Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is Pakistan Killing Journos?

Syed Saleem Shahzad in 2006. (Banaras Khan, AFP / Getty Images)

Who Killed Saleem Shahzad?

An investigation by Newsweek's Ron Moreau, Fasih Ahmed, and Marvi Sirmed, of Baaghi blog

Courageous Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who had scored major scoops on al Qaeda and the Taliban, was abducted and brutally murdered this week. Was the ISI, the country’s shady intelligence agency, to blame? Ron Moreau, Fasih Ahmed, and Marvi Sirmed report on the ISI’s history of intimidation—and why Shahzad’s death may have been a bloody warning to scare off their critics in the media.

About 6 p.m. on Sunday, Syed Saleem Shahzad left his house in Islamabad for the short drive to a Pakistani television station where he was scheduled to appear on a political talk show. The hard-hitting investigative journalist never got there. Instead, he disappeared—picked up by Pakistani intelligence, it's widely believed. Human Rights Watch's country representative in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, tells The Daily Beast he "put out feelers" when he heard that Shahzad had gone missing and was led to believe "through unspecified but credible sources" that Shahzad was in the custody of agents from Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Dayan says his understanding was that Shahzad would be home by Monday night. He adds that Shahzad's family was given the same assurances. Shahzad's wife reportedly got an anonymous phone call on Monday saying her husband would be home in the next 24 hours.

It was not to be. On Tuesday Shahzad's abandoned car and his wristwatch were found about 100 kilometers from Islamabad. His dead body was discovered in a canal several kilometers from that spot. He had been shot in the stomach, and there were marks of torture on his face and body. Shahzad, 40, was the latest Pakistani journalist to die under mysterious circumstances. Since 2010, 15 Pakistani journalists have been killed, making Pakistan one of the world's most dangerous countries for the profession, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Shahzad, a father of three, covered a particularly dangerous beat—and landed stories that no one else had. In 2008 he interviewed the bloodthirsty Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who would be killed in a drone strike the following year. And two years ago he scored an interview with Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist believed to have masterminded the 2008 terrorist rampage that left more than 160 dead in Mumbai. Shahzad's latest book, Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11, has just been published, and only two days before his disappearance he posted a story on Asia Times Online about the deadly May 22 attack on Karachi's Mehran naval air station. "Al Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on the PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals," Shahzad wrote.

“We don’t know if the ISI killed him,” Dayan says, “but the manner of his killing is consistent with the other murders where there has been credible evidence of ISI involvement.”

Pakistan's TV news outlets, known more for their passion than for accuracy, have all but accused the ISI of Shahzad's abduction and death. The ISI and other Pakistani intelligence entities have a history of intimidating—and sometimes abducting—outspoken, unruly, and uncooperative reporters and politicians. Umar Cheema, a first-rate reporter for one of the country's largest English-language dailies, The News, published some articles critical of Pakistan's armed forces and got a warning from the ISI. "They approached me," he tells The Daily Beast. "They said what they wanted to say, and in a nice manner. Going by what I'd heard, I feared they wouldn't be so nice in future—that the next message would be a harsher one."

Cheema was driving home from dinner in Islamabad last Sept. 4 when a group of men in black commando-style shirts stopped his car, blindfolded him, and took him to a house where he was stripped, beaten, and videotaped in humiliating positions. He believes they were ISI. "They continue to deny it, but I'm convinced it was them," he says. Nevertheless, he says, it's too soon to accuse the ISI of killing Shahzad. "His beat was al Qaeda and the Taliban," says Cheema. "So it could be them. But if it's not the ISI then they [the ISI] need to locate the people who did this, because they certainly can." Cheema is more concerned than ever for his own safety. "Obviously I feel really vulnerable," he says. "We need an independent commission to look into [Shahzad's death]."

Shahzad became fearful for his family and himself after being summoned to the ISI's Islamabad headquarters last October. The next day he sent an email to Dayan of Human Rights Watch, describing his meeting with Rear Adm. Adnan Nazir, director general of the ISI's media wing, and Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, Nazir's deputy. They demanded that Shahzad explain an Asia Times article he had written in which he alleged that Pakistan had released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's former second in command who had been arrested the previous February. Admiral Nazir, according to Shahzad's notes, said that the "story had caused a lot of embarrassment for the country" and suggested that Shahzad write a retraction.

Shahzad refused, calling the idea "impractical." He said the story was leaked to him by "an intelligence channel"—meaning an ISI agent—and confirmed by "credible" Taliban sources. Shahzad's email said the conversation with the ISI officials was held in an "extremely polite and friendly atmosphere." But Admiral Nazir seemed to interject a note of menace at the end, informing Shahzad that the ISI had recently arrested a terrorist who had a lot of material in his possession, including a hit list. "If I find your name on the list," Shahzad quoted him as saying, "I will certainly let you know."

Shahzad's email to Dayan explained: "I am forwarding this email to you for your record only if in case something happens to me or my family in the future." After the meeting at ISI headquarters, according to Dayan, "he said he was being followed and receiving threatening phone calls." Nevertheless, Dayan adds: "He'd factored this into his life and kept going."

Although it's too early to accuse the ISI, Dayan says, he nevertheless thinks the directorate has to be a top suspect. "We don't know if the ISI killed him," Dayan says, "but the manner of his killing is consistent with the other murders where there has been credible evidence of ISI involvement. The fact is that no military or intelligence personnel are ever punished for crimes that may have been perpetrated by them." Asked about his own safely, he replies: "I'm fine until further notice."

