Fisky and sour.

Matthew X profrv at
Thu May 13 05:59:00 PDT 1999

It is not a reporter’s job to provide the evidence for a war crimes trial
By Robert Fisk

BEIRUT, 24 August — Three Western war crimes investigators turned up to see 
me in Beirut last week. No, they didn’t come to talk about the Bosnian war. 
They wanted to know about torture at Israel’s notorious Khiam jail in 
southern Lebanon, about beatings and imprisonment in cupboard-size cells 
and electrodes applied to the toes and penises of inmates under interrogation.
Most of the torturers were Lebanese members of Israel’s proxy “South 
Lebanon Army” militia, and they performed their vile work for the Israelis 
— on women as well as men — from the late seventies until Israel’s 
withdrawal in 2000: Almost a quarter of a century of torture. Khiam prison 
is still there, open to the public, a living testament to brutality and 
Israeli shame.
The problem is that Israel is now trying to dump its Lebanese torturers on 
Western countries. Sweden, Canada, Norway, France, Germany and other 
nations are being asked to give citizenship to these repulsive men in the 
interests of “peace” — and also because the Israeli government would prefer 
they left Israel.
The three investigators — two cops and a Justice Ministry official — had 
come to Beirut to make sure that their government wasn’t about to give 
citizenship to Israel’s war criminals. And they knew what they were talking 
about. We both knew that one former torturer was living in Sweden with his 
two sons, and that another had opened two restaurants in America.
And I was happy to chat to them. But chatting is one thing. Testifying is 
quite another. I make this point because the BBC told me last week that 
their Belgrade correspondent, Jacky Rowland, was planning to testify 
against Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague war crimes tribunal. I was invited 
this week to participate in a BBC radio interview with yet another BBC man 
who had given evidence at The Hague, Dan Damon.
And, in fact, I received a phone call from one of The Hague investigators a 
few weeks ago, wanting to know if I had accompanied a European Union 
delegation to a Bosnian concentration camp in 1982. I had traveled with the 
EU men to two camps — not the one that The Hague investigator was 
interested in. But this was not the first call I’ve had from The Hague and 
I pointed out this time — as I had before — that I didn’t believe 
journalists should be policemen. My articles could be used by anyone at The 
Hague and I was more than ready to sign a letter to the effect that they 
were accurate. But that was all.
So when Dan Damon of the BBC argued on air this week that the written or 
spoken report might not be “believed” if a reporter wasn’t ready to testify 
in a court, I was a bit taken aback. In many cases, The Hague has commenced 
proceedings against war criminals on the basis of newspaper articles and 
television programs. No one, so far as I know, has ever questioned our 
reports on Serbian, Croatian — and, yes, Muslim Bosnian — war crimes. In 
fact, I suspect Dan’s argument was a bit of a smokescreen to cover his own 
concern about the boundaries of journalism.
I know, of course, how the arguments go. I may be a journalist, says the 
reporter as he or she turns up to the court, but I am also a human being. A 
time must come when a journalist’s rules are outweighed by moral 
conscience. I don’t like this argument. Firstly, because the implication is 
that journalists who don’t intend to testify are not human beings; and 
secondly, because it suggests that reporters in general don’t normally work 
with a moral conscience. Jonathan Randal, who worked for The Washington 
Post in Bosnia and has told The Hague tribunal that he will not testify 
against a Serb defendant, understands this all too well.
What worries me, though, is that journalism includes an element of 
masquerade if we cover wars as reporters and then participate in the 
prosecution of the bad guys at the request of a court whose writ extends 
only to those war crimes which it sees fit — or which the West sees fit — 
to investigate. Jacky Rowland of the BBC, for example, did not — while 
reporting the Balkan atrocities — turn up on Serbian assignments with the 
words: “I’m from the BBC and — if your lot lose — I’m ready to help in your 
prosecution”. Indeed, if she had said that, she wouldn’t have had the 
chance to undertake many more reporting assignments. Nor would any of us. 
But — if it’s now going to be the habit for BBC reporters to turn up as 
prosecution witnesses at The Hague — heaven spare any of us in the future.
Now I have nothing against Jacky Rowland’s reports. And if she feels her 
testimony is vital to convicting Milosevic, that’s up to her. But this 
story has another side. For Ms Rowland is not planning to attend The Hague 
court because she has chosen to give evidence against the former Serb 
leader. She is traveling to The Hague because the Western powers have 
decided that she should be permitted to testify against Milosevic — though 
not, of course, against alleged war criminals of equal awfulness in other 
parts of the world.
Let me explain. Over 26 years, I’ve seen many war crimes in the Middle 
East. I was at the Sabra and Chatila camps the same year when Israel’s 
Phalangist thugs were butchering 1,700 Palestinian civilians. I was with 
Iranian soldiers when Iraqi troops fired gas shells into them. I was in 
Algeria after the throat-slitting bloodbath of Bentalha, for which Algerian 
soldiers have since been implicated.
And I believe that those responsible for these atrocities should be put 
before a court. Ariel Sharon — held “personally responsible” by his own 
country’s inquiry into Sabra and Chatila — is now the prime minister of 
Israel. The Iraqi Army is safe from prosecution — indeed, we are inviting 
it to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
So if any reporter wants to testify against the above gentlemen, they can 
forget it. Ms. Rowland will not be invited to put Sharon behind bars. In 
fact, Belgium has just done its best to stop the survivors of Sabra and 
Chatila from ever testifying against Sharon in Brussels.
And there you have it in a nutshell. We journalists are not being asked to 
testify in the interests of international justice. Ms. Rowland is going to 
testify against a criminal whom we now wish to try; and we should remember 
that back in 1995, when we needed Milosevic to sign the Dayton agreement, 
Ms. Rowland was not wanted by The Hague or anyone else.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m always ready to meet war crimes investigators. 
I admire most of those I have met. And if we ever have an international 
court to try all the villains, I might change my mind. But until then, a 
reporter’s job does not include joining the prosecution. We are witnesses 
and we write our testimony and we name, if we can, the bad guys. Then it is 
for the world to act. Not us. (The Independent)

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