November 12, 2009

For this we fought?

I often do not agree with my friend Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, but he is certainly one of the more talented journalists I know and surely one of the bravest as well. I was having dinner at his house in Beirut one evening about a year ago, and as the night wore on and more wine was imbibed, a journalist visiting from London started in on me for having served as a solider in Iraq. Ghaith, who was himself severely wounded in a U.S. helicopter attack in 2004, stepped in firmly to defend me and made clear in no uncertain terms that I was both his guest and that he would not allow me to be insulted under his roof. I will always remember that.

And so this is a sad day for freedom of the press in post-war Iraq. To be sure, I doubt this would have happened if Ghaith were not a Baghdadi -- or had a last name like "Burns" or "Worth" or "Dreazen" rather than Abdul-Ahad. But what Ghaith told me one day over coffee that he most fears -- that we Americans would deliver an Iraqi goverment just as repressive as the last -- perhaps inches closer.

There was widespread condemnation from around the world today of an Iraqi court ruling fining the Guardian for reporting criticism of the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.


A broad range of leading journalists, Iraq experts, civic society activists and former officials involved in Iraq's postwar reconstruction said the ruling and fine – for an article quoting intelligence officials as saying Maliki was becoming increasingly authoritarian – reflected a marked decline in press freedom in Iraq.


The article was written by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an award-winning Iraqi staff correspondent for the Guardian.


Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, said: "This ruling has to send a shiver up the spine of anyone who hopes for a genuinely democratic Iraq. What the court calls libel is, in most countries, called journalism.


"Indeed, if a respected journalist like Ghaith Abdul-Ahad can be punished for reporting on concerns about a trend toward authoritarian government, the verdict would seem to lend credence to those very concerns."