Furor Grows Over Cheney Remarks on Pearl Murder

By Eric J. Greenberg

Published August 20, 2004, issue of August 20, 2004.
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Following a controversial speech by Vice President Dick Cheney, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is urging Democrats and Republicans to refrain from turning his son’s death into a political football.

Judea Pearl expressed his sentiments after Cheney’s August 12 speech, in which the vice president blasted Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry for declaring that if elected, he would fight a “more sensitive war on terror.” In the course of disparaging Kerry, Cheney invoked the Islamic militant killers of Pearl and another American, Paul Johnson Jr.

“The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity,” Cheney said.

Days later, when asked about the speech, Judea Pearl told the Forward: “The family of Daniel Pearl respectfully requests that his tragic legacy remain non-partisan.” Pearl, an Israeli-born computer science professor at UCLA, said that he did not know of any politician — Democrat or Republican — other than Cheney who has invoked the killing in order to score points against a political opponent.

Cheney drew harsh criticism Monday from Senator Tom Harkin, who was upset by the attack against Kerry. “When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil,” Iowa Democrat Harkin reportedly said. “He’ll be tough, but he’ll be tough with someone else’s kid.”

Democratic officials are accusing Cheney of taking Kerry’s comments out of context, noting that the Democratic presidential candidate was speaking about the need to reach out to potential allies in the war on terrorism.

Kerry made his “sensitive” remark during an August 5 speech before a national conference of minority journalists in Washington. “I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history,” Kerry said.

This notion of working to win over allies appears to echo the final report of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean. The report states that the United States “should reach out, listen to, and work with other countries that can help” and argued that the country’s military efforts to fight Islamic militants “should be accompanied by a preventive strategy that is as much, or more, political as it is military.”

A week after Kerry’s speech, Cheney ridiculed the Democratic candidate before an audience of veterans, law enforcement officers, firefighters and current members of the military.

“A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans and who seek the chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more,” Cheney declared. “The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity.”

In response to Cheney’s speech, 10 former senior American military officials issued a statement saying: “George Bush and Dick Cheney have chosen to take their campaign to the gutter. We call on President Bush and Vice President Cheney to stop the irresponsible personal attacks and tell us where they want to take the country.” Retired Admiral William Crowe, who served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under President Reagan and the first President Bush, before endorsing Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, led the group.

Comedian Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s satirical news program “The Daily Show,” also ridiculed Cheney. In an apparent effort to paint Cheney as a hypocrite, Stewart aired a video of a March 4, 2001, speech in which President Bush said: “Precisely because America is powerful, we must be sensitive about expressing our power and influence.”

For his part, the senior Pearl stressed that his criticisms of Cheney should not be taken as an endorsement of any political party.

“Daniel’s legacy has two components: tragedy and inspiration. I am asking both [parties] to back off from using the tragedy part as a political football,” said the Israeli-born Pearl, who specializes in research on artificial intelligence. “They are welcome to compete on the inspirational part.

“Ideally, I would rather see Danny mentioned as a role model in Colin Powell’s ‘reach out’ speeches, than as a victim in Cheney’s or Kerry’s campaign speeches.”

Cheney campaign spokeswoman Ann Womack told the Forward she needed to check with campaign leaders before responding, but did not get back before press time. Two Kerry campaign officials did not return phone calls.

Daniel Pearl, 38, was South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped in January 2002 while on assignment in Karachi, Pakistan. He was investigating links between Al Qaeda and Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” who failed in his attempt to blow up an American Airlines flight in December 2001.

Several weeks after Pearl was abducted, investigators obtained videotape that graphically showed his decapitation at the hands of an Islamic terrorist.

In the video, apparently at the order of his captors, Pearl declared: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” In a last act of apparent defiance, he added that a street in B’nai B’rak is named after his great-grandfather, Chaim Pearl, one of the town’s founders.

Judea Pearl had repeatedly praised Bush for being “the only world leader who referred to Danny’s murder as a manifestation of global antisemitism.” He refuses to comment directly on the Bush administration’s Iraq and anti-terrorism policies.

American officials recently disclosed that Pearl was beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the No. 3 Al Qaeda figure captured in Pakistan last year, who actually masterminded the 9/11 attacks,” according to Pearl’s widow, Marianne, who was pregnant with son Adam at the time of Daniel’s death. An anti-terrorist court in Pakistan sentenced Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, better known as Omar Sheikh, to death by for Pearl’s abduction and murder. Three others were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Despite these legal developments, however, the case has been shrouded in mystery and political intrigue.

The group Reporters Without Borders recently sent an open letter to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, calling for the facts of the case to be made public and demanding to know why several terrorist suspects connected to the Pearl murder have not been arrested or put on trial.

Throughout the ongoing controversy, Judea Pearl has regularly promoted his late son as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. So this week he hesitantly expressed his displeasure with the vice president.

“I don’t want to give the impression I am anti-Republican or anti-Democrat,” Judea Pearl said. “We would like [Danny] to be remembered for what he was in his life, a passionate American and humanist who rose above political, religious and cultural divisions, and used his pen and fiddle to connect people of all backgrounds.”

He said he met with State Department officials in February to discuss his son’s legacy.

“We were given assurances that this administration is fully aware of the tremendous potential of the legacy of people like Daniel, who earned respect in many corners of the globe for improving the image of America in the Muslim world and in mobilizing moderate Muslims to join the global war on terrorism,” he told the Forward.

Pearl said he was “satisfied” during the visit that the State Department was committed to using his son’s legacy as an inspiration to reach out to moderate Muslims. But he said that so far, embassies have been responding on a case-by- case basis, and he would like to see a more coordinated effort directed from Powell’s office.

Nevertheless Pearl praised several American embassies for joining his family’s effort to encourage musicians of all nationalities to participate in The Third Annual Daniel Pearl Music Day, slated to take place from October 8 to October 17. The event, supported by Sir Elton John and Barbra Streisand, “promotes a more humane world, free of the hatred that took Danny’s life.”

The family also has formed the Daniel Pearl Foundation to further the ideals that inspired the slain journalist’s life and work, including his love of playing the fiddle and mandolin. The foundation’s mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music and innovative communications.

“Through journalism and music,” the senior Pearl said, “Danny communicated friendship, understanding and mutual respect wherever his journeys took him.”

Florence Ugoretz

The Forward Association and the Forward newspaper staff offer their condolences to the family of Florence Ugoretz, mother in-law of Forward Association Executive Director Samuel Norich. She passed away on Monday August 16, 2004 and is survived by daughter Debbie Ugoretz-Norich, son-in-law Sam Norich, their daughters Gila and Nessa, as well as by son Steven Ugoretz, daughter-in-law Barbara Ugoretz and their children Alex and Heath.

The family is sitting Shiva in the home of Florence Ugoretz in Wisconsin. Funeral services were held on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 in Milwaukee, WI.

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