Sunday, May 07, 2006

Talk To Me About Equivalence

Below are some graphic excerpts from this Times of London article on the execution of Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat in February, a film of which was released last week. At the time, we were given to understand that she had been shot along with two of her crew.

We now know that it was not that swift for Bahjat. First she was stripped to the waist, a humiliation for any woman but particularly so for a pious Muslim who concealed her hair, arms and legs from men other than her father and brother.


By the time filming begins, the condemned woman has been blindfolded with a white bandage.

It is stained with blood that trickles from a wound on the left side of her head. She is moaning, although whether from the pain of what has already been done to her or from the fear of what is about to be inflicted is unclear.


A large man dressed in military fatigues, boots and cap approaches from behind and covers her mouth with his left hand. In his right hand, he clutches a large knife with a black handle and an 8in blade. He proceeds to cut her throat from the middle, slicing from side to side.

Her cries — “Ah, ah, ah” — can be heard above the “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) intoned by the holder of the mobile phone.

Even then, there is no quick release for Bahjat. Her executioner suddenly stands up, his job only half done. A second man in a dark T-shirt and camouflage trousers places his right khaki boot on her abdomen and pushes down hard eight times, forcing a rush of blood from her wounds as she moves her head from right to left.

Only now does the executioner return to finish the task. He hacks off her head and drops it to the ground, then picks it up again and perches it on her bare chest so that it faces the film-maker in a grotesque parody of one of her pieces to camera.


She had nine drill holes in her right arm and 10 in her left, he said. The drill had also been applied to her legs, her navel and her right eye. One can only hope that these mutilations were made after her death.

It's not clear to whom that death squad belongs. The Iraqi National Guard? The Iran-backed Shi-ite Badr Brigade? Sunni Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al Qaeda operation in Iraq?

Whoever it was, Bahjat's transgression was to report on terrorism and denounce violence. For that, she got her full personal measure of both.

There is no goal on earth that justifies how Bahjat met her end. None. No excuse, no ameliorating or extenuating circumstance, no "but-you-have-to-understand's."

No one can tell me that evil doesn't exist, either. Otherwise, what would you call this?

Update, Monday: I want to update this post to reflect a change in this story, in the interests of accuracy. (I would have done so sooner, but have been trapped in meetings and away from the computer most of the day.)

The tape is reportedly a hoax in the a Nepalese man, rather than Bahjat. (I'm sure Bahjat's family is relieved, in one sense, but on the other hand--how cruel and painful this story must have been for them!)

However, what actually happens in the video is apparently not in dispute, so I stand by my reaction to the atrocity, though I can't put a name onto the victim.