Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Investigative journalism and mass graves | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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On a recent visit to Beirut, an Iraqi friend jokingly told me, “You Lebanese have insulted us by uncovering a mass grave with only twenty corpses!” My friend was mockingly comparing the discovery of thousands of bodies in mass graves across Iraq to the recent discovery of human remains near the Syrian intelligence’s former headquarters in Anjar, Lebanon.

My friend was not ridiculing the mass graves which included the decomposed bones of a pregnant woman and several children. He was sarcastically alluding to the general neglect our societies usually adopt towards such horrific events.

The mass graves in Anjar are not the first of its kind in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. Instead, they represent the latest addition to a long list of horrific discoveries we choose to ignore. When mass graves are discovered in our country, the tragedy increases because such a crime will be used for quick political and media gains without any respect being shown to the memory of those killed in cold blood and buried beneath the surface. The victims, whose identities and stories we were forced to forget, will not enjoy much attention. This is in contrast to the political rewards derived from such an incident.

Investigative journalism, common in the West, focuses on thoroughly examining details and is not content with general information but delves deeper into events and rumors.

As soon as we discover a mass gave, we hurriedly ask about the murderer and not the victim. The political and legal authorities are responsible for discovering the identity of the perpetrators. Of course, this is an important and necessary step. Yet the inquiry about the victim is even more central if facts are to be uncovered.

In Anjar, two children and a pregnant woman are buried. Who are they?

Our journalists did not preoccupy themselves with this query, which might be hard but is essential. What caused two children to be buried in the mass grave?

During my reporting of the Iraq war, in 2003, I met a US university professor and a Jordanian expert, both specialists of excavation and investigation of mass graves.

They were familiar with the architecture of a mass grave: how victims are buried, the distance between the grave and residential areas, how bodies were transported and whether religious practices were followed during the burial, depending on the mindset of the killers, as well as other details.

Investigative journalism, in the Arab world, is in need of such expertise, especially as it reports on mass murders.

The bodies of Kuwaitis, Iraqis of all sects and groups, Lebanese, Palestinians, Algerians, Sudanese and other Africans were dumped in mass graves. We must ready ourselves for the disclosure of other secrets. The media needs to arm itself with the necessary expertise to assist in such discoveries.

Inactivity would mean finding the graves and covering them up once more.