October 24, 2004


John Martinkus, the catch-and-release kidnap victim whose colourful remarks have drawn widespread attention, has been silenced by his employer:

SBS Television says John Martinkus would not be speaking to the media on the issue. Instead, the station's Director of News would be taking over.

So here’s SBS Director of News Phil Martin explaining Martinkus to the ABC’s Edmond Roy:

PHIL MARTIN: The first thing I'd say is that a lot of what John has said has been taken out of context. Now, I know this is fairly repulsive to a lot of people, but these groups view anyone who's deemed to be working with or for the Coalition, no matter how insignificant their role is, as a target.

EDMOND ROY: Could, as Alexander Downer says, could the terrorists take some comfort from what John Martinkus's statements, that perhaps they have good reason to be beheading certain people and so on?

PHIL MARTIN: Well, I don't think that that's what John was saying. I think… look, his suggestion that Kenneth Bigley or any other of the hostages were somehow deserving of their fate was incorrect. John's views are that these killings are monstrous acts, and he's got nothing but sympathy for the victims of these atrocities and their families.

Well, that’s all cleared up then. Further clarification is offered by another journalist working in Iraq, Christopher Allbritton:

We're not sure what all happened during his captivity, but he was able to persuade his captors that he was an Australian and a friend to the resistance and not to the Americans.

Hmmm. Among several puzzling aspects of this story is the original claim -- made by Martinkus's producer -- that Martinkus had been saved by Google. Yet Martinkus, in his SBS interview with Mark Davis, wasn't certain of this:

MARK DAVIS: You said they checked on the Internet to see what you’d written. Could you literally see them at the computer or they were coming and going?

JOHN MARTINKUS: No, it was basically the leader who came and conducted that first interrogation whilst I was blindfolded. He went away and then they came back in and they took the blindfolds off and then they left, left us there. And then they came back about half an hour later and he’d obviously done some checking. He didn’t come back himself, but he sent a message back to the other people who were looking after me that I was actually - I was who I said I was and that I wasn’t a spy and I didn’t work for any of the - any of the contractors or any of the security services.

The "people who were looking after me"? Anyway, here’s another extract from Allbritton, who says his report is as related by Martinkus:

At one point, one man disappeared, saying he would check out John's story. He came back after about 15 minutes, John said, convinced John was who he said he was. We suspect they Googled John, because they referenced previous stories he had covered.

So the much-reported Google angle is nothing more than a suspicion; Martinkus doesn't know if the kidnappers even had a computer, much less their search-engine preferences. There are a couple of small differences between the two accounts (15 minutes/30 minutes, the checker returning/the checker not returning) but we’ll let those slide. More interesting is that Allbritton writes:

John's captors said they received a phone call that he was on the move and that the time for taking him was now. This fits in with our intelligence that there are kidnap teams up and down Jadirya Street looking for us. His captors said they had penetrated the staff at the Hamra Hotel, where many of us live. They have people in the compound watching us. They know who we are ...

If they knew who Martinkus was, wouldn’t they have Googled him before they kidnapped him?

Posted by Tim Blair at October 24, 2004 02:09 AM

Oh yeah. I was kidnapped, too.
Just take my word for it.

Wait, do I have to have my wages paid by taxes before I'm trusted?

Posted by: AuSkeptic at October 24, 2004 at 02:33 AM

What are you trying to do Blair, you sadistic prick, drive Tim Dunlop insane?

Posted by: J F Beck at October 24, 2004 at 02:37 AM

It'd be a short drive.

Posted by: tim at October 24, 2004 at 02:43 AM

I'm pretty sure the answers to this mystery lie with the insurgent I saw on the news wearing a Dogpile windbreaker.

Posted by: dan at October 24, 2004 at 03:20 AM

Maybe Martinkus' demand for a personal apology from Downer was taken out of context - he actually thought the Foreign Minister was on the mark and deserved congratulations for getting it right yet again.

Posted by: pat at October 24, 2004 at 03:23 AM

There are more questions than answers from Mr Martinkus' account of his kidnapping.
We will never know the truth while SBS is spin doctoring the story.
They appear to have learned from American CBS; distort the news to fit your political agenda, and forge your evidence if necessary.
Bloody disgraceful.

Posted by: Pedro the Ignorant at October 24, 2004 at 03:54 AM

"John's captors said they received a phone call that he was on the move and that the time for taking him was now."

"Hi, it's John....."

Posted by: max power at October 24, 2004 at 03:59 AM

You know, if the google story is true then perhaps the FBI could search google's logs, find a query mentioning Martinkus's name coming out of Iraq and then get these guys' IP address. That gets them to their ISP. The ISP's logs will get them the bad guys' phone number.

Posted by: am at October 24, 2004 at 07:16 AM

I'm surprised Martinkus wasn't a runner-up for the award that Paul McGeough received last week for excellence in reporting from Iraq.

This has all the credibility of used-car dealers giving themselves prizes for selling the most lemons. The ignorant and the mendacious award themselves honours in the vain hope of convincing the public that they are credible.

Posted by: mr magoo at October 24, 2004 at 10:12 AM

I say the whole thing was staged so that Martinkus could do some in-depth 'research'....

Posted by: Al Superczynski at October 24, 2004 at 10:36 AM

Journos and hired guns in Iraq report that kidnap squads now roam the streets.
Any good investigative journo would go over and find out for himself,eh tim?

Posted by: marklatham at October 24, 2004 at 11:35 AM

are we still trying to make the case for why by ridiculing those who oppose it, or do we have a real case? Just asking for it

Posted by: tug at October 24, 2004 at 02:54 PM

Al S. - agreed. Martinkus has obviously been taking tips from that lying bitch, Donna Mulhearn.

Posted by: George at October 24, 2004 at 06:02 PM

markl and tug, if you fellows care so much why don't you book passage to Iraq. Oh but you won't, you're even more cowardly than journalists. Pathetic.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at October 25, 2004 at 02:09 AM

"ridiculing those who oppose it"

Tug, I thought they were 'journalists' dedicated to bringing us the truth.

Posted by: Cosmo at October 25, 2004 at 04:12 AM

I'm sure Mr Martinkus can and will look after himself.

I was thinking more of the invective and ridicule directed at the poor sad things who had the nerve to photograph themselves holding up peace placards. Wrong thread. Sorry about that. Must be more careful.

As to the jibe from the fragrant Andrea about taking a trip to Iraq (as in why don't you commies all go to Russia? or have I got that 'joke' wrong too) - I fear they have enough trouble from interfering bastards already.

The fact remains most of those who still support the invasion rely too much or arguments which seem to be based on nothing more than virulently expressed hatred and contempt for those who had the gall (and naivete of course) to oppose it.

I suggest you brew yourself a stimulating cup of Atomic coffee and have a nice settling scream at the neighbours.

Posted by: tug at October 26, 2004 at 08:36 PM