Reporters on the Job
INTERVIEWING BIN LADEN'S COOK: Philip Smucker met the man who claims to have been Osama bin Laden's chef, Haji Mohamad Akram, for today's story (page 1). "He was a pathetic figure when they brought him into the sitting room in a home in Ghazni, Afghanistan. He was in shackles that looked like a heavy dog's leash. He started complaining about how his Hazara captors were beating him nightly. The captors, sitting with us and smiling all the way through the three interviews we had, admitted as much: 'We've been beating them every night. He is the only one who talks. The other two won't say a word,' said one fighter.
"Halfway through our first interview, I found myself actually concerned about the Saudi chef's health. We wondered why they were beating him. They seemed to think that it might increase their market value to the Americans if they could get information out of him. My interpreter, Mashal, and I asked them to please treat him better. Our hosts had given us apples and oranges, so I rolled him an apple and an orange across the floor. He seemed incredibly grateful. At one point, he recounted the tale of his arrival in Afghanistan, which was probably the same as that of many of Mr. bin Laden's followers.
" 'Most of us came here to fight the Russians. When I came, I was just a kid, a teenager. I came because I had a great devotion to Islam and Holy Shrines, and the idea of fighting for the freedom of Muslims as a mujahideen.'
"On the second day we visited the Saudi cook, his Hazara captors made a point of insisting to us that they had stopped beating him. The cook appeared in better spirits and more willing to talk candidly about his recent experiences."
JOHN WALKER LINDH SLEPT HERE: The Monitor's Danna Harman visited the Arabic language school in Sana, Yemen, where John Walker Lindh first studied (page 1). It was almost empty. The school has capacity for 70, but at the moment there are only five students. Half the teachers have been laid off. "But because it was so empty, the couple in charge invited me to come stay in the dorm. I took their offer. It's a lot cheaper than the hotel where most journalists stay, although the government security officials weren't happy about it. The location is great, a stone's throw away from the old city. Across the hall from me is Room 13, the one Lindh stayed in. It's basic: a mattress on the floor, no mirror, no bathroom, a desk, a small cabinet, and small stained-glass windows, looking out onto a beautiful yard."
- David Clark Scott