As the film about the kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is released in the UK, a new project has been launched dedicated to finding out the reason for his death.
A team of 21 students is working under the guidance of Asra Nomani, a friend and colleague of Pearl at the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau, who was among the last people to see him before he went to meet religious leader Sheikh Gilani in Karachi, Pakistan in January 2002.
Pearl, who was investigating alleged links between Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, was killed by his abductors and a video of the murder appeared on the internet in February 2002.
Nomani has criticised the film A Mighty Heart, based on the book by Pearl’s wife Mariane of the same title, for giving him a ‘cameo role’in his own murder and not taking seriously the implications of his death for the media.
Nomani said that she and the students will have time to make phone calls and ask questions that ‘nobody else has had time to do, because everyone’s got to do the deadline-conscious daily journalism”.
She added: ‘I feel like after Danny died everybody had to move on in terms of the reporting on what happened to him.
‘Things moved on in the media and in law enforcement. Once that video came out, there was no bringing him back. For government, foreign policy overrode justice, and for the media, [the Iraq war began] and we had another news cycle.
‘Danny was the beginning of a spate of journalists who lost their lives. But from what I hear back from journalists, his death was an iconoclastic moment and people want to know what went on.”
Modelled on the Arizona Project of the Seventies – in which 38 journalists from 28 newspapers and television stations descended on Arizona to investigate the murder of mob reporter Don Bolles – the purpose of the year-long project is to investigate Pearl’s death and also continue work on the story he was covering.
According to testimony given to a tribunal at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to being responsible for Pearl’s murder.
But Nomani, who is jointly teaching the seminar at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, believes there are still many questions unanswered.
She has worked with the Washingtonpost.com’s computer-assisted reporting expert, Derek Willis, to develop a website that will chart all the information gathered on a collaborative project that spans the globe.
Modelled on the Intellipedia used by the United States intelligence community and other national-security related organisations, the Pearlpedia will be used by students working on different strands of the investigation along with a small group of stringers in Pakistan.