< Murderous Intent


Friday, July 15, 2005

BOB GARFIELD: The Time Magazine cover story was called "Inside the Mind of an Iraqi Suicide Bomber," a rare interview with a 20-year-old terrorist-in-training revealed chilling insight into the insurgency's deadliest weapon. But it also, presumably, served the interests of the insurgents themselves. Aparisim Ghosh wrote the story. He's a senior international correspondent for Time, based in Baghdad. He joins us now from R and R in Singapore. His friends call him Bobby, and I will too. Bobby, welcome to OTM.

APARISIM GHOSH: Thank you, Bob. And thanks for having me.

BOB GARFIELD: How did you find this young man, and how did you arrange this interview?

APARISIM GHOSH: Well, like every other media outlet in Baghdad, we've been tracking the suicide bombing story for several months now. And, like every other journalist there, we've been trying to understand what makes a suicide bomber tick, what their motivation is, how they go about their deadly business. And in the process of trying to find out, we put the word out, calling on contacts who in turn are connected to various insurgent groups. What we hadn't quite expected was that one of these groups would volunteer to send over one of their bombers, on extremely short notice. And they did. They sent this young man who was a bomber-in-training. So we got it directly from the horse's mouth.

BOB GARFIELD: The man was photographed with his face masked, and he used a pseudonym. What else did you agree to, to get this interview?

APARISIM GHOSH: The ground rules were quite simple. They would not tell us anything about where he was based. And he said he wouldn't give us his real name. His explanation was that he didn't want his family to be harassed at a later date, after he had completed his mission. But he was quite candid and forthright in expressing his views. He told me a great deal about his childhood and about how he joined the Jihad and what brought him to where he is today.

BOB GARFIELD: Now obviously, this is a worthy story and it was a very good story. But here's a guy telling you he will kill Americans, and God knows how many Iraqi civilians, and when the interview ends you watch him walk out of the room. Did that take any soulsearching on your part?

APARISIM GHOSH: I mentioned somewhere in my story that it's, it's not unusual for young Iraqis to be saying things like this, to be saying that they would like to join the Jihad, that they would like to kill Americans and blow themselves up. And if I sort of called the authorities every time I heard a young Iraqi man say that, I'd be doing that five or six times a day. I had a hunch that this guy might be for real but I couldn't be certain, until several days afterwards. We needed to verify from several different sources. At the time he left us for the interview, I suppose we could have tried to follow him. It was a very public place where he met us. And if we did try to follow him, I would be putting the lives of my Iraqi staff at risk, just in case we were, we were caught. I made the call that we shouldn't do that.

BOB GARFIELD: Talking to the enemy itself is tricky business. I'm thinking, for instance, of the criticism CNN's Peter Arnett's took in Iraq for, in effect, becoming a propaganda tool of Saddam's regime. Now, obviously, this guy's handlers would never have permitted him to speak with you, if they didn't think that the interview would serve their purposes. Did you at any point feel manipulated?

APARISIM GHOSH: No, I didn't. I think the story lays it out for what it is. I hope that the report serves as a cautionary tale for our readers. I think it comes from a tradition of being behind enemy lines and reporting from the trenches.

BOB GARFIELD: Did you work out any mechanisms so that if he does, indeed, go forward with his plans, as you wrote, "to be ordered to climb into a bomb-laden vehicle or strap on an explosive-filled vest," that you'll be able to know what he has done, when he's done it?

APARISIM GHOSH: After the interview and after we had confirmed that he was who he claimed to be, we asked through our sources that we be told after the mission takes place. I have no way of knowing whether we will, indeed, be told. The groups that he associates with are not the most reliable people, in terms of information. So I really couldn't say. My best guess, he's probably already dead by now. We met him three and a half weeks ago, and he told us then that he was part of group of 10 or 12 young men who had signed up at the same time for suicide missions. And of those 10 or 12 men, there were only two left alive, he and another friend. If I take him at his word, then I think he was very close to getting the final call when we met him. And it's quite possible that he's already dead.

BOB GARFIELD: Look Bobby, I would have done this interview too, under probably exactly the same terms. But I want to know if, three and a half weeks later, you are haunted by it, and how you will feel if you learn that, indeed, he has completed his mission and taken innocent lives?

APARISIM GHOSH: I'm definitely haunted by it. How can a journalist not be? How can a human being not be? This is not the first time I have encountered a young man who wants to do something as terrible as this. I've met suicide bombers in training in Palestine. And even now, several years after that, I sometimes wonder. I can only go back to what I said at the beginning, which is that I think this was a valid exercise and a useful exercise because understanding the motivation of a suicide bomber is a very important part of the war on terror, it's a very important part of the world's understanding of the roots of terror and the nature of this terrible beast.

BOB GARFIELD: All right Bobby, well thank you very much.


BOB GARFIELD: Aparisim Ghosh is a writer for Time Magazine. He's based in Baghdad. And his piece was titled, "Inside the Mind of an Iraqi Suicide Bomber."

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, how real life lawyers can win over juries by being more like the lawyers on TV, and a novel approach to newspaper writing.

BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media, from NPR.