But the ISI has been in a defensive crouch ever since the discovery of Osama bin Laden living comfortably just down the street from the country's military academy. Pakistani journalists on Shahzad's difficult and dangerous beat fear that the ISI may have made an example of him in order to scare them off of criticizing the directorate. "The ISI is under fire at home and abroad, so perhaps it has just sent a very bloody and scary message to the rest of the media here," says a Pakistani journalist, asking not to be named.

The Daily Beast visited Shahzad's widow after his body was found. Aneeqa Saleem sat in shocked disbelief on the corner of a bed. Trauma seems a small word for the expressions on their three children. The youngest, 7-year-old Rehman Shah, was completely focused on trying to make his mother smile. "Mom, you still not happy?" he kept asking. "When will you smile?" His mother only looked at him helplessly.

She said she wants no criminal charges filed, nothing said to accuse any institution or organization, no autopsy. The case should be buried with her husband, she insisted. On a television in the room, a newscast showed pictures of his battered corpse. "My handsome husband!" she said. "Just look what they have made of him."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Commenters, bloggers, hacks, and authors

Commenters are men and women in real life, presumably, but on the Internet they are disembodied pixels of pure judgment that trade little more than an e-mail address for the privilege of hearing themselves speak in the virtual pages of publications otherwise inaccessible to the voice of the layman, in this case, the venerable Gray Lady. Many do so anonymously or with a user name, believing that though their words may be read, they are in no danger of facing the consequences of their free speech, least of all the very real consequence that working writers must face when they put fingers to keyboard: a libel suit. Some brave (or stupid) folks use their actual names, perhaps emboldened by the carnival-like spectacle that welcomes the performance of every comer willing to step right up.
Journalist Miriam Markowitz riffs on the blogosphere.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

State Department Censors Web Sites China Allows

Excerpt from Peter Van Buren's blog, We Meant Well

Just to make sure our quotient of irony stays at Defcon 99, the State Department plans to spend $19 million on breaking Internet censorship overseas. State says it will give $19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to “politically sensitive material.” Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of human rights, said that the funding would support technology to identify what countries are trying to censor and “redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked; this is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block.”

I emailed a colleague in Beijing, and yes, Tom Dispatch is available there to him, at home. In his US Embassy office however, the site is still blocked.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

NY Post Rises to Occasion and gives us Head

Here's a headline that grabs your attention. Whora Bora indeed.
There is some speculation that the smut actually belonged to the three wives in the Bin Laden household, who were on rotation in the bedrooms. Or to one of the pre-teen sons. Source?
A rather dubious one: Um Tareq, tweeting @binLadenWidows. The online women are supposedly mourning their has-bin hubby by tweeting.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May Day!! Hermetic and Arrogant Grey Lady breaks the news as if she's breaking wind

Felix Salmon of Reuters assesses how the NY Times claims to have "broken" the Bin Laden raid. Click here for the complete post.
An excerpt:
has dinosaurs like Bill Keller and Arthur Brisbane, whose respective columns this weekend betray the fact that the people with the bully pulpits are stuck in a completely different world, seemingly ignorant of some of the biggest stories in social media.

[Arthur] Brisbane is the NYT’s ombudsman, and today he describes the way that the paper broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Well, he can’t do that, because the NYT didn’t break the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. But he ignores the people who did break the news, and just tells the story of how the official NYT machine worked. His story starts at 10:34 last Sunday night, when a source told NYT reporter Helene Cooper that Osama had been killed. By 10:40, an alert was up on nytimes.com. Then, by Brisbane’s account, Twitter got involved:

One minute after Ms. Cooper’s news alert was posted on the Web, Jeff Zeleny, The Times’s national political correspondent, posted on Twitter: “NYT’s Helene Cooper confirming that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. President to announce shortly from the White House.”

At virtually the same time, Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor, sent a similar Twitter message. Next to come was an automated Twitter post generated by NYTimes.com, regurgitating the original news alert.

Those links are all Brisbane’s, by the way, including the rather hilarious link to the homepage of the very site his column is on. All of the links are internal; none are to the actual tweets in question. But here’s the first tweet that Brisbane mentions, from Zeleny. As Brisbane says, it was posted at 10:41pm.

For a very different look at how the Osama news broke check out SocialFlow’s exhaustive analysis of 14.8 million tweets on Sunday night. As far as Twitter is concerned, the news was broken by Keith Urbahn at 10:24pm. But it really got momentum from being retweeted at 10:25pm by NYT media reporter Brian Stelter, who added the crucial information that Urbahn is Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff. Urbahn, here, gets the goal, but Stelter absolutely gets the assist:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Er - an even worse typo! Fox's Freudian slip

An anchor at the Fox station in Washington, WTTG, said – first thing out of his mouth as the President walked away from the podium:

“President Obama speaking from the East Room of the White House, telling the nation and the world: President Obama is in fact dead. It was a U.S.-led strategic (horrified co-anchor mumbles correction) I’m sorry. Osama Bin Laden is dead.” Read more on world wide coverage of the raid, as it happened in Abbotabad, on ReaderSupportedNews

And lets give a cybersalute to tweeter Sohair Attar, the world's virtual witness in Abbottabad, self described as an "IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops".

It was somehow fitting that President Obama's announcement about the death of bin Laden interrupted Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show on Sunday night.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oops - a typo that will haunt her!

In an attempt to release the news of Osama bin Laden’s death quickly late Sunday night, MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell accidentally reported on Twitter that “Obama” had been “killed” instead.

“Obama shot and killed,” Norah O’Donnell posted on Twitter, citing NBC Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski as her source.

It was announced Sunday that Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was killed by American forces. President Obama addressed the nation to deliver the news around 11:30 p.m. ET.

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/05/02/typo-msnbc-correspondent-accidentally-reports-on-twitter-that-obama-killed/#ixzz1LASRxm7u