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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Gone But Not Forgotten:

Tarek Ayyoub
Taras Protsyuk
Jose Couso
Terry Lloyd
Fred Nerac
Hussein Osman
Terry Lloyd
Mazen Dana

RSF: Families of six journalists killed or missing after US gunfire urge Congress to act
IFJ: Global Journalists Protest At “Denial of Justice” By US on Anniversary of Media Killings in Iraq

Media Guardian: Reuters asks Pentagon to help safeguard journalists in Iraq

Further to my earlier posting about private military companies, today's Washington Post has more on the subject.

It says:
"The firms, stunned by the casualties they suffered this week and by the lack of a military response, have begun banding together to share their own operations-center telephone numbers and tips on threats, as well as to organize ways to rescue one another in a crisis."

"Gruesome Iraq Images Could Shake U.S. Opinion" shouts this Reuters headline.

I thought it was referring to yesterday's posting, but sadly no.


A flurry of reports in recent days have focused on the role of mercenaries -- or "private military companies" as they prefer to be known -- in various troublespots around the world, most notably Iraq where around 15,000 civilian security guards are believed to be working.

The Economist highlighted what it called a "Baghdad Boom," noting that Iraq has boosted British military companies' revenues from £200m before the war to over £1 billion.

The four men killed and horrifically mutilated in Fallujah recently were employees of the private security firm, Blackwater.

Blackwater also made the news in Washington Post, which carried a report saying that that an attack by hundreds of Iraqi militia members on the US government's headquarters in Najaf on Sunday was repulsed not by the US military, but by eight Blackwater commandos.

Time magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star have also carried reports on the role of mercenaries in Iraq, as has this week's Economist (subscription only.)

What amazed me was the sheer size of some of these private military companies. Far from consisting of a few wild-eye, trigger-fingered desperados, some are slick corporate entities with huge government contracts.

Blackwater, for example, has a training centre on a 6000 acre compound in North Carolina. It also has its own private air force. It even sells its own range of merchandise -- Blackwater gym shorts, anyone?

Despite the reservations some may have about the ethics of these corporate soldiers of fortune (who come with the added benefit of not appearing on lists of coalition military casualties), ultimately it comes down to good old fashioned supply and demand. The demand for people willing to risk their lives for money is clearly there -- and there seem to be plenty of people willing to volunteer.

As Peter W. Singer, who has who has written a book on private military companies says, "you have to think about this in terms of a marketplace."


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I got a little first anniversary shock today -- the arrival from the US of a previously unseen (by me at least) photograph taken in the operating theatre in Sulaymaniyah, where I was treated by an American Special Forces surgical team immediately after my accident.

Like the other photos that were taken at the time, it's pretty gruesome -- and reveals the full extent of the injury caused by the landmine.

I've written already about I feel when I look at the photos -- sadness mixed with shock and horror but above all overwhelmingly relieved that I wasn't more seriously injured.

So here, for the strong stomached only, is graphic evidence of what high explosives do to soft flesh.


The photo was accompanied by a copy of the journal written at the time by a member of the USSF Surgical Team. I won't give his name because I haven't asked his permission but here's what he wrote:

April 2, 2003: ....We got our first trauma last night. A BBC producer -- Stuart Hughes. The Iranian national cameraman died -- he had won Pulitzer prizes for his work on filming Halabja after Saddam gassed the Kurds. He went in with no gas suits. The pictures always shown on TV are his work. The reporter Jim Muir was uninjured. Stuart's foot was almost completely lost. We flushed, debrided and placed external fixators onto him. He will have to have much plastic surgery or lose the foot. They had stopped their vehicles around Halabja. One stepped on a mine, the others dove -- thinking artillery -- and hit another, blowing off his foot. We made BBC World TV later. He proceded through the surgery well. Good to see how we did as a hospital unit. Everything worked out well.

April 3, 2003: Debrided the BBC reporter's foot again. I was the main anesthetist this time. Went very well with a perfect wakeup in the ICU. The BBC reporters let us use their satellite phones to call home. It was great to finally hear someone's voice from back home. We got to carry Stuart to a helicopter and get him out of here. It was cool seeing the bird come in with no lights.

My One Year One article has finally been published on BBC News Online (it's currently on the front page, no less!) -- and has sent the stats soaring.

Welcome new readers....the whole story is here!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Have you been reading my postings today, Jeff?

Jeff Jarvis -- whom I respect -- says of Zeyad's incorrect eyewitness account:

"Here was have a correspondent giving us a perspective on the events in Iraq that we were not getting -- and likely could not get -- elsewhere. That makes it valuable. Period."

I see exactly where Jeff's coming from, and agree with it to a large extent -- especially when he says that "we all need to act as editors as we read these weblogs and judge them in their own context" (and Jeff was totally right to urge caution yesterday, unlike some.) It just helps if the perspective on events we're getting is correct in the first place.

