10 Scariest Journalist Arrests in American History


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There's something about the kidnapping or apprehension of journalists that feels tragic in a way separate from the rest of war. It's because reporters aren't in foreign lands to fight an enemy or support one side over another; they're simply there to record what's happening and tell the world what they see. They haven't signed up for combat. They're storytellers, not soldiers. So when a journalist is taken prisoner — or worse, killed — simply for doing their job, it strikes a note of fear back home. These men and women travel the world knowing the risk involved, but that doesn't make it easier to take when those risks turn into real threats. So many journalists have been taken, arrested, beaten, imprisoned, or detained without reason abroad. This list represents just a fraction of those who were willing to put themselves in danger at the cost of telling the truth.

  1. Daniel Pearl: Daniel Pearl (pictured above) was one of the earliest and most prominent journalist victims in the war on terror launched after 9/11. The South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, Pearl went to Pakistan in January 2002 to investigate the background of Richard Reid (the infamous "shoe bomber") and possible ties to Al-Qaeda. On January 23, he was abducted in a town called Karachi by a group that called themselves warriors for Pakistani sovereignty. The group emailed the U.S. government with a list of demands, and they also released images of Pearl holding up a newspaper (to confirm the date) as he sat handcuffed with a gun trained on him. Pearl was beheaded less than two weeks later by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to the crime years later. In May 2002, Pearl's decapitated body was found in pieces in a shallow grave outside Karachi. His brutal death was a shock to his family back home and to everyone who watched the tragedy unfold, and it also served as a wake-up call for the way Americans might be treated in certain parts of the world. In February of that year, a video was released that showed his dead body, and it also featured him talking. At one point, he said he could begin to understand how detainees at Guantanamo Bay felt. The video's out there online for those who are curious, but be warned: it's not easy to watch.
  2. Bill Stewart: ABC News reporter Bill Stewart was an old hand at reporting from war zones and foreign countries when he went to Nicaragua in 1979 to cover the civil war between the Nicaraguan government (backed by the U.S.) and the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Traveling to the capital city of Managua, Stewart was equipped with a press pass and white flag, but neither did any good when he and his translator were stopped by one of the government's soldiers, who raised his rifle and forced Stewart to lie on the ground. Moments later, the man shot Stewart in the head, and the translator was killed, as well. It was an instantaneous death and shockingly quick punishment for a reporter, especially one traveling in well-marked vehicles who'd been there for a while. The killing was captured on tape by an ABC News cameraman, who had waited in the news van while Stewart and the translator proceeded on foot. Stewart's death galvanized public opinion against the Nicaraguan regime. A reason for Stewart's killing was never given. He simply became collateral damage in a tottering regime's civil war for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  3. Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi: Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi were two of the many victims of the 1973 coup d'etat that saw Chilean President Salvador Allende overthrown by Gen. Augusto Pinochet (with backing from the U.S. government). The coup went down on September 11 of that year; a few days later, Horman and Teruggi were arrested by soldiers and taken Santiago's National Stadium, which Pinochet's forces had opted to use as a military camp and execution site. The horrible part is that there was no specific reason for their capture, or for their eventual execution, at least at first. Their bodies eventually surfaced in a local morgue. After decades of denying any knowledge of the events leading to Horman's death, the U.S. State Department declassified bundles of documents in 1999 that illustrated that they did indeed know the extent of the Chilean forces' paranoia, and that federal officials knew he'd been sought out by Chilean forces but that they hadn't discouraged the foreign government from taking action. A shameful end to a sad story.
  4. Steven Vincent: Steven Vincent spent much of his career as a freelancer, and he ended his life in Iraq covering the war for a variety of outlets. In 2005, Vincent was working out of Basra, a city in southeastern Iraq. One of his final pieces, an opinion column for The New York Times titled "Switched Off in Basra", explored the degree to which security in the region was far from an easy goal, especially as men loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr ascended the ranks of the local police, in effect bringing the law and order teams under the control of Shia extremists. Some speculated that it was that piece and the culmination of his work in the region that led to his apprehension in August 2005. Vincent and his translator were nabbed leaving a currency exchange, beaten severely, and shot on the outskirts of town. The translator lived, but Vincent died. The frightening thing about his abduction — or one of them, at any rate — was the suddenness with which it happened. There was no warning, no ransom period, nothing but a pack of men in a van that killed him a few hours after he was kidnapped.
  5. Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig: In August 2006, Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig (a cameraman) were apprehended in the Gaza Strip by a gang of unknown men who would later reveal themselves to be the Holy Jihad Brigades. The men vanished, but no demands were issued, prompting Fox News execs to encourage employees not to comment on the matter. Almost two weeks after they were taken, a video was released of the two men in which the Holy Jihad Brigades demanded (rather extravagantly) the release by the U.S. of all Muslim prisoners within 72 hours. The deadline came and went with no developments. The men were eventually released unharmed, and it came to light that the kidnappers had believed Centanni to be a CIA operative.
