Lawsuit Targets Syrian Regime In Journalist's Killing
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In February of 2012, American foreign correspondent Marie Colvin spoke to CNN from Homs, Syria. She was describing some of the violence, including the story of a baby killed by government shelling there.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARIE COLVIN: That baby probably will move more people to think, what is going on and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day?
MARTIN: That was her final broadcast. Colvin herself was killed by artillery fire hours later. Now her family has filed a lawsuit alleging that high-ranking Syrian officials deliberately killed the award-winning reporter. Lawyers say it's the first U.S. case brought against the Syrian regime over its conduct in the civil war there. The suit says Syria targeted Colvin to silence her and other media critics of the regime. NPR's Deborah Amos joins us now to talk about this. Deb, Marie Colvin was a noted journalist with a British newspaper, The Sunday Times. What can you tell us about the details of how she died?
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, it was in artillery fire. She was working out of a makeshift media center in the city of Homs. She was an intrepid war correspondent. She'd been smuggled into the besieged city a few days earlier. Her high-profile reports of civilian suffering undermined the Syrian government's attempt to impose a media blackout on that siege. And so the suit filed on Saturday alleges that she was deliberately killed at the orders of Syrian government officials.
MARTIN: Of course, this civil war in Syria is ongoing now. So what has that meant for her family's legal team? I mean, how have they been able to gather evidence to show what they allege, that Colvin was targeted?
AMOS: Well, the investigation has been carried out by the Center for Justice and Accountability. It's a human rights organization based in San Francisco. Scott Gilmore, the lead attorney, has worked on it for four years. What he's done is he's gathered testimonies. He says it's based on high-level government defectors, captured official documents - you know, a lot of Syrians are now out of the country. And the complaint lays out a chain of events that leads to Colvin's death. Nine top Syrian officials have been named, including the Syrian president's brother.
MARTIN: So as you know, human rights groups and Syrian opposition have been trying to get a case against the Syrian regime in international courts for a long time. This is this one case about this one foreign correspondent, and it's taking place in a U.S. federal court. So what are the chances of getting some kind of judgment against Syria in this case?
AMOS: Rachel, this is the perfect storm of jurisdiction. You know, in most cases a sovereign state can't be prosecuted in a U.S. court. But here is a notable exception, and it's under the Foreign Sovereignties Immunity Act. And it's when a state sponsor of terrorism kills a U.S. citizen. And the State Department listed Syria in 1979. Marie Colvin is a U.S. citizen. This is the first case alleging war crimes against the Syrian government. And how it works is that even if the government never comes to court to answer these charges, a federal judge can still render a judgment based on the evidence. So the lawyers and the Colvin family say that what they're looking for in the judge's ruling is the official narrative of what happened and who was responsible.
MARTIN: NPR's Deborah Amos. Thanks so much, Deb.
AMOS: Thank you.
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