban.

It's good to see that Naikzad is now helping local Afghan authorities track down those responsible for the murders. However, Naikzad's version of events still raise some serious questions about journalistic ethics.

Naikzad claims he has no connection to the Taliban. And says:

the Taliban issued a press statement calling all media outlets in the province of Ghazni, which has a large Taliban presence, to cover them “carrying out the Shariah” on a few burglars in their custody. Naikzad said he believed the Taliban would be cutting off the limbs of their prisoners, according to strict Islamic law.

Okay, so according to his own version of events Naikzad knew beforehand that the Taliban planned to administer extra judicial punishment on what he presumed were thieves. He also believed that he would be a witness to the cutting off of these alleged thieves hands?

So, Naikzad knows that a crime-- and what probably would be considered a war crime--- is about to be committed by an internationally recognized terrorist group. Further, he knows the location of the terrorists and the location where the war crime is about to be committed.

What does the AP stringer do? Does he call up the local authorities? Does he notify the closest NATO outpost or headquarters? No.

After a member of the Taliban personally called him up and assured Naikzad of his safety if he would come to watch the crimes committed, he then checks with his bosses at the AP:

He said he checked with the Kabul office of the Associated Press, for which he works as a stringer, and then set off around sunset on his motorbike to a village on the outskirts of Ghazni City, only to find that no other journalist was there.

Here is an even more important question about the AP's involvement. The AP is an American company. The organization, according to Naikzad, had prior knowledge about the location of a group of enemies of the US. The organization also had prior knowledge that a crime was about to be committed.

Did the Associated Press notify NATO forces with this information? The article makes no mention of this. What it does imply is that the AP gave Naikzad the green light to be a witness to a war crime.

Do journalists and news corporations have a moral responsibility to try to prevent such crimes? I believe they do. Becoming a journalist does not give one a free pass from the normal moral obligations required of human beings.

We'll return to this later.

After Naikzad met with the Taliban he learned that it was not thieves who were to have their limbs amputated, but women who were to be "executed".

Not so incidentally, Naikzad spent some of these daylight hours between the time that he first meets up with the Taliban and later that night when the two women were murdered snapping photos and making video of the Taliban marching and posing for him. Some of the poses show the Taliban in attack exercises.

If you read the Fox News story they also use the troubling word "execute" to describe the cold blooded murder of two women. That is, they allow the Taliban to choose the words to describe their own heinous crime. This is one of the main objections I raised when I first noted the AP's involvement in the murders.

The use of neutral terminology to describe what is clearly a crime is simply unacceptable. Perhaps "execution style murder" would be the only description other than "murder" which would be apt.

Moral equivocation has been all the rage in our institutions of higher learning since the 1960s, but it is perhaps seen clearest in the way reporters and editors are taught that "ethics" require strict neutrality: even when that neutrality is clearly immoral.

Neutrality between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats are one thing. But neutrality between our country and the enemies we fight is not.

Let's get back to Naikzad's story. As the women are about to be "executed" he claims:

“I told one of the Taliban, ‘These are women, they are harmless. Why would you want to kill them?’ But they didn’t listen to me.”

If true, good for you Naikzad. This is an important piece of context to the story. A journalist with some balls!

But, isn't it troubling that Naikzad went to the meeting with the Taliban fully expecting to film/photograph limb amputations
? Which the phrase, by the way, makes sound quite clinical. I've seen the way the Taliban "amputate" limbs. They don't take their victims to some hospital. They tend to use common knives, there is a great deal of blood, and horrible screaming.

Again, it's even more troubling that the Associated Press sent him.

One of the things we pointed out in our criticism of the AP and of Naikzad was that the organization had been used by the Taliban to produce a propaganda snuff film for them. I claimed that the AP was worse than al Jazeera because at least al Jazeera only played these types of videos while the AP had now been reduced to producing them.

Naikzad, though, claims that the Taliban told him not to video tape the "execution":

He said the Taliban turned him down, but his camera was already rolling and he kept it on when he placed it on the seat of his bike.

It's interesting to note that Fox's reporter seems skeptical of the claim owing to the fact that the video seems to follow the Taliban murderers after they kill the two women. How is it possible that if he had set the camera down on his motorcycle's seat so that the Taliban wouldn't notice he was filming them that the camera seems to follow their movements?

Naikzad claims:

“I was standing near the bike, so my body may have touched the camera,” Naikzad said, explaining the movement of the camera. He stumbled slightly and added, “I myself nudged the camera a little bit.”

Ookay. Right. I guess it's possible if not entirely plausible.

Here's where we get back to the equivocation:

“If I have photographed Taliban casualties, I have also photographed American casualties. I have been balanced in my journalism,” he said.

Again, this raises serious ethical questions about what it means to be "balanced" in war reporting. Especially in a war against enemy combatants who by every measure of the Geneva Conventions are illegal!

So, two main issues remain even after we hear Naikzad's version of events.

1) Do journalists have a moral responsibility that trumps whatever ethical standards they learned in journalism school to try and prevent heinous crimes that puts life or limb in jeopardy? I think yes. And if the AP had prior knowledge that these crimes were about to be committed then they had a moral (and perhaps legal) responsibility to notify those with the power to stop them. In this case probably NATO.

2) Do journalists have an allegiance to their home country in times of war that transcends the normal peace time journalistic ethic of "neutrality"? Again, I think yes. I do not necessarily think that journalists shouldn't try to understand why our enemies do the things they do. But note that they are our enemies, journalists included.

American journalists must recognize that America's enemies are their enemies. The Associated Press is and American company. Their allegiances must be to America.

There are two problems with the Naikzad incident raised by this second question. First, if the Associated Press, an American company, knew the location of enemy combatants it seems that they would have an obligation to report that, does it not?

Second, when American companies hire foreign stringers to do their reporting for them it would seem that they have a responsibility to add a context to the story which clearly distinguishes between our actions and the actions of our enemies. Such a distinction isn't always easy to make. We shoot at the Taliban, they shoot back.

But in the case where the Taliban's version of events is that two women were "executed" for crimes against Sharia law, but where Americans (and might I add the rest of the civilized world) would see the event as murder plain and simple, then clearly the context of the story must reflect American values and not the values of the barbaric enemies we fight.

The one bright spot in this whole thing is that the AP seems to at least be troubled by what happened. A feeling, I'm sorry to say, they seemed not to have after another one of their stringers in Iraq was caught with an al Qaeda operative.