- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

The clock is ticking for Daniel Pearl. The Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped in Karachi on Jan. 23 by a group that calls itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. The group said on Wednesday via e-mail that it would kill Mr. Pearl within 24 hours if the group's stated demands weren't met. Yesterday, the kidnappers claimed Mr. Pearl was an agent of Israeli intelligence and said they would extend this deadline for another 24 hours.

Before Jan. 23, no one had heard of the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. If such a group even exists, it has demonstrated its terrorist nature by kidnapping Mr. Pearl and threatening to murder him. They are hardly the people to demand that the al Qaeda and Taliban detainees held by U.S. authorities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be given access to lawyers and their families and extradited to Pakistan for trial. Surely, a good number of legitimate governments and organizations have expressed concern over the legal status of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, but Mr. Pearl's captors have entirely delegitimized themselves by resorting to such barbarism to press their case.

The White House has correctly declined to engage in this type of human bartering. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who himself has expressed concern over the legal processing of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, made clear yesterday that the White House won't be dragged into negotiations on the terrorists' terms. "The demands that the kidnappers have placed are not demands that we can meet or deal with," Mr. Powell said. On Monday, Mr. Powell spoke with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and asked him to use his influence to try to recover Mr. Pearl. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, meanwhile, said Washington appreciated "the strong cooperation" between Pakistani authorities and U.S. investigators.

As we all know, it isn't easy for the White House to rebuff hostage-takers when the lives of Americans hang in the balance. But in the wake of the horrors of September 11, it is important for the administration not to validate violence against civilians like Mr. Pearl. In this post-September 11 world, absolutes become increasingly important, and individuals, groups and governments must adhere to, without excuses, ethical conduct in all circumstances.

And what makes Mr. Pearl's capture particularly disconcerting is that a free press is an integral component of those absolutes. The press is a vital watchdog, reporting acts of violence, revealing governmental abuse, etc. In wartime, the role of the press is particularly important. Were it not for brave journalists who bear witness, countries would be much more tempted to stray from internationally supported rules of engagement. That is exactly what Mr. Pearl was attempting to do. Moreover, he is a civilian, as were the victims of September 11.

In kidnapping Mr. Pearl, the so-called National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty is imperiling Pakistan's democratic progress and its relations with the United States. The group may feel empowered with Mr. Pearl's life in its hands, but it has only managed to do harm to its cause, and contributed to the terrorist blight on the world.

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