My fight for Danny's memory

Daniel Pearl was murdered in 2002 while reporting for the Wall Street Journal in Pakistan. For his wife, Mariane Pearl, the lonely battle for justice continues

Tuesday 17 February 2004 01:00

I made a friend in Pakistan. I nicknamed him "Captain" because of his authority; I couldn't tell if it came naturally to him or was the result of decades spent in the Pakistani army. But when my husband, Danny Pearl, was kidnapped in Karachi two years ago, Captain became the second most important man in my life. He told me: "I will bring your Danny home." It took another four weeks for us to find out what had happened to my husband.

During this time, Captain got to know Danny. He met me, he met Danny's friends, his bosses, his writing. He saw Danny's mandolin lying there, in the house that had become the headquarters of our search. Captain even saw Danny's unmatched socks. "Danny," Captain concluded, "is the best of America."

After the first three sleepless nights following Danny's kidnapping, there was no sense of time in our house and only one reality. Captain's only aim was to save Danny, because I was there, because I was pregnant, because Danny was innocent, because Captain was a Muslim and a patriot who felt deeply ashamed by those who kept him in captivity. When it was learned that Danny was dead, it was Captain who had to tell me. Because he said so, I knew it was true, the same way I knew what he said next to be true. It was another pledge: "I will pursue those who did this and bring them to justice, even if it is going to take a lifetime. My lifetime."

I only wish others who promised their resolve at that time - including Danny's employers at the Wall Street Journal - had kept their word, too.

On the first anniversary of Danny's kidnapping, 23 January 2003, Captain and I sat on the top floor of the World Financial Centre, right across from Ground Zero. I took him with me to meet Danny's bosses at the Wall Street Journal. Captain was the behind-the-scenes man, the one who had donated his time and his efforts. The hero.

We wanted to know why the Journal had not sent anyone to court to represent Danny as the Pakistani authorities began prosecutions for his kidnapping and murder. One of those on trial included Omar Said Sheikh, who had confessed to masterminding the operation. It was Omar who had lured Danny into a trap, pretending he was the disciple of a source Danny was trying to interview. Ever since I had left Pakistan the year before I had been trying to persuade the Journal to send someone. "We were advised not to send a white American to a Pakistani court," Journal chiefs told us.

Not only had the paper not sent a white American, it had sent no one. The trial was held in a tiny, windowless "court" in the prison where the men were being held. Transparency sounded like wishful thinking. I had ended up paying a Pakistani lawyer a very large sum to represent Danny, and the Journal eventually reimbursed me a small fraction of his fees.

Eventually, the Journal promised to do what Captain suggested: put pressure on President Musharraf to make sure the judicial process would continue. In July 2002 Omar was sentenced to death, and the other three men were given life sentences. The paper's bosses promised they would find and pay a lawyer in Pakistan to represent Danny in subsequent trials.

Omar's appeal has since been delayed nine times, mostly for the simple reason that his lawyer doesn't show up in court. It's all far from over. Even behind bars, his influence is thought to remain great. Some reports have suggested that he helped orchestrate the recent assassination attempts on President Musharraf. There have also been reports in the Pakistani press that one Sardar Naeemullah Shahani, the Punjab sports and culture minister who was kidnapped in January, would be offered to the government in exchange for Omar Sheikh and the three others, although government officials have denied this.

Far-fetched, you say? Not for Omar, who was freed from an Indian court in 1999, where he was serving time for a failed kidnapping plot, in exchange for the safe release of passengers aboard a hijacked Indian Airlines flight. It's also important to understand that the forces within the Pakistani government that have so destabilised the Musharraf regime - the intelligence agency (ISI) and the military - are those to whom Omar had at least passing ties before his arrest.

This powerful conflict within the Pakistan government could be seen in Musharraf's handling of the government's corrupt nuclear program. Just three weeks ago, after it was revealed that Pakistan had given nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea - a story that Danny had been pursuing - Musharraf called the scientists involved "enemies of the state". But then, last Wednesday, Musharraf seemed to cave, pardoning Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme who had taken responsibility for the leaked information. By doing so, Musharraf avoided a battle with government hard-liners, who deified Khan for turning Pakistan into a nuclear power. It illustrates how rough the justice in this part of the world can be, and why it helps to have as many witnesses as possible.

In addition to Omar's appeals, the trial of the four men who held Danny captive is yet to take place. All four are Pakistanis - the last one, Naeem Boukhari, was finally captured after a bounty of 1 million Pakistani rupees ($17,450) was placed on his head. Their trials are to follow the Pakistan Supreme Court's decision on Omar's appeal case. The Wall Street Journal's interest in proceedings has seemed to wane. It remained remarkably dedicated until we found out for sure, nearly a month after his kidnapping, that Danny had died. The Journal set up a financial trust for our son Adam and me, to which hundreds of people have contributed thousands of dollars. Afterwards, at the Journal, I could tell his co-workers really liked Danny. I could tell everyone was traumatised by what had happened to him, just four months after the September 11 events had sent them running for their lives from their own offices. I could tell a lot of things, but still not why Danny died and who killed him.

In May 2002, a lawyer for Dow Jones (the parent company of the Wall Street Journal) levelled with me. It was during Omar's trial, and as I tried to follow its proceedings I persisted in asking what the Journal was doing. They did not hire a lawyer in Pakistan and there was no transparency in any of the proceedings.

"It is your case, not ours," the lawyer eventually told me. I hung up. The moment that followed, when I looked at myself, too pregnant to go to Pakistan and represent Danny on my own, was one of the loneliest I've ever had. Months later, I wrote the Journal a letter.

"I am very well aware of the difficulties posed by the trial and investigation, as I have been facing them alone for the past ten months. But the murder of Danny was like a hijacked plane sent to explode in the heart of your company. I simply cannot understand how you can turn your back and fail to seek the determination to pursue these two goals reflects my own loyalty to the values I shared with Danny. My loyalty is stronger than the obstacles I have and will encounter."

I asked to meet them again, preferably without a company lawyer present, which led to my visit with Captain a year ago. Since then, not much has changed. I still rely on Yahoo for my updates about the case. From the Journal, all I've heard is the sound I've learned to dread the most: silence.

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