July 7, 2008

FARC'd up

I'm all for cheering a bloodless hostage rescue, but doesn't it seem a little bit strange that not a single news organization is raising an objection to military commandos impersonating journalists and aid workers? As one aid worker writes,

By having soldiers pose as journalists and aid workers in order to gain access to the hostages, the Colombian government has increased the already high risks faced by legitimate reporters and NGO workers. In a country that is already one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to work as a journalist or a defender of human rights, the armed actors will now be even more suspicious of anyone claiming to work in those fields.

The Committee to Protect Journalists testified in 2002 that "intelligence operatives should never pose as journalists," noting that "Journalists reporting from dangerous areas around the world... rely on their perceived neutrality to keep them safe."

The news organizations reporting on the Colombian rescue operation are aware of these principles, yet none that I've seen have even bothered to mention their violation, even in an aside or an editorial. Where's the Poynter Institute? I guess I wasn't the only one on vacation last week.

Update: Fear for Colombian Hostages Still in Jungle.

Mr. Moncayo said his hopes for a negotiated release of his son and other captives had dimmed in recent days. “The humanitarian effort will be made harder because this operation generates distrust,” he said. “How are we going to ask international groups to collaborate with us and for the FARC to accept them when they have been fooled?”

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Boo freakin hoo!

So what if the military used a ruse to free the hostages. If you were robbed of 6 years - you would not care how you would get rescued.

that great, Andres, until journalists start getting robbed of more than 6 years of their lives by, you know, getting killed because they might be soldiers instead.

of course those getting rescued don't care how it happens, nor should they. but those doing the rescuing should be aware of the ripple effect that their actions may cause.

Um, isn't it the journalists who are reporting the ruse of commandos as journalists?

Um, why would you ask such a question? Of course it's journalists who are reporting the ruse. The issue has nothing to do with reporting facts, but with news organizations tacitly condoning it - unless you're suggesting the simple remedy would be for the journalists to lie about this basic fact of the story.

But come on, anyway, it's not like real aid workers are in the crosshairs or anything.

Please Vance. Journalists going into a hotbed like, say, a FARC camp where hostages are being held put their own lives at risk in a BIG way period.

Do they have cross hairs on them now? Absolutely, but in no more of a fashion than usual.

Why, might you ask, would jounalists have been invited there at all? Because the FARC desperately wanted the publicity. Does this ruse therefore mean the FARC no longer want publicity for their cause? Not in the least.
The real backlash in the world of crazy journalists looking for a rush is that the vetting process by rebels just got dialed WAY up, and so it's not going to more dangerous, just more of a pain in the ass to jump in bed with any of your rebel types.

I've never been entirely clear why it's wrong for secret agents to pretend to be journalists but it's fine for them to pretend to be in sales or whatever else. Doesn't that make it just as dangerous for salesmen or doctors or whatever.

Aren't the bad guys just looking for anyone who will help them get the attention they need (Westerners of any profession, politicians who make noise against them, whoever else)? I'm completely open to being wrong here, but I'm just not sure about it.

Let's start with Peter's unfortunate selection of "doctors" as an example of "whoever else." Medical workers are actually a perfect example of a category that needs to be protected. In fact, I believe it's a violation of the Geneva Conventions to, for instance, paint the Red Cross symbol on military equipment in order to sneak it through enemy lines. Israel has caught shit for using ambulances in military operations against Palestinians, for example. The immorality here should be obvious, but since it apparently needs to be spelled out: In a war zone, doctors (and humanitarian aid workers) can only do their jobs if all parties believe they are neutral. When medical personnel come under suspicion, or actually come under attack, they can't operate in that theater any longer and people die.

One could argue that journalists aren't medics, but traditionally it has been understood that journalists provide a public service by actually telling people what is happening in a war. Without them, you'd be forced to rely on the propaganda put out by either side. Pessimist and Peter apparently think that journalists in Colombia, and perhaps everywhere, are essentially propaganda agents anyway, but if we want to have any honest, objective journalists, we need these simple rules to protect them. (The same applies to domestic police posing as journalists to catch criminals, by the way -- another thing journalism groups often fret about more loudly than they have now). For related reasons, no legitimate news organization allows journalists to carry weapons, no matter how much danger they are in. One journalist with a gun (Geraldo...) puts all journalists at risk by marking them as potential combatants in the eyes of the people they're trying to report on.

On the other hand, salesmen, IT consultants, carnival barkers, or whatever serve no larger purpose in a war zone, so don't need special protections.

Now I really do wish some newspaper or magazine would editorialize about this. Apparently it really does need to be spelled out.

I have read rumors also of 20 million changing hands in this hostage deal, but have only read of denials of 20 million changing hands. It sounds plausible to me.

Will McCain's October surprise be the capture of Bin Laden?

But carnival barkers can only provide the greatest selection of feats and amazements ON EARTH if...oh nevermind.

Yes, doctors was dumb. Sorry. I really was looking for the argument behind all this, b/c mostly I've just seen it presented as a given.

My only hesitancy to embracing it fully is that it's journalists who are always making this argument and IT consultants and carnival barkers, presumably, would also prefer secret agents not choose their professions as cover and could come up with their own moral imperatives for that as well.

In the end, I guess, while I don't see journalists as propaganda agents of the state, neither do I see them as equivalent to medical personnel.

I think we can all agree Jeraldo's life could be traded even up for Betsancourt's purse or car keys that might have been lost in the shuffle.

Sadly, it's been my experience that far too many journalists are overly exploitive, and a bit of turnabout on the exploitation for good reason is fair play. But I generally have a low opinion about everyone.

This is a very serious issue, I wonder why the CJR isn't covering it-oh, right.

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