Slapdash journalists at IRN used to have a catchphrase for their service -- "Never Wrong For Long." Similarly, a certain rolling news network I have some experience undertook a relaunch with a promise to offer viewers "breaking rumour" as well as "breaking news."

Personally. I'd rather be second, third or even last and be 100% sure of my facts than be first and wrong -- be it in my blog or my work for Big Media.


ABC News reports on how fellow newbie amputees from the Iraq war -- including landmine survivors -- are taking to the slopes in Colorado.

One amputee's secret of success: "It's easier to be positive when you're constantly doing something," he says. "You sit around in bed, you just get depressed."

Amen to that, brother.

I'm hoping to resume a favourite pre-accident pastime very soon. My specially made scuba diving leg should be ready for collection by the end of the month -- then it's off to the Red Sea ASAP.

I caught up with a colleague this afternoon who's back in London after his latest tour of duty in Baghdad.

We chatted about working conditions for journalists at the moment. What he told me was not dissimilar to this article in the Christian Science Monitor -- in short, that Baghdad isn't a pleasant place for a hack to be right now (even though some people -- like BBC Brussels Correspondent Tim Franks do manage to make the best of it, training for the London Marathon in spite of the armed guards and razor wire.)

On a related issue, on Thursday journalists around the world will remember Taras Protsiuk of Reuters and José Couso from Spanish network Telecinco, who were killed a year ago in an attack by American forces on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.


Andrew Sullivan is a clown. Glenn Reynolds is an even bigger clown. Recent postings by Tweedledum and Tweedledee show why.

Yesterday, Reynolds put up a posting linking to a claim on the Healing Iraq blog that "a coup d'etat is taking place in Iraq at the moment."

Sullivan saw it and got very excited, calling the report "a really big deal."

But Reynolds was confused about the "scoop." "I'm not seeing anything about this elsewhere yet" he whined.

There was a good reason why. The report was incorrect and premature...a fact later admitted by Healing Iraq blogger Zeyad, who updated to say that "everything is back under control."

Zeyad's lack of clarity in a confused and dangerous situation is perhaps forgivable. What's less forgivable, however, is for two supposedly "A-list" bloggers to jump on an unconfirmed report from a single source and present it as "news."

What's particularly ironic is that the blog entry was picked up by two people who were utterly scathing of the BBC over the Andrew Gilligan affair. Notice any similarities gentlemen?

Many people see blogs as the future of news -- ordinary people on the ground recording events as they happen and replacing all those overpaid "professional" journalists. It's an interesting and important debate -- but in this brave new media world a little old fashioned Big Media editorial judgment and fact-checking never goes amiss.


I'm not sure quite how I happened upon it, but I've uncovered a nugget of amputee history.

It seems the earliest historical reference to an artificial limb can be found in Herodotus' Histories, written in 484 BC.

Herodotus talks of a Persian soldier, Hegesistratus, who was shackled in the stocks and cut of part of his foot in order to escape> He walked with the aid of a prosthesis made out of wood.

Herodotus writes:

"Hegesistratus, I say, did a deed for which no words suffice.

"He had been set with one foot in the stocks, which were of wood but bound with iron bands; and in this condition received from without an iron implement, wherewith he contrived to accomplish the most courageous deed upon record.

"Calculating how much of his foot he would be able to draw through the hole, he cut off the front portion with his own hand....When his wound was healed, he procured himself a wooden foot, and became an open enemy to Sparta."
(Source: Herodotus Website)

Monday, April 05, 2004

Most major news organisations are focusing this week on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, which began ten years ago tomorrow when a plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents was shot down.

The crash acted as the trigger for Hutu extremists to try to wipe out the Tutsi minority.

In just 100 days an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered while the rest of the world stood by.

Many reports are rightly highlighting the pivotal role the media played in fuelling the genocide with the notorious "hate radio" station RTLM in particular playing a central part in the massacres.

But as the Boston Globe explains, a decade on, freedom of the press is a distant dream in Rwanda.

Meanwhile, press freedom -- or the perceived lack of it -- is a contributory factor in the upsurge in violent anti-coalition protests across Iraq.

A week ago, the coalition closed Moqtada Sadr's al-Hawza newspaper on the grounds that it was inciting violence. Then, the International Federation of Journalists warned that the shut-down could be counter-productive because it smacked of censorship and would "do nothing to build confidence in a culture of openness."

Sadly but perhaps predictably, the IFJ has been proved right.

Thanks to Nic for drawing attention to News Designer,a blog I hadn't come across before.

It's written -- aptly enough -- by a newspaper designer and it has some fascinating insights into how papers use images and headlines to mould their coverage.

Check out his deconstruction of the Falluja and Madrid bombing photos.

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Claire Hecker