By EASON JORDAN (Eason Jordan is chief news executive
New York Times
ATLANTA-- Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to
Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to
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.
In my opinion, even without chem or bio or nuke
weapons, the atrocities in
Iraq is justification to remove Saddam from power. It was reason enough
with Milosovich and no-one complained.