Saturday, February 11, 2006

More information on Jill Carroll, including analysis of why her captors switched from Al-Jazeera to Al Rai TV:

Carroll's Iraqi kidnappers change channels in bid for more prominence

By Paul Garwood

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Kidnappers of journalist Jill Carroll have chosen a new TV station to broadcast their videotapes in a bid to promote their demands more effectively and increase pressure on the U.S. government, security experts said Friday. The third and latest tape, which appeared on a Kuwaiti station late Thursday, also gave new hope that the 28-year-old freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor is alive. The American was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad by gunmen who shot and killed her translator. The first two videotapes of Carroll in captivity were aired last month on Al-Jazeera television, but the station did not carry her voice.

The private Kuwaiti station Al-Rai broadcast the new 22-second video in its entirety and with Carroll's voice. She spoke of having sent two letters but did not say to whom. "I am with the mujahedeen," she said. "I sent you a letter written by my hand, but you wanted more evidence, so we are sending you this letter now to prove I am with the mujahedeen."

An Al-Jazeera employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make statements for the station, confirmed the first two videos referred to a letter. The station did not mention any letters when it aired the videotapes. It did report that the kidnappers were demanding the release of women held prisoner in Iraq.

Al-Rai owner Jassem Boudai said his station has given U.S.authorities Carroll's letter, which he only described as "sensitive." The station didn't reveal its contents, he said, out of concern for the reporter. Some terror analysts said Carroll's kidnappers used the relatively unknown station to get more of its message across and to avoid being tainted by Al-Jazeera's reputation as being biased toward insurgents.

Al-Jazeera came under sharp criticism for airing videos showing al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, with hostages they soon beheaded. The station cut the tape when masked gunmen drew knives and moved toward their doomed victims. Since then, Al-Jazeera has sought to air just enough material for news value without appearing to be a conduit for gruesome propaganda. Station policy is not to carry the voices of hostages.

"There are a lot of question marks for insurgents at Al-Jazeera because they don't air all their tapes in entirety, or not immediately or sometimes not at all," said Mustafa al-Ani, director of terrorism studies at Gulf Research Center in the United Arab Emirates." But these small stations will jump at such opportunities because they aren't famous," he said. "Very few people had heard of Al-Rai before that tape, but now people all over the United States know it."

Another senior Al-Jazeera editor concurred, saying Carroll's kidnappers had found it impossible to get their demands aired fully because of his station's strict content policies. He said the kidnappers wanted to make their demands clear and used Al-Rai to do so. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make statements for Al-Jazeera.

A top U.S. media analyst said being able to get their messages out in their entirety will have an impact on the American public, and could put pressure on officials to question the Bush administration's approach to the war in Iraq. "These videos will prompt us to feel fear, hope, heightened anger or frustration about a matter as viewers will have little control over, and this could lead us to putting more pressure on our public officials," said Bob Steele of the Florida-based Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
I find myself wondering about the letter in Jill Carroll's hand, whether she was able to write freely, or whether her captors told her what to write. Most likely the latter. But I like to think that even in captivity, she can find a way to express her thoughts, use her voice. In the meanwhile, many of us will continue to try to be her voice by proxy.

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