How to Honor Pearl
Massing, Michael, The Nation
Watching the investigation into the abduction of Daniel Pearl, I felt uneasy about the endless public statements put out by Pakistani authorities. They seemed hopelessly confusing and contradictory: Pearl's body had just been found, we were told one day; he was about to be freed, we heard on another. In addition to conveying ineptitude, this compulsive sharing of information seemed entirely counterproductive. Wasn't it helping the kidnappers?
The Pakistanis' profligacy with information reflected the extraordinary pressure they were under--from the US government as well as the international press. The urgent demands that the Pakistani government solve the case, and President Musharraf's eagerness to please Washington, no doubt contributed to the apparent sloppiness of the investigation. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration deserves credit for making the case a high priority. Its efforts seem far preferable to the "quiet diplomacy" pursued by the Reagan Administration in the case of the hostages held in Lebanon (including AP correspondent Terry Anderson)--a policy that allowed them to languish in horrible isolation for years.
But the Administration's admirable stance in the Pearl case contrasts sharply with its general dealings with the press since September 11. Over and over, the Administration has shown its hostility toward, and contempt for, the type of reporting Pearl was doing in Karachi. In Washington, the Pentagon has imposed stringent controls on the flow of information available to reporters, while in Afghanistan it has strictly limited their access to US military personnel. In one chilling incident, a US serviceman threatened to shoot Washington Post reporter Doug Struck for being too inquisitive.
Then there's the litany of Administration efforts to suppress news: Condoleezza Rice's urging the networks not to run the interviews with Osama bin Laden; the State Department's demand that Voice of America not air an interview with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar; and Colin Powell's suggestion to the Emir of Qatar that he rein in the Al-Jazeera satellite station.
Such actions are watched closely around the world. In Zimbabwe, for instance, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, seeking to justify his government's attacks on its journalists, said, "If the most celebrated democracies in the world won't allow their national interests to be tampered with, we will not allow it too." He went on to denounce his country's independent journalists as "terrorists," a label used to justify the use of violence and torture against them. …