On January 28, 2021, the Pakistan Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Omar Sheikh, the man previously convicted of playing a role in the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Domestic politics obscured the story for most Americans. But now that thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan—some on the wrong side of the tiny bubble of protection offered by our retreating troops—it’s worth remembering what happened to this unarmed civilian reporter.
Pearl risked his life to give the Islamists the opportunity to put their best face forward to the world. The radicals used the opportunity to show us who they really are.
The description of the video I’m about to provide is from memory as I am unable to locate the original on the internet. Pearl’s captors recorded a video of Daniel Pearl begging for his life. The journalist readily confessed to his Jewish ancestry and offered no resistance nor demonstrated any hostility to his captors. The captors then stabbed Pearl to death. They then used a knife to slowly sever his head from his shoulders with a sawing motion. When they finished they held the head by the hair as a trophy while shouting for joy. A few stills from the video remain available here.
Before disappearing, Pearl was last known to be in Karachi, Pakistan. On January 23, 2002 he let the Wall Street Journal know that he was on his way to interview a prominent figure in the Islamic movement—likely a Taliban leader or a related movement. Four days later, the group sent an email with pictures of Pearl in chains.
The Afghan “fighting season” begins in the spring and peaks in the summer months. As noted by Biden himself, Trump’s withdrawal plan called for a May 1, 2021 completion date—that is, before the Taliban could muster for the 2021 fighting season. The Taliban seized Afghanistan in a blitz that conquered an area almost four times larger than the western half of Poland that took HItler three weeks to conquer. The rapid conquest came with a booty of advanced American weaponry (vehicles, rifles, even helicopters) that the Taliban can use to consolidate power. According to ABC News, the Taliban is also now in possession of Bagram Airbase.
While many compare the chaotic American retreat to the dramatic scenes of the helicopter evacuation of Americans in the last days of Saigon, that might be the wrong comparison. Thousands of American citizens remain in Afghanistan. How many thousands? The Pentagon doesn’t know.
That’s right, America withdrew its military forces before locating and counting the Americans remaining behind. The New York Post headline said succinctly, “Call Afghanistan what it is: The Worst Hostage Crisis in American History.” Comparing it to the Iranian kidnapping of American embassy personnel, it added, “And this isn’t even the scary part. This evacuation can happen only at the sufferance of the Taliban. They have Kabul Airport surrounded and can shut this down whenever they want.”
I’m still haunted by the video of Pearl speaking calmly into the camera moments before jihadis held his severed head for display. It’s the most gruesome and morally depraved thing I’ve ever seen. And that was only one victim and one video.
With all my heart and soul I pray that the Taliban will show mercy to the defenseless Americans left behind now in Afghanistan. I hope and pray that they will be allowed to evacuate or live peacefully under the Taliban regime. But my mind knows that the dark logic of Taliban strategy forbids the surrender of precious human collateral that can later be traded for money, protection, or even more weapons.
Adding insult to injury, on top of the defense bureaucracy’s despicable and complete failure properly to manage the withdrawal, it’s also abusing presidential confidentiality by leaking reports that they “warned him,” beforehand. First, I don’t believe that. The swift collapse clearly surprised Biden. Second, by leaking confidential advice to the public, they are further undermining the president’s ability to trust the vital confidentiality of his discussions with advisors. I didn’t like it when they did it to Trump. And it’s wrong when they do it to Biden.
Somebody overruled the Trump plan to withdraw before the 2021 fighting season could reach its zenith. The delay allowed the Taliban to plan and mobilize. Now we must hold our collective breath and pray that the remaining Americans don’t have to pay the price for this critical mistake.