Free press vital to democracy in U.S. and Iraq

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2004

The closing of the Baghdad newspaper, Al Hawza, is a case of egregious bad judgment by the American occupation authority; it should be reversed. The Bush administration wants to create democracy in Iraq. Democracies include newspapers of all stripes, good and bad, those that support governments and those that don't.

One can make a case against public speech that incites violence or insurrection ... but that was not the charge against Al Hawza, a Shiite weekly. The charge rather was that it was anti-occupation, printed unsubstantiated rumors and occasional lies.

As to printing unsubstantiated rumors and lies, we suggest the checkout stand of your local supermarket

for an assortment of scandal sheets published in this country. ...

Al Hawza supports Moktada al-Sadr, a fiery cleric who has no use for the American occupation. Unlike Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a fellow Shiite whose opposition to the occupation is more subtle (and, many would argue, more dangerous), Sadr's views are expressed openly and defiantly. He is anti-occupation, anti-American and unreliable. Al Hawza reflects those positions and qualities.

But should it be censored and closed? Does it make sense to drive such sentiments, which clearly exist, underground? Does censorship ever do anything but create more interest in what has been censored and more anger in those who, denied the pen, are left with the sword?

Under Saddam Hussein, the world knows, there was no dissent. ...

Americans should never compromise the free press principle, so vital to democracy, whether at home or in nations that fall temporarily under our control. As long as Al Hawza does not incite public violence, its freedom to print should not be curtailed.

San Diego (Calif.) Union-Tribune

March 31

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