Anne Garrels, who covered Iraq and other conflicts for NPR, dies at 71

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Anne Garrels, a broadcast correspondent who was expelled from the Soviet Union, covered Central America’s civil wars and took National Public Radio listeners to the heart of Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003, died September 7 at her home in Norwalk, Conn. She was 71 years old.

Ms. Garrels’ death from lung cancer was reported by NPR, where she remained an occasional contributor after retiring from full-time reporting in 2010.

“I had no intention of being a war correspondent,” she said in a 2003 NPR interview. “The wars kept happening.”

Ms. Garrels became one of NPR’s most experienced voices on the ground during conflicts and from flashpoints that included China‘s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy crowds in Tiananmen Square, the war of Russia in Chechnya in the 1990s and the fall of Kabul to Western allied forces. following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

With a deft use of natural sound and a vivid descriptive palette, she is a master at what is often the most compelling type of war reporting: going beyond what foreign correspondents call the everyday “bang-bang.” and reporting stories of people caught up in the conflict and insightful analysis of what is likely to lie ahead.

Covering one of the indelible moments of the Iraq war – the toppling of a huge statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad – Ms. Garrels noted with precision that the euphoria of Hussein’s downfall would soon wear off and the Pentagon would probably be engaged in a long struggle against his opponents. Western forces.

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In an oral history published by the Columbia Journalism Review, Ms Garrels said her editors in Washington wondered if she had missed the story and should emphasize the celebration. She remained firm. “A lot of people were kind of on their feet, hoping for the best,” she said, “but they weren’t happy.”

She was one of the few US media correspondents in Baghdad during the first airstrikes in 2003, which the US military called a “shock and awe” campaign. His dispatches became a centerpiece of NPR coverage, depicting scenes in the Iraqi capital amid relentless air attacks as US-led ground forces closed in.

On NPR’s “All Things Considered” on April 7, 2003, host John Ydstie asked Ms. Garrels to describe how Iraqis were coping with chaos, blackouts and confusion about when US forces could enter downtown Baghdad and Hussein’s regime strongholds.

“People here are terrified. I mean, that’s what they feared the most, that war would be brought to the city,” she reported. “They’re confused. They don’t know who to believe. , what reports to believe…. They’re just sitting there terrified.

Ydstie asked Ms. Garrels to tell listeners what she can see and hear.

“Lots of artillery, shelling, heavy machine gun fire, this is really the first time we’ve heard of this,” she said. “I saw a lot of [Iraqi] Republican Guard units outside the city today. … Many more trenches have been dug or reinforced.

The following day, as US forces pushed deeper into the city, a US tank fired a shell at the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel, the base of Ms Garrels and other journalists, overlooking the Tigris in the center of Baghdad. The blast killed Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and cameraman José Couso of Spanish television channel Telecinco. A Committee to Protect Journalists investigation found that US forces intended to target a nearby Iraqi military position, but added that “the attack on journalists, while not deliberate, was preventable”.

Ms Garrels, who was not injured, described how the battle unfolded from her hotel window.

“It was right in front of our eyes,” she said on NPR. “The fighting was incredibly fierce. … The Iraqis tried to light oil fires to hide their positions.

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At the height of the war, Ms. Garrels coped like other correspondents: keeping the tub full to anticipate water cuts, working by candlelight or the generator, and making do with snacks and, for some, cigarettes — Mrs. Garrels’ favorites were Kit Kat and Marlboro Lights wafers.

Ms. Garrels’ personal account of the war, “Naked in Baghdad” (2003) refers to her habit of working in her hotel room without clothes as a security tip. If Iraqi security came to the door, she explained, they could ask for time to get dressed – and give him a chance to hide his satellite phone to avoid confiscation.

Amid his many accolades, including a George Polk Prize in 2003, Ms Garrels was criticized for a 2007 NPR article citing statements from prisoners previously tortured by Iraqi Shiite militias, who said it was purging members for committing atrocities against civilians.

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Ms Garrels said she was unaware the militia were planning to take her to the tortured men. She also defended the reporting, saying NPR made it clear that the men were abused in police custody and corroborated their statements.

“We weren’t told that we would see victims of torture,” she said. “When we saw what we believe were victims of torture, we reported it. And at the end of the day, if you ignore the reality of what these groups are doing and don’t say they’re torturing these people, then it’s even worse.

Anne Longworth Garrels was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on July 2, 1951. She moved to Britain with her family when she was 8 years old after her father, a senior executive at agrochemical giant Monsanto, moved to London.

Longtime family friend Peter Kazaras, director of the UCLA Opera at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Ms Garrels showed a first hint of the reporter when she was 4 years old at the Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International). As she and her older siblings waited for a flight to join their parents in Bermuda, she questioned all the other passengers.

“She asked everyone from an 80-year-old woman to a young child who was actually going to her father’s funeral,” Kazaras wrote in an email. “’Why is he dead? How did he die?’ Anne asked. His siblings tried to train him.

After completing her primary education in Britain, she graduated in 1972 from Radcliffe College with a bachelor’s degree in Russian.

His language skills gave him many potential options during the Cold War, including government agencies. His first job was with a British publisher, which led to journalism. In 1975 she started as a researcher at ABC News and was later assigned to Moscow. Her reporting on Soviet life, including housing shortages and suicides, put her at odds with Kremlin guards.

She was deported in 1982 after a tense period after her car hit and killed a pedestrian she described as “drunk”. She was cleared of all charges, but claimed the investigation was used by authorities to keep her under pressure. I “found myself caught in a political wilderness where there were no rules,” she wrote in The New York Times in 1986.

After Moscow, she was sent by ABC to cover conflicts in El Salvador, where the United States backed right-wing governments, and in Nicaragua, where the US-aided contras were trying to topple left-wing Sandinista leaders. She returned to Washington in 1985 as an NBC State Department correspondent, covering the Reagan administration.

Ms. Garrels joined NPR in 1988 in Moscow just as the Soviet Union was beginning to fall apart. Amid the chaotic aftermath, she began following the lives of a group of people in Chelyabinsk, a town near the Urals roller coaster. For two decades, she kept tabs on their lives. The result was the 2016 book, “Putin Country: A Journey Into the Real Russia.”

In the 1990s, she managed to reach the front lines in Chechnya for her reporting despite Moscow’s controls on media access to the self-governing Muslim republic. In Afghanistan, she traveled by bus to join the Northern Alliance, a US-backed force that first entered Kabul in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban. (Twenty years later, the Taliban regained control of the country.)

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Her husband of 30 years, James Vinton Lawrence, a former CIA agent turned illustrator for the New Republic and other media, died in 2016. Survivors include two stepdaughters, Rebecca Lawrence and Gabrielle Strand; a brother; and a sister.

During the Iraq War, NPR was inundated with letters, emails and voicemails applauding Ms. Garrels’ coverage and wishing for her safety. She downplayed her own courage and often pointed out that people caught up in conflict often show true determination.

She once recounted a time when she and her Iraqi assistant, Amer, pulled a wounded man from a firefight.

“As Amer and I washed away the blood, [the man] looks at me with a smile and says with some surprise, ‘You are very brave,'” she said. “I look at his suit, now covered in blood, and tell him the same thing.”

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