Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Freed NYT Reporter Reminds Us of Dangers of Real Journalism

Stephen Farrell with Manadi in a Hospital

Yet it havn't either past two days from relese of Mr Parwiz Kambakhsh from prison, another tragedy has accured in Afghanistan which took the life of Afghan journalist in northern Afghanistan.

British commandos freed a New York Times reporter in an early Wednesday raid on a Taliban hide-out in northern Afghanistan. At least five people were killed in the rescue, including the journalist's Afghan translator who was Journalism student in Germany is killed too, one of the troops, officials said.
Reporter Stephen Farrell was taken hostage Saturday along with his Afghan journalist in the northern province of Kunduz when they went to cover a German-ordered airstrike of two hijacked fuel tankers. The bombing, carried out by U.S. jets, caused a number of civilian casualties.
Gunfire rang out from multiple sides during the rescue, and a British service member and Farrell's Afghan translator journalist, Sultan Munadi, 34, were killed. Farrell was unhurt.
A British defense official said he couldn't rule out the possibility Munadi was killed by British gunfire. The family buried Munadi's body late Wednesday without having the body examined to help determine if British bullets or Taliban gunfire killed him.
A Taliban commander in the house where the raid took place, the owner of the house and a woman were also among the dead, said Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor.
Afghan officials over the weekend said about 70 people died when U.S. jets dropped two bombs on the tankers, igniting them in a massive explosion. There were reports that villagers who had come to collect fuel from the tankers were among the dead, and Farrell wanted to interview villagers.
The Times reported that while Farrell and Munadi were talking to Afghans near the site of the bombing, an old man approached them and warned them to leave. Soon after, gunshots rang out and people shouted that the Taliban were approaching.
Police had warned reporters who traveled to the capital of Kunduz to cover the tanker strike that the village in question was controlled by the Taliban, and it would be dangerous to go there.
The Times kept the kidnappings quiet out of concern for the men's safety, and other media outlets, including The Associated Press, did not report the abductions following a request from the Times.
A story posted on the Times' Web site quoted Farrell as saying he had been "extracted" by a commando raid carried out by "a lot of soldiers" in a firefight.
British special forces dropped from helicopters early Wednesday onto the house where the two were being kept, and a gunbattle broke out, Yowar said.
Farrell, 46, a dual Irish-British citizen, told the Times that he saw Munadi step forward shouting "Journalist! Journalist!" but he then fell in a volley of bullets. Farrell said he did not know if the shots came from militants or the rescuing forces.
"I dived in a ditch," said Farrell. Moments later, he said he heard British voices and shouted, "British hostage!" The British voices told him to come over. As he did, Farrell said he saw Munadi.
"He was lying in the same position as he fell," Farrell told the Times. "That's all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He's dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped."
A British defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the incident, said he was not able to rule out the possibility that Munadi was killed by soldiers carrying out the rescue mission amid a fierce firefight with the journalists' captors.
"All reports of civilian fatalities are always investigated thoroughly," Britain's defense ministry said in a statement.
A top NATO and U.S. military spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said he did not know if the military would also investigate which side fired the bullets.
New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said he had understood from the military that they did not intend to conduct a raid unless the situation turned "particularly menacing, and they had actionable intelligence and a high probability of success."
Keller said he doesn't know what triggered the decision to carry out the raid, but that Farrell told him the situation had turned "menacing." Keller said it was possible the militants may have planned to move the hostages and said he would not second guess the military's decision to take action.
A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jessica Barry, said the group had been "in contact with different parties" to urge for the journalists' unconditional release.
The British prime minister said the operation was carried out after "extensive planning and consideration" and that those involved knew the high risks they faced. Brown called the mission "breathtaking heroism."
"As we all know, and as last night once again demonstrated, our armed forces have the skill and courage to act. They are truly the finest among us, and all of us in Britain pay tribute to them, and to the families and communities who sustain them in their awesome responsibilities," Brown said.
Several Western reporters have been kidnapped in Afghanistan in the last several years, mostly while traveling in dangerous districts but also in and around Kabul. Kidnappings by the Taliban are often for ideological reasons, though kidnappings by criminals are done for ransom payments.
At least 16 Afghan and foreign journalists have been kidnapped in Afghanistan since January 2002, according to Reporters Without Borders. Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung and a Dutch reporter were kidnapped separately in or near Kabul last fall. Ransom was demanded in both cases and both were released within a month.
An American working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was abducted in August 2008 and held near Kabul for two months before being freed by U.S. Special Forces. The troops staged a nighttime raid on the captors' hideaway in October, the first known hostage rescue by American forces in Afghanistan.
Munadi was first employed by The New York Times in 2002, according to his colleagues. He left the company a few years later to work for a local radio station.
He was in Afghanistan on vacation from a master's program in Germany when he agreed to accompany Farrell to Kunduz on a freelance basis. He was married and had two young sons.
In a New York Times Web blog this month, Munadi wrote that he would never leave Afghanistan permanently and that "being a journalist is not enough; it will not solve the problems of Afghanistan. I want to work for the education of the country, because the majority of people are illiterate."
"And if I leave this country, if other people like me leave this country, who will come to Afghanistan?" he wrote.
Farrell joined the Times in 2007 in Baghdad. He has covered both the Afghan and Iraq conflicts for the paper.
He was briefly held hostage with an American journalist traveling in Iraq in 2004, when he was working for The Times of London. Militants questioned them for about seven hours before letting them go, he said afterward.
Farrell was the second Times journalist to be kidnapped in Afghanistan in a year.
In June, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Rohde and his Afghan colleague Tahir Ludin escaped from their Taliban captors in northwestern Pakistan. They had been abducted Nov. 10 south of Kabul and were moved across the border.
Keller said that reporters in the field are allowed a great deal of leeway, and that they are the best ones to judge the level of risk but that the Times would carry out a security review after the latest abduction.
Associated Press reporters Heidi Vogt in Kabul, David Stringer in London and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.

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