A photojournalist who worked in trouble spots from Central America to the Middle East said Friday the beheading of James Foley illustrates how the situation on the ground has changed for reporters in war zones.
Foley, 40, was kidnapped Nov. 22, 2012, while reporting in northern Syria for GlobalPost.com.
His captors had demanded a ransom of $132 million for his release, GlobalPost said. Islamic militants posted a video last week of his execution.
“I can’t even pretend to begin to understand it at all,” said Darrell Barton, a Vietnam veteran who worked at KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City before beginning a freelance career that took him from Panama in the 1980s to Afghanistan and Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001.
Assignments included places such as Beirut, Lebanon, where Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson was abducted on March 16, 1985. Anderson was the longest-held hostage in Lebanon and the last American to be released when he was set free in December 1991.
Reporters taken hostage in those days might spend years “chained to radiators” but they lived, Barton said.
“Terry Anderson lived through it because murder was not part of the equation at that time,” Barton said. “That was not the bargaining chip at that time.”
“Now these people apparently believe that they can actually bargain with the United States by, you know, ‘We’ll kill your journalists if you don’t leave us alone.’ It apparently has not occurred to them that that’s not going to be the case,” he said.
A militant said in the video that Foley’s killing was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in portions of Iraq and Syria.
Barton said he had read the stories of Foley’s captivity and death and tried to understand “how he got himself into this situation because I know this was nothing new for him.”
Foley had been held several weeks in 2011 in Libya after running into troops loyal to Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s crumbling government, the New York Times reported last week. The Times reported Foley was among dozens of journalists — many of them freelancers — who disappeared in 2012 and 2013 in Syria.
“He had been in Afghanistan, he had been in situations before...”
“I would like to know how he was working. I would like to know how he was traveling, I’d like to know where he was staying. It sounds to me like before he was taken that he must have had some belief that things were stable enough for him to be there,” Barton said.
“I don’t think anybody really keeps themself in horrible harm’s way for long periods. You find some way to dodge, some way to move out of the way a little bit.”
In his years running a camera for networks including CBS and NBC, Barton said, there were long periods of boredom and safety worries far more mundane than gunfire, kidnappings and beheadings.
“I always used to tell people the scariest thing in the world over there is you’re going to die in a car wreck,” he said.
“Because you’re always riding in a minivan with bald tires and a bad driver and on bad roads.”
Barton, 72, now lives in Logan County, where he does a bit of farming. He was returning home after Friday’s interview to pick okra.
“What I found everywhere I was, in Central America, and Bosnia and everywhere else, and I also found it out in the race riots, and the civil rights demonstrations and the anti-war demonstrations in this country in the ’60s and ’70s, is that extreme courtesy gets you damn near anything,” he said.
“Be polite, smile, be nice and it’s amazing — until it goes wrong, of course.”