By Frank Moher
When it comes to Canadian deaths in Afghanistan, our media’s sentimentality knows no bounds. Each time a soldier dies, we are assured that the young person — for they are almost always young persons — loved animals, or to make people laugh, or, in the case of 22-year old Marc Diab, killed by a roadside bomb on March 8th, “that he wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Inevitably, the article goes on to quote the Prime Minister or some Brig.-Gen. about how heroic and noble the mission is.
This kind of thing is unavoidable. It’s the sort of boilerplate propaganda that journalists pump out as coolly as if they were reporting on sewer upgrades. You’d think, though, that when one of their own is killed they might work up enough outrage to offer something better. But no. Rosie DiManno’s March 11th column in The Toronto Star, on the killing of Javed Yazamy, is a case in point.
Yazamy, also known as Jawed Ahmad, was a 23-year old Afghan cameraman, translator, and all-round “fixer” who worked primarily with Canadian journalists. He was killed March 10th in Kandahar city. He was driving through one of the most secure parts of the city, near the governor’s palace, when another car pulled alongside and a gunman opened fire. This has become the murder method of choice in Afghanistan.
DiManno tells us that when she first met Yazamy, while on assignment for The Star, she assured friends: “Here is a future president of Afghanistan.”
Yazamy drove her and others around the countryside. “We felt relatively safe . . . . knowing the Taliban had more or less agreed to our unmolested passage. We paid Jojo and he paid them and, yes, it was a deal with the devil.
“That devil, never to be truly trusted, apparently took his due yesterday for reasons not yet understood.”
“I am so sorry, Jojo,” she concludes.
I don’t doubt that Ms. DiManno is genuinely upset by her colleague’s death, but this is journalistic pap. On the basis of who-knows-what, she lays the blame for his killing at the feet of the Taliban — “the devil.” But this is the same Yazamy who was imprisoned by the American military for 11 months at Bagram prison, without explanation, without charges, and without, of course, due process, the American military having dispensed with due process long before.
DiManno writes that “there were rumours that Jojo had actually been taken into protective custody by the Americans because he’d purportedly fallen afoul of the Taliban.” She doesn’t mention that, when he got out, he claimed to have been tortured by his soldier-keepers. “His hands were bound with plastic ties, and he was hooded with a heavy bag,” Graeme Smith wrote in The Globe and Mail shortly after his release. “In the following days, he says, he was questioned, taunted, screamed at, beaten with chairs and slammed into walls.”
Then it got worse. “After the initial questioning he was flown to Bagram airbase north of Kabul . . . . Still badly sleep-deprived, he was unloaded at the U.S. base and forced to stand for six hours in the snow wearing only a thin jumpsuit — no shoes, no hat — and he fell unconscious twice. Each time the guards forced him to stand up again.
“‘It felt like I had no skin left on my feet,’ he said.”
Yazamy had recently told Reporters Without Borders that he was planning to write a book about his experiences in prison. So, who else do you think might be placed on the list of suspects in his murder? The people who’d already done violence to him? The ones he’d snitched on, and now was going to write a book about?
Nahhhh. At least not on DiManno’s list. The U.S. doesn’t murder people — just like it doesn’t torture. Instead she does a fine job for the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Public Affairs: “If the enemy can kill Jojo — so agile and plugged in, keenly alert to danger — they can and will kill anybody.”
Good thing we have those “devils” around to blame everything on.
If DiManno really wants to do justice to the memory of a man she calls a “colleague and dear friend,” she might mention that we invaded his country on the basis of a lie. (Here in Canada, we’re still waiting for Colin Powell’s promised proof of Bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11.) She might ask if a phony war is a good reason for her friend to have lost his life, not to mention the 122 Canadian soldiers who’ve also been killed, not to mention the estimated 19000+ total casualties. She might point out that Bagram prison remains open, and that the U.S. continues to maintain that it is outside the jurisdiction of the Geneva Convention. That means we have no idea what is being done, even now, to all the other Javed Yazamys incarcerated there
Or she could tell us that “He laughed. He was always laughing.” Oh wait. She did.
Yazamy, and our Canadian kids, deserve better than these glib farewells. They deserve an accounting. But that might raise uncomfortable questions, and lead to some damning answers. Better to lay on the sentiment, and wait for the next young person to die.