  6. Jill Carroll: Held captive for more than 80 days, Jill Carroll is among the reporters lucky enough to have survived an overseas abduction. In January 2006, Carroll was working in Iraq for The Christian Science Monitor when she, her interpreter, and a driver were set upon by armed men in masks in Baghdad. The interpreter was shot and killed immediately, and Carroll and her driver were abducted in seconds. The news of her disappearance sent another shockwave through the media back home; although Carroll wasn't the first journalist to be kidnapped in the region since the outbreak of the war (there had been, stunningly, more than 30 before her), it's never easy to see it happen. Carroll's situation garnered attention because of the length of her captivity and the number of videos her captives released in which they showed off Carroll and made demands, including the release of all U.S.-held female Iraqi prisoners. Deadlines came and went with no official word on Carroll's safety, but she was released by her captors in March in exchange for making a video decrying the United States and showing support for the insurgents. She's since left the professional media to become a firefighter.
  7. Euna Lee and Laura Ling: Reporting from foreign war zones is always a dangerous job, especially when getting the story means skirting (or even breaking) foreign laws. Euna Lee and Laura Ling paid the price for their reporting in spring 2009 when they were arrested by North Korean border guards after they'd slipped into the country from China without having visas. This will get you in trouble most anywhere in the world, but North Korea's an especially contentious place to try it. They were there working for Current TV when they were apprehended by North Korean military. They were subsequently found guilty of entering the country illegally and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a prison camp, a move that ignited worry and fury stateside as media and officials tried to find ways to free the women. The case was so high-profile that former President Bill Clinton wound up traveling to the region in August to meet with Kim Jong-Il in what was probably a very tense negotiating session. The following day, the women were issued a pardon and allowed to fly back home with Clinton and the delegation.
  8. David Rohde: David Rohde has won the Pulitzer Prize twice, most recently for his contribution to the Afghanistan and Pakistan coverage in The New York Times. He came by that second prize the hard way: he was held prisoner for seven months by the Taliban. In November 2008, Rohde (along with his translator and driver) was abducted near Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban captives started making demands and releasing videos — the standard template for every horrible kidnapping — as the Times worked with law enforcement to find Rohde and get him out. Rohde and his translator were eventually moved to Pakistan, and in June 2009, they staged an escape that was both reckless and daring. Sneaking out of camp at night, they made their way to a Pakistan military post and eventually Baghram Air Base, after which they made it home. The interesting thing about the Rohde affair is that the Times requested a media blackout in order to aid investigators and refrain from giving the Taliban free press for being kidnapping thugs. For the most part, the media complied, so the news wasn't widely reported until Rohde made it home.
  9. Roxana Saberi: A lot of journalists who face imprisonment and arrest abroad are victims in a standard ransom game: the captors know that the journalists aren't combatants, which makes them more emotionally charged targets. Sometimes, though, the journalists in question are alleged to be secret operatives, a claim fueled by the paranoia of the fighters that's almost impossible to disprove, since evidence doesn't matter to the unhinged. Roxana Saberi lived through that nightmare in Iran in 2009. She'd been living there for several years when she was arrested in January '09 for working without press credentials, a charge that led to grander ones, including espionage. She was in prison for weeks before she saw a lawyer. She wasn't tortured while imprisoned, though she did face inflicted psychological stresses. She was sentenced to eight years in prison, though she continued to deny all charges, at one point even going on a hunger strike. Mercifully, an appeals court eventually reduced her charge from full-blown espionage to merely possessing classified information, and they gave her a two-year suspended sentence, allowing her to go free. She was jailed for having nothing more on her than a piece of public information that her captors claimed was private.
  10. Anthony Shadid, Lynsey Addario, Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks: These four reporters were covering the Libyan unrest of March 2011 when things went south. They went missing when Muammar el-Qaddafi's forces advanced on Ajdabiya, and they were arrested even as rebels tried to fight off the soldiers. They had entered the country from Egypt without visas, and the civil unrest escalated around them more quickly than they anticipated. They were apprehended and beaten, but no one back home knew where they were or what was happening; without checking in with their editors, they were simply reported as missing, whereabouts unknown. For days, they were carted around the country and tortured, and they were eventually delivered to a military compound where, miraculously, the beatings ceased. A few days later, they were released by a foreign state department desperate to maintain the semblance of order and power. They'd suffered brutality, but they'd been allowed to live. Their ordeal was a terrifying one, but they were also luckier than many other foreign correspondents who've faced similar situations.
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