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Questions About Carroll's Captivity

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006; 10:21 AM

I spoke to David Bloom days before he died and then covered his memorial service. I wrote about the death of Michael Kelly. I said goodbye to Bob Woodruff before he went to Iraq and got badly injured by a roadside bomb.

In short, death and violence involving the brave journalists who have gone to Iraq is an ever-present part of my beat. And yet, like many people, I was especially floored by the kidnapping of Jill Carroll and greatly relieved by her release yesterday.

Reporters for big news organizations, after all, generally travel with security details, while Carroll is a 28-year-old freelancer who went to Baghdad on her own, became a stringer for the Christian Science Monitor and clearly was bent on understanding Iraqi culture.

This is a courageous young woman.

I must say, though, that I found her first interview yesterday rather odd. Carroll seemed bent on giving her captors a positive review, going on about how well they treated her, how they gave her food and let her go to the bathroom. And they never threatened to hit her. Of course, as we all saw in those chilling videos, they did threaten to kill her. And they shot her Iraqi translator to death.

Why make a terrorist group who put her family and friends through a terrible three-month ordeal sound like they were running a low-budget motel chain?

Now perhaps this is unfair, for there is much we do not know. We don't know why Carroll was kidnapped and why she was abruptly released. She says she doesn't either, but surely she must have gotten some clues about her abductors' outlook and tactics during her 82-day captivity. Maybe she was just shell-shocked right after being let go. Maybe she won't feel comfortable speaking out until she's back on American soil.

As my colleagues in Baghdad point out, when that interview was taped, Carroll was still in the custody of a Sunni political party with ties to the insurgency. It may have just made sense for her to be especially cautious. And they tell me that Carroll did cry -- off camera -- when the subject of her murdered translator came up. Still, people are buzzing because her taped remarks have been played over and over again on television. I hope she'll be able to share a fuller account of her ordeal soon.

Despite the happy ending, Carroll's kidnapping has driven home how dangerous Iraq remains for Western journalists, who admit it's getting increasingly difficult to do their jobs, even as they challenge the administration's claims that they are excessively focused on violence and negative news.

As CBS's Lara Logan told me in a CNN interview this week, "When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that's going on. But as long as you're a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that's going to be reflected in your coverage . . .

"You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack. Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked . I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country."

Let's be grateful that Jill Carroll didn't wind up the latest victim.


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