What I think is a great piece of reporting from Salon.com’s correspondent in Baghdad: The story (subscription required) of how a U.S. Army sniper killed Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi doctor working as a journalist for the Knight-Ridder News Service. Salon’s reporter, Phillip Robertson, had gotten to know Salihee and his family and decided to find the soldier who killed his friend and find out his version of what happened. Since our military maintains a strict and nearly complete silence about the civilian casualties it has inflicted in Iraq, and since it couldn’t be expected to cooperate with a journalistic investigation into Salihee’s death, Robertson took it upon himself to see if he could find the American unit involved and get embedded with it. He did it, and eventually met the unit’s sniper, identified only as “Joe,” who showed him pictures he had stored on a laptop of his tour of duty in Iraq.
“Then he brought up a photograph of a white Daewoo Espero sedan on a Baghdad street. The sedan had a single bullet hole in the driver’s side of the windshield. Behind the wheel there was a lifeless man, slumped in the seat with a shattered skull and a torrent of blood staining his shirt. The image carried a sudden shock of recognition and despair. The dead man behind the wheel of the car was my friend and colleague, Yasser Salihee.
“The sniper lowered his voice when he talked about the pictures of the car and the man inside it. His self-assured manner disappeared and he became nervous. ‘Here is one of ours. I really hope he was a bad guy. Do you know anything about him?’ Then he said, ‘See, I don’t know if I should be talking about this.’
” ‘Did you fire the shot that killed him?’ I asked.
” ‘I don’t know.’
“Joe said that it was true that he fired the shot through the Espero’s windshield, but he wasn’t positive if it was the lethal shot. There was no doubt that it was, but Joe seemed to be genuinely uncertain about it. It was clear that he did not want it to be true.”
I didn’t hear about it or read about it when Salihee was killed. After reading Robertson’s piece, I went looking and found a couple of tributes to him from colleagues: One from the Knight Ridder bureau chief in Baghdad, another from an NPR reporter for whom Salihee served as translator.
An awful irony: Reading about Salihee, he is just the kind of person one might hope could flourish in a land rid of dictatorship and fear, by all accounts a dazzlingly intelligent, giving, brave and daring soul. Yet his life was consumed by what we’ve set loose in Iraq. Among his wife’s comments, a few weeks after the shooting: “I want the Americans to go back to America, but I know they won’t go.”