The Ultimate Nullifier
Notes on the martyrdom of Jill Carroll.
by Shelton Hull
The fate of Jill Carroll remains unclear at this writing. Carroll, 28, was freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor when she was abducted January 7 outside the offices of Adnan al-Duleimi, leader of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, which finished third in the voting to field Iraq’s new parliament. She turned up on video two weeks later, in the style all too familiar to this war, with the threat of her murder unless female prisoners of the Coalition were released by January 19. That deadline passed with no discernable action on either side, leaving a nation and an industry desperate for word of her safe return.
Carroll (not related to Guardian correspondent Rory Carroll, who was kidnapped and released in October 2005) is the first journalist to be kidnapped in Iraq in 2006, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Twelve were kidnapped in 2005, and 22 in 2004. Nearly 80 have died in the war. A videotape that aired on al-Jazeera on January 17 threatened her life if the US did not release “all” of the female Iraqi prisoners being held by them. NBC cited Pentagon sources as saying that only eight females are in custody, but added that they are perceived to be holding “hundreds or thousands.”
Gosh, you never want to hear about this kind of thing, especially in regard to one as talented and courageous as Miss Carroll, who is without doubt the superior of anyone working in journalism in this city. At an age when most Americans have barely taken leave of the childish fantasies that made this war unavoidable, Carroll was logging dense hours defining the new reality to consumers of media on three continents. She never gave in to the harsh negativity and pessimism that has poisoned the political process at home; no, she was about solutions, not the rote recitation of shopworn gripes.
Although Carroll always held forth the pretense of objectivity, the days since her abduction have seen her friends, family and colleagues attempting to win her release by touting her anti-American credentials. Whoever told these people it was a good idea to do this will rot in Hell for expediting Carroll’s demise, if that is how this terrible story ends. This just goes to show how far the left has fallen in five short years of failure: they will martyr their own just to score points on the Administration.
It’s worth noting that Carroll was one of the most fair-minded reporters working that grisly beat, writing more or less openly about abuses and aggression on all sides. In a perfect world, being a decent person might provide some protection against the madness of madmen. Insurgents executed Margaret Hassan last year, a Briton who married an Iraqi and spent decades doing charity work in the region. It was a disastrous move, as was the killing of Marla Rusczika, who also opposed the war. Likewise, if Jill Carroll is executed, it will provide clear proof that the insurgency is not being run by Iraqis, but by outsiders who have no interest in the welfare of the Iraqi people.
If you care to believe the documents that have already been authenticated by US authorities and disseminated to the media, the cruelty of the kidnappings and executions perpetrated by the “Iraqi” insurgency has raised the ire of top al-Qaeda leaders. Ayman al-Zawahiri co-founded the crew, in what amounted to a merger of organizations that he and OBL had run separately. He was among the collaborators in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, arguably the single most brutal assault ever captured on film. So it means something that al-Zawahiri is said to have sent a letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi saying, in effect, “Dude! Chill out!” The killings undermined al-Qaeda’s support among moderate Muslims who want the US out of Iraq, but who refuse to endorse the slaughter of women and children. So, one curious side-effect of this tragedy is that it may help to further splinter the ties that bind al-Qaeda’s base.
In the February/March 2005 edition of the American Journalism Review, Carroll offered a bit of insight into the lives of Iraqi freelancers: “Equal parts reporter, salesman and entrepreneur, the freelancer is a different breed of journalist than a staffer at a major media outlet. Freelancers pay for their own accommodations; translators, food and health insurance, and most do it for under $100 a day.”
She went on to profile several of her colleagues, whose ages ranged from 24 to 34 and who were linked by a common desire to witness history: “The sense that I could do more good in the Middle East than in the U.S. drove me to move to Jordan six months before the war to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began. All I ever wanted to be was a foreign correspondent, so when I was laid off from my reporting assistant job at the Wall Street Journal in August 2002, it seemed the right time to try to make it happen. There was bound to be plenty of parachute journalism once the war started, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
The Christian Science Monitor is a major paper, known for its tight reporting on the Middle East. Editor Richard Bergenheim issued a statement that said, in part, “They have seized an innocent person who is a great admirer of the Iraqi people.” Reporter Sans Frontieres adds, “We remind Carroll’s kidnappers that she is a journalist who has just done her job. She is not responsible for the US government’s decisions.” The Jordan Times, where she’d worked for “six months” prior to the war, noted that “[her abductors] could not have chosen a more wrong target.” That’s not the half of it.
After graduating from UMass-Amherst in 1999, Carroll worked for the Wall Street Journal before joining the Jordan Times in 2002. Although her primary affiliation since 2003 was the CSM, Carroll was publishing for American, Italian and Jordanian media, from which it was carried by blogs, forums, newsgroups and syndicates around the world. She has done serious work in a short time, and was already emerging as one of the finest foreign correspondents in US media – which may have made her a target.
Carroll, along with a driver and interpreter, was in Baghdad on January 7 to interview Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front (formerly the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, before that the Iraqi Islamic Party), formed October 26, 2005. The party finished third in the December 15 elections, winning 37 of the 230 seats in Iraq’s parliament, but its ever-changing name reflects its uncertain position in the new government. “Delay me” indeed: he never made the appointment.
The carjacking occurred soon after, in broad daylight. It only took about 15 seconds, according to the driver, who happened to be the only one to escape. The interpreter was shot immediately, as has proven customary for insurgents, who always kill Iraqis helping foreigners immediately– unless, of course, they’re helping the foreigners who are running the insurgency.
Carroll wrote, presciently, about a phenomenon that she has now become the public face of: “Some 200 foreigners, several freelance journalists among them, have been kidnapped in Iraq since insurgents adopted the tactic last April…. But most agree such attacks have more to do with bad luck than with freelancing. And they say they don’t need to take extra chances to get stories that will sell.”
It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Your country invades another one, and you go there to get paid by undermining the occupation. If Carroll was neutral on the war, then why did her mom say she opposed it? Is this how they encourage the government to negotiate with terrorists – by branding their daughter as a force for appeasement? How does that contradict what she may have told her captors about her “work” there? Carroll was clearly targeted; this was not a random incident. Who knows exactly why she was taken and by whom? These are all questions that neither right nor left can ask.
Now, there’s always the other side of the argument, which is that American media personnel collaborated in selling the Iraq War to their consumers by burying the serious anti-war arguments beneath garbage like Michael Moore and trumpeting the very same “flawed” intelligence that was endorsed by Bush, Clinton, the leadership of both parties and every car-driving citizen of the US. Our media rode into Iraq side-by-side with the occupying forces, so aren’t Iraqis correct in assuming that any US journalist could be in cahoots with the Coalition? How can you write objectively about the same government that issued your passport and underwrote the cost of your college education?
Every now and then this column takes the form of an obituary for someone not dead yet. The author hopes for a best-case scenario in which Carroll is either released or joins the other side. Either way, a talent of her scope deserves to live. Now, it’s quite possible that Miss Carroll will share the fate of other journalists in Iraq (some of whom she knew) who were taken, only to negotiate their own release with their captors. But as it stands, arguably the three Westerners who have done more to advance the cause of “the Iraqi people” than anyone else (with the possible exception of George W. Bush and Tony Blair) were Margaret Hussan, Marla Ruscika and Jill Carroll. Of them, at least two and perhaps three have now been butchered by the terror they and their comrades helped to encourage. There will be more, but let’s hope not. RIP…? ◼