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April 11, 2003

CNN: The News We Kept to Ourselves

[IMRA:What is CNN hiding about the Palestinians?]

EASON JORDAN ( the Chief News Executive of CNN) reporting in the The New York Times 11 April 2003

ATLANTA — Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the
government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with
Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw
and heard — awful things that could not be reported because doing so would
have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad

For example, in the mid-1990's one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For
weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of
a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government's
ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency's Iraq
station chief. CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the
world about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have
gotten him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk.

Working for a foreign news organization provided Iraqi citizens no
protection. The secret police terrorized Iraqis working for international
press services who were courageous enough to try to provide accurate
reporting. Some vanished, never to be heard from again. Others disappeared
and then surfaced later with whispered tales of being hauled off and
tortured in unimaginable ways. Obviously, other news organizations were in
the same bind we were when it came to reporting on their own workers.

We also had to worry that our reporting might endanger Iraqis not on our
payroll. I knew that CNN could not report that Saddam Hussein's eldest son,
Uday, told me in 1995 that he intended to assassinate two of his
brothers-in-law who had defected and also the man giving them asylum, King
Hussein of Jordan. If we had gone with the story, I was sure he would have
responded by killing the Iraqi translator who was the only other participant
in the meeting. After all, secret police thugs brutalized even senior
officials of the Information Ministry, just to keep them in line (one such
official has long been missing all his fingernails).

Still, I felt I had a moral obligation to warn Jordan's monarch, and I did
so the next day. King Hussein dismissed the threat as a madman's rant. A few
months later Uday lured the brothers-in-law back to Baghdad; they were soon

I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me
that Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed. One Foreign Ministry
officer told me of a colleague who, finding out his brother had been
executed by the regime, was forced, as a test of loyalty, to write a letter
of congratulations on the act to Saddam Hussein. An aide to Uday once told
me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had ripped them out with pliers and
told him never to wear dentures, so he would always remember the price to be
paid for upsetting his boss. Again, we could not broadcast anything these
men said to us.

Last December, when I told Information Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf that
we intended to send reporters to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, he warned
me they would "suffer the severest possible consequences." CNN went ahead,
and in March, Kurdish officials presented us with evidence that they had
thwarted an armed attack on our quarters in Erbil. This included videotaped
confessions of two men identifying themselves as Iraqi intelligence agents
who said their bosses in Baghdad told them the hotel actually housed C.I.A.
and Israeli agents. The Kurds offered to let us interview the suspects on
camera, but we refused, for fear of endangering our staff in Baghdad.

Then there were the events that were not unreported but that nonetheless
still haunt me. A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by
Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for "crimes," one of which
included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months,
forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led
offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A
plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her
family's home.

I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam
Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more
gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these
stories can be told freely.