Did Syr­ian govern­ment tar­get jour­nal­ist?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Ge­orgie Anne Geyer Colum­nist

While news­pa­pers across the na­tion strug­gle to find space for for­eign news, a strange story in­volv­ing the death of a fa­mous war cor­re­spon­dent six years ago in Syria is play­ing out in the courts with far too lit­tle at­ten­tion be­ing paid to what it could mean for the fu­ture of for­eign cov­er­age in Amer­ica.

You may not even know the name Marie Colvin. She was an Amer­i­can from Long Is­land, but she had worked for years over­seas, most no­tably for Lon­don’s Sun­day Times. Some­what no­to­ri­ous as a war cor­re­spon­dent, she was one of the most in­trepid among this spe­cial group of in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists who go bravely, if some­times fool­hardily, from war to war.

But she stood out in terms of sheer courage, classi­ness and com­pe­tence.

You couldn’t eas­ily miss her if you ran across her in Beirut, Mis­rata or Pr­ishtina, or any of the other treach­er­ous quick­sands of the world. At 56, she was still a trim, gra­cious and at­trac­tive blonde — but it was the black eye patch, worn al­most jaun­tily, that al­ways gave her away.

In Sri Lanka in 2001, a ran­dom rocket-pro­pelled grenade had taken out her eye.

Which brings us to the cen­tral ques­tion: Was her death that Fe­bru­ary day six years ago in Homs also “ran­dom”?

For if the tale be­hind the tale of the inim­itable Marie Colvin dy­ing in a Syr­ian govern­ment ar­tillery bar­rage turns out to be true, it will be, by my ac­count­ing, the first well-pub­li­cized case of an ac­tual GOVERN­MENT tar­get­ing an in­di­vid­ual jour­nal­ist for death in a war zone.

Even Marie had had qualms the night be­fore about go­ing into the grotesque ru­ins of the once-thriv­ing city of Homs, and that was un­usual, given her tothe-edges brav­ery. She told her photographer, “Paul, I don’t like this.” He darkly agreed. “Ev­ery bone in my body is telling me not to do this,” Paul Conroy wrote af­ter­ward. But Marie, as al­ways, was im­pla­ca­bly in­sis­tent.

Marie Colvin might have been sim­ply an­other of the ap­prox­i­mately 100 jour­nal­ists killed so far in the seven years of the Syr­ian civil war, ex­cept that, as it now ap­pears, the govern­ment was clos­ing in on HER.

In­de­pen­dent and re­spected sources, and 700,000 records smug­gled out of Syria by de­fec­tors, ac­tivists and Arab League of­fi­cials, out­line how the govern­ment “brack­eted” or “walked in” on her — the mil­i­tary terms for fo­cus­ing bomb­ing and ar­tillery closer and closer to the in­di­vid­ual per­son de­sired dead.

As the cre­atively named de­fec­tor “Ulysses” has tes­ti­fied, Da­m­as­cus had em­ployed tra­di­tional elec­tronic in­ter­cepts and a mo­bile satel­lite track­ing de­vice that drove around the ru­ins of the me­dia cen­ter neigh­bor­hood — so it could as­sas­si­nate, very specif­i­cally, her.

In­deed, the de­fec­tors also tell the story of how Syr­ian Maj. Gen. Rafiq Sha­hadah, who al­legedly planned and car­ried out the 2012 at­tack, gave a gala party when he got the news and said, “Marie Colvin was a dog and now she’s dead.”

Marie’s fam­ily filed a civil case in U.S. Dis­trict Court against the Syr­ian govern­ment un­der the For­eign Sov­er­eign Im­mu­ni­ties Act, with the aid of the Cen­ter for Jus­tice and Ac­count­abil­ity in San Fran­cisco. There are Syr­ian monies held in the United States that could be tapped as resti­tu­tion, but it is Marie’s story that will be of most his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance.

For­eign cor­re­spon­dents die ev­ery day. Their “home” is a world gone mad.

But in the 1949 Geneva Ac­cords, jour­nal­ists were rec­og­nized as “non­com­bat­ants,” de­serv­ing of the same re­spect and sta­tus as, say, Red Cross work­ers, NGOs or U.N. of­fi­cials. This sounds in­signif­i­cant, but it’s tremen­dously im­por­tant be­cause the pub­lic gets vir­tu­ally all of its news and in­for­ma­tion about the world from the hand­ful of for­eign cor­re­spon­dents out there — from the “fool­hardy” Maries and Pauls.

There­fore, if it is true that the Syr­i­ans de­lib­er­ately tar­geted even one jour­nal­ist for ex­e­cu­tion, then we have en­tered a new pe­riod and Amer­i­cans should think se­ri­ously in­deed about the value of for­eign cov­er­age and what cor­re­spon­dents give up to pro­vide it.

This reportage is be­ing cut back at ev­ery corner, with news bu­reaus be­ing closed over­seas and news­pa­pers shut­ting down or cut­ting back their cov­er­age at home.

Who in the fu­ture will crawl through the sew­ers of the world’s ru­ined cities to tell us the truth about what is hap­pen­ing to mankind?

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