On Thursday, Bob Schieffer, renowned CBS newsman who has covered events in D.C. for more than three decades, said that he can't recall "a time when it's been more challenging for journalists." Schieffer was referring, of course, to the Bush administration's program of domestic surveillance, as well as a rash of frivolous grand jury subpoenas, over the past five years, coercing journalists to give up their confidential sources. Schieffer is right. There is no way news of extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, and Abu Ghraib would reach our shores were it not for reporters. The press, in this country, has acted as the watchdog for governmental transgressions; indeed, were it not for two Washington Post reporters, Richard Nixon might not have been forced to resign.
Less than 36 hours after Bob Schieffer made the above remarks, alas, in Russia, a 48 year old celebrated investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who has been working copiously to expose the travesties of her government, under Alexander Putin, was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow. Ms. Politkovskaya had received nearly a dozen awards from human rights, and international journalist groups such as Reporters without Borders, over the years, for her ongoing exemplary work exposing, and documenting, the slaughter, torture, and harassment of innocent civilians by Russian soldiers in Chechnya. "People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think," Ms. Politkovskyaya has been quoted as saying. (AP) Clearly, too, they pay the ultimate price for writing what they think as a book that she recently wrote which takes issue with Putin's campaign against "terror" in Chechnya, and reveals "widespread abuse of civilians by government troops" (AP) surely didn't win her any fans among Moscow's military elite.
Still, this was not the first attempt on the life of this 48 year old mother of two. Back in 2004, she experienced symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea during a Moscow flight to south Russia where she was covering a hostage crisis in a school. A few years before this incident, she reportedly received e-mail death threats seeking to avenge the reputation of a member of Russian law enforcement who she accused of torturing civilians. (AP) Still, nothing deterred her from her lifelong commitment to investigating, and exposing the travesties visited upon the Russian people by their government.
Anna P. was one of the few allowed into a theatre in Moscow held hostage by Chechen rebels, back in 2002, and she tried to negotiate with the militants. The fact that many of those who were in the theatre, at the time, later succumbed to gas poisoning served as the focus of much of her most recent investigative work, as well as her ongoing inquiry into the Putin regime's campaign of torture against Chechen "terrorists."
Nearly two dozen journalists have been killed in Russia over the past 8 years, many in Chechnya, making Russia among the most dangerous countries for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. (AP) Still, the syllabus for Journalism 101 doesn't include serving in a war, an undeclared war, no less, against the free flow of information, and a free press.
Notably, Human Rights Watch, in a report more than two years ago, reports that of the seven Russian detainees, at Guantanamo Bay, who were released by the U.S. government, six urged the U.S. not to release them saying they were afraid they'd be "tortured, or mistreated" when they got back home. "They were right," asserts HRW, "All seven have been variously harassed, detained, mistreated, and beaten since they set foot on Russian soil. Two have been convicted of terrorism after highly irregular trials. One was tortured in pre-trial detention. Three are in hiding after campaigns of intimidation and harassment by Russian law enforcement authorities." So, given how the Russian government harasses its citizens, it should come as no surprise then how it treats one who exposes its campaign of beating, and intimidation of its civillians.
Over the past 50 years, much of the world has the words "made in the USA" stamped all over it, which may explain why the Cold War ended not with a bang, but a whimper. Since the Berlin Wall came down, and the U.S.S.R was dissolved, a dreadful mimesis has maimed, and forever defaced, the autonomy of many autonomous states. Only dogs bark at their own reflection in the mirror. Monsters often embrace what they see that most resembles themselves, and do the best they can to destroy anything that differs.
So, while Russian prosecutors open an investigation into who, or what, killed this prominent reporter, and while they concede that "the killing could be linked to her work," (AP) it is up to those of us who care about getting the truth out to continue Anna Politkovskaya's mission to uncover those crimes that come within the parameters of normal governmental practice. We, in this country, can best do justice to her memory, as well as the memory of all those who keep us informed in these dark times, by acknowledging universally that torture must not be allowed to breed under the badge of terror, and demand that crimes against journalists be seen, and punished, as crimes against humanity.
Anna Politkovskaya was a foot soldier in the campaign for truth, a free press, and a multidimensional view of global politics, as was Daniel Pearl, and others who have received no accolades, and who will not be remembered except as a footnote in a history book yet to be written. It is up to each and every one of us to celebrate members of the press, one and all.
Follow Jayne Lyn Stahl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaynelynstahl