Magazine article Artforum International

Dangerous Stories

Magazine article Artforum International

Dangerous Stories

Article excerpt

"Somalia is the only place in the world where I wouldn't go out without a gun," said photojournalist Christopher Morris in a recent interview. That statement marks a definitive break in contemporary journalism: although there are people in South-Central L.A. who wouldn't go out without a gun, and people in Bosnia who wouldn't go out without a gun, there aren't supposed to be journalists anywhere who go out with guns. Journalists are supposed to be neutral noncombatants--carrying a gun would connote a belligerence that they're supposed to be recording rather than perpetrating. Falling into the hands of one side or the other in a conflict could present a real threat to the life of a journalist who is armed, as he or she could easily be accused of favoring "the other side." That journalists can't go out in Somalia without a gun--or in Bosnia without an armored vehicle--reaffirms the current reality of the New World Order: that its birth is attended by a horrific kind of violence that is all-encompassing, that is not just visited upon the putative enemy but on relief workers, doctors, journalists, the people who risk their own lives to minister to or report on those trapped in hell.

Actually, in Somalia it isn't the journalists themselves who carry guns--it's the "bodyguards" they have to hire in order to rent a vehicle. The bodyguards are actually there to protect the vehicles rather than the journalists, Morris points out, because without them, any of those well-armed "thugs" we hear about in news reports would steal the vehicle and rob or even kill the journalists before they could get so far as one ruined city block. So photographers and reporters routinely venture out with AK-47s, grenade launchers, and large-caliber machine guns manned by guys who know how to use them. CBS has reportedly been employing a "small army" of perhaps 80 people to protect its staffers. When U.N. peacekeepers confiscate guns belonging to the bodyguards, the journalists who sometimes have to pay to replace them then go back home and turn in receipts for heavy weaponry as job-related expenses.

All of which makes Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world right now. So perhaps journalists who've been there weren't surprised when four of their colleagues--three still photographers and a Reuters television soundman--were murdered there last July. They had gone to look at the bombed-out headquarters of General Aidid at the bidding of some men who claimed to be the general's representatives.

Survivors of the attack say that the first journalists in the loosely knit five-vehicle convoy that followed a car full of Aidid's men made their way through an angry mob of as many as 1,000 people. Two of the three photographers and a sound and camera team from Reuters television were able to get out of their vehicles and take some pictures. According to a Reutes story by Ralph Nicholson, it was only when they moved toward the house at the bidding of their guides to see "more bodies" that the mob attacked, beating them with stones, pieces of wood, and rifle butts.

The terror they endured can only be imagined. The body of only one of the men--22-year-old Dan Eldon, a Reuters photographer with dual British and American citizenship--was actually found near the site of the assault. The others ended up some distance away. Two Kenyans who worked for Reuters, photographer Hosea Maina, 38, and sound technician Anthony Macharia, 21, were found near the Bakara market, which AP reporter Angus Shaw called "a notorious warren of shanties, stalls and hideouts used by Aidid's men." The body of AP photographer Hansi Krauss, 30, was found three miles from where he was last seen alive, Shaw reported, on October 21 Road, "a stretch of highway roamed by gunmen." Three of them had been beaten to death and one was also shot; the New York Times reported that two of the bodies had been mutilated.

A wounded and badly beaten Reuters television cameraman, Mohammed Shaffi, later recounted a story that was even more harrowing than published reports suggested. …

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