Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Journalists imprisoned by the US

Today I watched "Listening Post" on Al Jazeera TV. I really like Al Jazeera. Often you get documentaries about Asia and Africa and the Middle East, of stories you would never find on mainstream news channels. BBC and CNN and Singapore's Channel Snooze Asia are so homogeneous they've blended into one for me. BBC's saving grace is its documentaries, especially the excellent "Panorama".

"Listening Post" is a program that analyses how the media covers news. Today I was surprised to learn that the US has held journalists without giving them a chance at trials -- much like Iran and the well-publicised case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi. Unlike Saberi, who was released after 4 months in jail, the US held Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj for six years in Guantanamo with no trial.

al-Haj was imprisoned in 2001, during the US's "War on Terror". He was interrogated not about terrorism, but about Al Jazeera. He was finally released in 2007 but not before the interrogators asked him to spy on Al Jazeera. Of course, I was surprised because there was, and is, hardly any coverage of this case, one exception being columns by Nicholas Kristof (who has also written about Cambodia's human trafficking issues.)

Then, there is Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi, whom the US kept in jail for almost two years with no charges, after Hussein's photographs from the Anbar province directly contradicted Bush administration claims about the state of affairs there.

This article notes:
That behavior was far from aberrational for the U.S., as the Committee to Protect Journalists - which led the effort to free Saberi - documented: Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last three years, dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction.

The US is still holding Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam Jassam after he was arrested at his home by US and Iraqi soldiers on 1 September 2008 and taken to the US military at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport. The Iraqi central criminal court ruling dismissing all charges against him and ordering his release was issued on 30 November but the US has refused to comply, says Reporters without Borders.

Of course, part of the reason for Roxana Saberi's heavy coverage in the media is the way she looks. As one journalist said on the Listening Post, you get more coverage if you look Western. Just like super models.

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