Execution of Daniel Pear causes worldwide disgust

Pearl: London memorial service next week

The name of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal  correspondent slain in Pakistan, is being officially added this week to the glass panelled Journalists’ Memorial in Washington’s Freedom Park.  It brings to 11 the number of journalists who have died covering the Afghan turmoil, and to more than 50 the number killed around the world in the past 12 months.  But the gruesome killing of the 38-year-old newsman has shocked journalists in the US more than any of the others.  It has also prompted a review by many news organisations in the US of how much risk correspondents should take in their coverage of the world’s hot spots.  Ironically, Pearl was a member of a WSJ team which put together a booklet recently on how to avoid taking risks in perilous situations.

Some organisations have already sent memos to their staff in the field. Time Inc has told its correspondents in Pakistan that if they feel endangered to get the first plane out. So far none has done so. And it’s likely to be the same elsewhere.

Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press newsman who was held hostage in the Lebanon for seven years, thinks few reporters will shy from their duty.  Ann Cooper, a former reporter for National Public Radio, who now runs the Committee to Protect Journalists, echoed the view and said: "Daniel Pearl thought he was pursuing a story. It turns out he was the one being pursued."  In fact it is now well believed that his kidnappers had no intention of ever letting him go free. Which has prompted the question here whether the WSJ inadvertently contributed to his kidnapping.

Originally the kidnappers asserted that Pearl was a spy for the CIA, later charging that he was working for the Israeli secret service. And even, as they were about to kill him, making him admit his Jewish roots.   It is now known that every effort was made to conceal Pearl’s family background. Even to the extent, after his abduction, of closing down the family’s website in Israel.

The kidnappers’ assertions were, of course, denied and Pearl’s credentials as a newsman reasserted. However, just days before Pearl’s kidnapping it was revealed that the WSJ had handed over to the US authorities a discarded laptop computer that had been bought on the black market in Kabul by one of the paper’s reporters.  The computer, it turned out, contained many files created by Al-Qaida terrorists.

The WSJ felt that in the circumstances, with lives at stake, it was doing the right thing, although normally it would hesitate, even refuse, to hand over similar material to the authorities.

Just two days later, Pearl was lured to his death.

At the time, he was investigating possible links between Al-Qaida in Pakistan and Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber". Although there is no  proof the two events were linked, or the Journal behaved inappropriately, there is suspicion that the kidnappers may not have seen it that way.

It may have confirmed their belief that all journalists are spies. In the words of an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, it also points out the fallacy that foreign correspondents, especially American, are untouchable and are always just a phone call or a plane ride from safety.

The WSJ, which is setting up a fund in memory of Pearl, will pass on any messages or tributes to his pregnant wife Mariane. The address: Dow Jones and Co, (For the attention of Barney Calame), PO Box 300 , Princeton, New Jersey, 09543 USA.

lA memorial service in London will be held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, on Tuesday, 5 March, at 3pm. St Bride’s placed Pearl’s name on its ‘Journalists’ Altar’ following his abduction.

By Jeffrey Blyth in New York

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