Michael Ware, the former CNN correspondent who covered the Iraq war for more than six years, has been hailed as a “journalistic hero” and called a “prisoner of war” for the time he spent in (and around) war-torn Baghdad. As he told Men’s Journal in 2008, Ware was briefly kidnapped in 2004 by Iraqi insurgents, who had planned on filming his execution with his own camera until a friend intervened. Since December of last year, he has been recuperating from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Now, Ware is the subject of a new documentary series on Australian television, and as part of that series, he has revealed new details of his reportage in Iraq, including an incident in 2007 in which CNN executives refused to air footage of what Ware calls “a small war crime,” according to Australia’s Brisbane Times. Ware says a teenager in a remote Iraqi village run by insurgents, carrying a weapon for protection, approached a house where Ware and several U.S. soldiers were staying.
“One of them put a bullet right in the back of his head. Unfortunately it didn’t kill him,” Ware said, according to the paper. “We all spent the next 20 minutes listening to his tortured breath as he died.”
The moment has scarred Ware because of what he views as his complicity in the incident. In a two-part series produced by the Australian public broadcaster, Ware said he realized afterward that he had been more concerned with capturing the teenager’s death on film than on saving his life. “I indeed had been indifferent as the soldiers around me whose indifference I was attempting to capture,” Ware said.
Ware’s friends have described the former war correspondent as tortured by his time in Iraq, and in particular by the death of the Iraqi teenager. ‘‘One of the first things he showed me was that tape and he was watching it over and over and over again; he was really obsessed with it,’’ John Martinkus, a former journalist and friend of Ware’s, told the filmmakers, according to the Brisbane Times.
Ware also told the Australian documentary series that he believed the incident was a violation of the Geneva Convention. But CNN refused to air the footage he had captured of the incident, saying it was too gruesome.
On Tuesday, a CNN spokesman responded to the claim in a statement to The Huffington Post: “CNN often has to make calls about which disturbing images are necessary to tell a story, and which are too graphic. These are always challenging, and the subject of reasoned editorial debate. On this occasion we decided to not show an Iraqi insurgent dying with fatal wounds.”
CNN was the subject of intense criticism from viewers and public officials in 2006 after airing footage of an insurgent sniper targeting American soldiers. The footage appeared to have been captured by Ware, and some viewers assumed he had somehow cooperated in the attack or had advance knowledge of its planning. But as Ware explained on his website, he and CNN received the footage through intermediaries, and Ware added a voice-over narration afterward.
Explaining CNN’s decision to air that segment at the time, Ware wrote: “CNN debated for several days as to whether they should air any portion of the video, and determined that it was not appropriate to shield the American public from the nature of the warfare our troops were facing.”