Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Saved by Google and Human Decency

Don't expect any sympathy from your government if you get kidnapped Australians! After Aussie journalist John Martinkus was kidnapped in Iraq the other day Foreign Minister Alexamder Downer said:

"In this particular case the journalist went out to investigate a story, I understand, and went to a part of Baghdad he was advised not to go to, but he went there anyway ... "

Not only did Downer blame the victim, but his assertion is ridiculous. In fact Martinkus was kidnapped 500 metres from his hotel. Perhaps Downer is suggesting that journalists shouldn't leave their hotel rooms.

Christopher Allbriton is a friend and colleague of Martinkus. He is in Iraq and he has a blog, Back to Iraq. Here is his description of events as Martinkus related them:

Saturday around 2 p.m or so, John was picked up about 500m from our hotel compound. He turned out of the front gate, took the first right -- as most of us do -- and a car stopped in front of him and a tailing car pulled in behind him. Four men with pistols jumped out and three of them managed to force their way into the car, putting guns to the heads of John, his driver and his translator. They then took him to western Baghdad, held him overnight and interrogated him.

Martinkus was not randomly snatched, the kidnappers had planned it:

They had tracked him for three days, they said, and proved it by asking him why he had gone to the Green Zone and to the Palestine on two separate days. This was how they were able to pick him up so easily.
The journalist was released after 24 hours once it had been established that he was not American. The kidnappers appear to have googled Martinkus to confirm his story. Not for the first time, it looks like a journalist has been saved by google. Martinkus's captors released him in apparent defiance of their higher-ups:
After some hours, his captors relaxed and said that he would be released in the morning. But before he was released, a sheikh from a village near Fallujah arrived. He again interrogated John, but this time it was much more aggressive questioning, John said. Finally, the sheikh said that while they were convinced he was a man of good heart and a journalist, he would not be freed Sunday as promised because Australia was a member of the Coalition and thus, a “warring nation” as Zarqawi has said. Instead, the sheikh would consult with his supervisors in Fallujah on what to do.

Now, this was serious. There's no doubt the sheikh would return to fetch John and turn him over to al-Tahwid w'al-Jihad. So, in a fit of humanity, after the sheikh left, the nationalist captors took John and released him. We're unsure of the ramifications of this act at this point and if there will be any retaliation within the Sunni resistance or against us. It's possible.

It really says something that Martinkus's captors would put themselves at risk to save the life of a coalition press representative. If only the innocent inmates of America's gulags could expect the same compassion from theirs .

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