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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

December 15, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 167

 


 
 
 


 

Pat Morrison Finding Saddam, losing Mazen
 

Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

Yesterday's news that Saddam Hussein had been captured sent ripples of relief around the world, coupled with contained enthusiasm on the part of the administration. "The Butcher of Baghdad," who terrorized the Iraqi people and enemies of choice for over 30 years, was found by U.S. troops in a crawl space next to a farmhouse near his home town of Tikrit.

Other Today's Takes by Pat Morrison
Oct. 3, 2003 (Un)happy anniversary, intifada
Oct. 2, 2003 Multi-taskers have a heavenly mentor
Oct. 1, 2003 An ordinary life sparks an unlikely revolution
Aug. 14, 2003 Women's realities, Mary's feast
Aug. 13, 2003 Maybe it's time to change pews
By the time this Web column is posted, the film footage of a disoriented, unkempt Saddam being checked by a U.S. military medic for head lice will have been broadcast around the planet and printed on newspaper front pages from Alaska to Zimbabwe. As I watched the film clips being shown over and over yesterday on CNN, I thought of the photographer -- probably a member of a military intelligence/media unit rather than a news photographer -- and the tales he (or she) would tell to children and grandchildren: "The most wanted, most evil man in the world, and I was there to see him face-to-face "

The film will, undoubtedly and deservedly, be one of those history-making, iconic images that bring instant recognition for generations.

The 19th and 20th centuries gave us, for the first time in history, film documentation of the reality of war, from the battlefield images of Civil War casualties to those of screaming, naked Vietnamese children running from U.S. napalm attacks. The last 50 years and the new millennium have upped the technology ante, giving us news 24/7 and live, no-delay news footage beamed instantly into our TVs and computers.

The images are imprinted almost indelibly into our collective psyche. But most of us don't give much thought to the men and women behind the lens who give us the images that shape our lives, our politics and our world view -- photographers, who to record history, often risked their lives and sometimes lost them.

As I watched the footage of Saddam Hussein I thought of the millions who had been victims of his dictatorship and bloody regime. But I also remembered a Reuters photographer who was a recent casualty of our war with Iraq. One could say, by extension, that Mazen Dana was another of Saddam's victims, since he died in Baghdad. But his death from a bullet at age 43 came from the gun of an American soldier.

Ironically, Mazen Dana spent the last 14 years of his professional life in one of the most violent regions in the world, his hometown of Hebron and other cities in the occupied West Bank. In covering the conflict in Palestine and Israel, Dana had been the target of violence scores of times. He had been shot by Israeli M-16s three times, shot by plastic bullets more than 20 times, stoned by Palestinian youth, beaten by settlers and soldiers, and had ankles, both legs, both hands, several ribs and skull fractured in these attacks -- all the while clearly identified as a professional newsman. In 2001 the Committee to Protect Journalists gave him the International Press Freedom Award for his unrelenting commitment to reporting on and exposing injustice in Israel and the occupied Territories.

In May, Dana got the OK from Reuters to go to Iraq and report on U.S. military efforts there. He received permission to film the U.S.-run Abu Ghyriab prison outside Baghdad and arrived there Aug. 17. According to eyewitnesses, when Dana raised his camera to his shoulder to begin filming, an American tank-mounted machine gunner opened fire, riddling Dana's torso with multiple large-caliber, high-velocity rounds. Colleagues on the scene immediately shouted, "You just shot a journalist!" and cried out to the Army to stop and provide help. But Dana bled to death a few minutes later. (Read the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists: Cameraman killed in Baghdad.)

The Army initially claimed it acted in self-defense, saying troops mistook the photographer's camera for a shoulder-mounted RPG, rocket-propelled grenade launcher. But eyewitnesses noted that Dana had spoken with U.S. soldiers only moments before, and had clearance to be there and to film. The Army quickly withdrew the RPG story and now says only that the incident is under investigation.

Reuters, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have called for the U.S. to fully investigate Mazen Dana's death. The International Federation of Journalists called for an end to the Pentagon's "casual disregard for media safety" as injuries and deaths of journalists increase in Iraq.

Mazen Dana was a warm-hearted, peace-loving man who knew well the risks of filming wars. But he had a passionate, overriding sense of mission. In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (read the interview), he said in somewhat broken but eloquent English:

"All journalists have a message, and they carrying the message. Journalists and especially the cameraman showing the people the truth. My motive [is] to be and to continue my work even if it costed for me a lot of problems and a lot of injury even if it cost me my life, because journalists have a message "

Mazen Dana leaves a wife, Suzana, and four children under 12. Think of him, and those who continue his legacy, the next time you see unforgettable footage of war's casualties and victories.

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is pmorrison@natcath.org.

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