Fisky and sour.
profrv at nex.net.au
Thu May 13 05:59:00 PDT 1999
It is not a reporters 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 didnt come to talk about the Bosnian war.
They wanted to know about torture at Israels 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 Israels 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 Israels
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
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 wasnt about to give
citizenship to Israels 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 Ive had from The Hague and
I pointed out this time as I had before that I didnt 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 wasnt 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 Dans 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 journalists rules are outweighed by moral
conscience. I dont like this argument. Firstly, because the implication is
that journalists who dont intend to testify are not human beings; and
secondly, because it suggests that reporters in general dont 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: Im from the BBC and if your lot lose Im ready to help in your
prosecution. Indeed, if she had said that, she wouldnt have had the
chance to undertake many more reporting assignments. Nor would any of us.
But if its 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 Rowlands reports. And if she feels her
testimony is vital to convicting Milosevic, thats 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, Ive seen many war crimes in the Middle
East. I was at the Sabra and Chatila camps the same year when Israels
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
countrys 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 Im concerned, Im 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
reporters 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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