Last Thursday, March 23, combined American and British forces, acting
a prisoner tip Wednesday night, stormed a house in a turbulent West
Baghdad neighborhood. They found -- bound, but unguarded and (given the
circumstances) relatively unharmed -- three surviving Christian
Team (CPT) members: 74-year-old Brit Norman Kember, and two 40ish
Canadians, James Loney and Harmeet Singh, who had been in captivity
It should have been one of those Jessica Lynch type moments, one of the
rare instances in three years of war whereby military forces have been
successful in rescuing kidnap victims. This was one of the few
unequivocal triumphs lately for occupying U.S. forces. But instead, it
was one of those stories that in American media came and went, usually
with little emphasis, in a 24-hour news cycle.
Perhaps that's because the biggest American connection to the story ---
Northern Virginia native Tom Fox, the fourth CPT abductee -- had already
been found slain, his body dumped in Baghdad on March 9. But even then,
the coverage was spotty and misleading. Aside from the Washington
Post, for which it was a local story, few U.S. media outlets gave
the discovery of Fox's body much play. And among those that did, most
including, repeatedly, the New York Times -- followed the lead
Iraqi police and got it wrong.
Police announced that Fox had been tortured before being shot, and most
media followed suit. But as CPTer Sheila Provencher writes, "Despite
many rumors and several reports that Tom Fox was tortured before he
died, the results of the medical examination and autopsy of Tom's body
reveal that there was NO torture. Tom died by gunshots to the chest and
one gunshot to the head."
Now, in analyzing this discrepancy, it might help to know that Iraqi
police, along with Iraq's Interior Ministry, are two of the most
prominent Iraqi government branches largely controlled by the Badr
Brigade, the independent militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI is the most powerful of the
fundamentalist Shiite political parties dominating Iraq's government,
and it is sensitive to extensive evidence that it has been running
squads; literally thousands of bodies of bound, often tortured, and
Sunni men have been discovered in Baghdad alone in recent months. Since
it's largely Sunni groups that have been kidnapping foreigners, what
better way to cast aspersions on the other side? Moreover, the U.S.
Embassy in Baghdad doubtless didn't mind at all that such news would
sicken Fox's family, friends, and admirers, and perhaps even discourage
future peaceniks from coming to Iraq. Major media should have known
better than to trust such sources.
The original abduction on Nov. 26 wasn't much better: on that occasion,
the New York Times didn't even run a story. One of the most
problems with all of the CPT coverage over the months of the ordeal was
that nobody usually relied upon as sources by major media -- not
military spokespeople, nor anyone at the American Embassy or State
Department, nor any of the reporters or editors in the media outlets
themselves -- had any kind of clear idea of what CPT and similar groups
do, and what sort of individuals are moved to join their efforts. Most
news accounts used words like "pacifist" or "peace activists" and left
it at that, creating an imagine of starry-eyed idealists plunging
unwittingly into a dangerous war zone.
But as I noted in a Dec. 8 column titled "A Different Kind of Heroism,"
activists were well aware of the risks. For years, Christian Peacemaker
Teams has been sending long-term delegations to Palestine (and, more
recently, to Colombia and other war zones), helping, by their
Western presence, to protect Palestinians from attack by settlers and
the Israeli military, and helping with health care, humanitarian aid,
and other aspects of ordinary Palestinians' struggle for survival. When
the United States threatened to launch war in Iraq, sending teams to
Baghdad was a natural extension of CPT's work…. Activists like Fox,
Kember, Loney, and Singh know that they are working in a war zone.
That's the point. The idea is to save lives, by putting their
bodies in the way of violence, whether the threat is from Shiite death
squads, Sunni gunmen, or trigger-happy U.S. troops.
Does it work? Iraqis must think so. Without support from host
communities, groups like CPT wouldn't last a week. That support, and
their own wits, are the only protection such activists have. "
Even having lost a member, the survival rate of Christian Peacemaker
Teams delegations is rather better than that of the U.S. military;
clearly, they know what they are doing, and in an environment where
every American outside the Green Zone is in extreme danger, clearly
their good work (usually) protects them. Now, Fox joins the
International Solidarity Movement's Rachel Corrie, crushed to death in
March 2003 by a bulldozer while trying to prevent Israeli Defense
from destroying Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, on the list of
Americans who've given their lives while having nonviolently prevented
the deaths of others in a war zone.
The story of Fox's death, the concern for the lives of the three
remaining hostages, and their rescue two weeks later is enormously
compelling -- except that U.S. media don't know how to tell it, because
they don't understand a war zone story line that doesn't involve
bullets, bombs, or official spokespeople. So, the cameras will wilt
away, and CPT activists will go back, undissuaded, to their original
work: savings the lives of civilians caught in a war zone not of their
making. They should be heroes. If only we knew.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot for WorkingForChange. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org -- please indicate whether your comments may be used on WorkingForChange in an upcoming "letters" column.
© 2006 Working Assets