We Kill Journalists: Part Two in an Unfortunately Continuing Series

Article excerpt

In the February 3, 2005, Art Voice I wrote a piece about what Newsweek calls "The Salvador Option," referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's stated intent to train and employ Salvadoran style death squads to hunt down and kill or "disappear" suspected Iraqi resistance fighters and their alleged supporters. Such wholesale execution of political opponents had resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths in El Salvador during Ronald Reagan's reign in the White House.

Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee also covered this story. Unlike myself, working from the comfort of the United States and doing my research online, Salihee was on the ground in Iraq compiling primary data in the form of damning evidence about extra-judicial killings. On June 27, 2005, Knight Ridder published Salihee's preliminary findings. Working less than a week, Salihee and another Knight Ridder journalist turned up over thirty cases of suspected extra-judicial executions by U.S.-backed Iraqi death squads.

In the article, Salihee and his coauthor document how victims show up at the morgue blindfolded, with their hands tied or cuffed behind their backs. Most showed signs of Abu Ghraib style torture. Many were last seen in police custody. They were usually killed with a single shot to the head.

On June 24, while Salihee's article was in press, a U.S. military sniper killed him, also with a single shot to the head. According to Knight Ridder, it was his day off. He was on his way to his neighborhood gas station to fuel up before a family trip to a swimming pool when he encountered a makeshift U.S. checkpoint unexpectedly set up blocks from his home. Witnesses say he was shot without warning and for no apparent reason.

For the record, Knight Ridder says, "There's no reason to think that the shooting had anything to do with his reporting work." Such disclaimers seem to be a de facto mandate these days. When an investigative reporter is shot dead by a member of an organization he or she is investigating, there's a clear rationale for suspicion.

In "Truth, Death and Journalism: We Kill Journalists, Don't We?" in the May-June 2005 Humanist, I discussed CNN Chief News Executive Eason Jordan's retracted comment about U.S. forces in Iraq targeting journalists. Eason's comment cost him his job--and no genuflecting to the god of disclaimers and apologies could save it. He resigned. The problem was that he was right. I also looked at the Reporters Without Borders investigation into the deaths of two journalists killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad, and at other subsequently confirmed killings of journalists by U. …