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CNN Exec: We Witheld News About Iraq


In today's New York Times, a CNN executive explains that CNN (and presumably other networks) withheld news about the horrors of Saddam Hussein's regime, "awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff." The attempt by "Baghdad Bob" to blow up a CNN office is especially interesting.

It is worth reading, and understanding also that CNN and other networks withhold news about conditions in other countries for the same reasons - reporting the truth would get them kicked out, cut off their news sources or get citizens in trouble. Remember this when you read (or do not read) news about Syria, Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Authority and other Middle East countries. Israel has not been very good to unfavorable journalists either.

The text of the article by Eason Jordan of CNN is below. Eason Jordan is chief news executive at CNN.

The News We Kept to Ourselves

TLANTA Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.

For example, in the mid-1990's one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government's ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency's Iraq station chief. CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the world about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have gotten him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk.

Working for a foreign news organization provided Iraqi citizens no protection. The secret police terrorized Iraqis working for international press services who were courageous enough to try to provide accurate reporting. Some vanished, never to be heard from again. Others disappeared and then surfaced later with whispered tales of being hauled off and tortured in unimaginable ways. Obviously, other news organizations were in the same bind we were when it came to reporting on their own workers.

We also had to worry that our reporting might endanger Iraqis not on our payroll. I knew that CNN could not report that Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, told me in 1995 that he intended to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law who had defected and also the man giving them asylum, King Hussein of Jordan. If we had gone with the story, I was sure he would have responded by killing the Iraqi translator who was the only other participant in the meeting. After all, secret police thugs brutalized even senior officials of the Information Ministry, just to keep them in line (one such official has long been missing all his fingernails).

Still, I felt I had a moral obligation to warn Jordan's monarch, and I did so the next day. King Hussein dismissed the threat as a madman's rant. A few months later Uday lured the brothers-in-law back to Baghdad; they were soon killed.

I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me that Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed. One Foreign Ministry officer told me of a colleague who, finding out his brother had been executed by the regime, was forced, as a test of loyalty, to write a letter of congratulations on the act to Saddam Hussein. An aide to Uday once told me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had ripped them out with pliers and told him never to wear dentures, so he would always remember the price to be paid for upsetting his boss. Again, we could not broadcast anything these men said to us.

Last December, when I told Information Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf that we intended to send reporters to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, he warned me they would "suffer the severest possible consequences." CNN went ahead, and in March, Kurdish officials presented us with evidence that they had thwarted an armed attack on our quarters in Erbil. This included videotaped confessions of two men identifying themselves as Iraqi intelligence agents who said their bosses in Baghdad told them the hotel actually housed C.I.A. and Israeli agents. The Kurds offered to let us interview the suspects on camera, but we refused, for fear of endangering our staff in Baghdad.

Then there were the events that were not unreported but that nonetheless still haunt me. A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for "crimes," one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family's home.

I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000054.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 12 comments

I have been shuddering for weeks at stories like this and I know I will shudder more but at least that regime is gone and hopefully a new life can begin.

Posted by Gus Owens @ 04/11/2003 09:18 PM CST

These stories are evidence why this war is not entirely about oil.

Posted by Fred @ 04/12/2003 01:13 AM CST

Why are there any people anywhere in the world that defended this regime? Are their minds totally closed?

Posted by Jim Banks @ 04/14/2003 07:11 PM CST

Ill be back !@#$%^

Posted by Saddam Hussein @ 04/16/2003 12:56 PM CST

you people have failed to ask proper questions at the news briefings ,,, you are worst than communists

Posted by TJevor @ 04/16/2003 12:59 PM CST

This makes me wonder what else news organizations are covering up in the Middle East..I would imagine some of the same 'reasons' for not reporting the truth also exist in such countries as Syria, Saudi Arabia...

Posted by Chaya @ 04/17/2003 01:28 AM CST

I'm waiting to see if our U.S. Republican crusaders will be moving on to rid the Earth of rogue governments everywhere. Central Africa or Southeast Asia, for example. Not likely. Americans won't be risking death for black and asian liberation under Bush.

Oil and Israel are another matter.

Posted by David @ 04/19/2003 08:40 AM CST

I wonder if people like David will remember their comments years from know when our world is a much safer place to live.

Posted by Ryan @ 04/22/2003 01:34 AM CST

I am sad to read such comments by an American Journalist, it seems to me that your lack of integrity is exactly why so few thinking people trust the reports you Air. No one forced you to become journalists, but once you place the the mantle on your shoulders you have a responsibility to report the truth and only the truth.

If You fear for your own safety perhaps you should lay down your tablet and pen and apply for a job at GM where you will be safe and secure.

YOU no longer have the right to judge anyone's motives on any subject. Shame on you CNN. SHAME.

Posted by Jim Taylor @ 04/26/2003 07:47 AM CST

If CNN would dig a hole this deep for themselves to hide the truth...then it is understandable to me why some could/would find a FOX in the Hen House...or was that 'chicken coop' before too long....and this depression could soon become 'The Fox Hole'...and the deeper the hole the better the chance for more dirt to fall back on CNN while their heads remain in the sand. Of course their backsides are quite vulnerable to 'prodding and probing' by others who have deemed that CNN is 'fair game'...especially since CNN doesn't 'game fair' when the truth is discussed. Truly a sad/pathetic moment in 'The News'. 8?(

Posted by FC Mellon @ 04/26/2003 08:06 PM CST

It's certainly unsettling to think that major news sources withhold information purposefully. But does a news journalist's commitment to reporting all they know outweigh someone's right to life without torture? It's not as if the world was unaware of Saddam's brutal ways. Reporting these particular incidents would not have changed what had been confirmed repeatedly. If every news agency reported 100 percent of what they knew and were subsequently kicked out, we would get ONLY the Iraqi official line--something worse than less than 100 percent of the truth.

Posted by Mickey Nutz @ 04/30/2003 02:22 AM CST

some people have said to me that this war is about oil. That we the Americans have taught the Iraqi people some things. We did not teach the cruel things that Saddam has taught them to do for fear of their life. I am happy for the Iraqi freedom and I hope that good will overcome the evil.

Posted by Sally @ 07/01/2003 04:24 AM CST

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