CBS News Translator Slain By Insurgents

Photo Anwar Abbas, Iraq, CBS CBS/AP

Editor's Note: Anwar Abbas Lafta, an Iraqi who worked as a translator for CBS News in Baghdad, has been abducted and slain by insurgents. He became the third CBS News employee to be killed in the war.

Cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were killed by a car bomb in Baghdad on May 29, 2006. Corrrespondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously injured in the same blast. She recovered and has returned to work.

In this reporter's notebook, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan remembers her slain colleague and recounts the terrible events that led to his death.




Some time ago, we hired a new Iraqi translator to work in our office in Baghdad. He was an older man, well-respected and well-known in his community.

His name was Anwar Abbas Lafta.

Anwar spoke fast, loved to talk, and often tortured me with bizarre requests for old French movies that he loved and I had never heard of, but would dutifully search for and try to bring for him when I came back to the country after short visits away.

Statement From CBS News
I started to dread the sight of that little piece of white paper in his hands as he approached me because I knew it was going to take hours of my life to find what he wanted, but I just couldn't say no to this distinguished man, deprived of the artistic culture he loved so much.

With his unique way and wily mind filled with knowledge of Iraq's history and its people, Anwar eagerly shared the ways of a world he knew to be hard and unforgiving.

And it didn't take long for him to create the "Anwar" moment that would become legend at CBS…

New and enthusiastic, he came rushing up to the newsroom and stood in the doorway, bursting with expectation. When our bureau chief - the "legendary Larry Doyle" as he is known at CBS - raised his head and looked at Anwar, it was all he needed.

Anwar burst into the room, raised both hands together above his head and with a wide sweep of his arms making an arc around his body, he announced:

"Breaking news!!"

First stunned into silence and anticipation, the office watched transfixed. But on the second take we erupted in laughter - a truly wonderful shared moment that relieves the soul, a spark of light in the relentless darkness that surrounds us here.

It always made us chuckle to recall Anwar's spectacular theatrical flourish. No one even remembers what the news actually was - except that it wasn't really breaking news. But after that we rarely lost an opportunity to make our own announcements with the same dramatic flair, preceding things like, "I'm going to bed" or "We're out of Red Bull again."

Now whenever we do this, if we ever do this again, it will mean something else entirely. It will be a memory not of laughter, but of pain. Pain at knowing that Anwar Lafta Abbas is dead.

He was taken from his home around 8:30 in the evening local time in Baghdad earlier this week. After leaving work at 5 p.m., Anwar stopped in to see an ailing relative at a nearby hospital. His brother and sister were waiting for him at home.

They say it wasn't long after he arrived that a knock came at the door.

Anwar's brother went to answer, and the answer he got when he opened it was a rifle butt smashed in his face. The group of about eight armed men wore body armor and went straight for Anwar. There was no doubt, his relatives have said, that he was the reason they came to that door, of that house, on that night.

But Anwar was not a man to go quietly. And like every Iraqi, he knows what it means when a death squad comes for you.

So he reached for his weapon and tried to put up a fight, but in the delicate words used to mask a more brutal truth, "They overwhelmed him."

Anwar always told me he was not afraid. He always spoke his mind. He did not run from confrontation. And he had no illusions about the state of his country. He had worked previously for the U.S. military and had a great respect and affection for many of the soldiers he knew, while still being highly critical of what he saw as America's mistakes, and its failure to truly understand Iraqi culture.

So when I heard that Anwar resisted his kidnappers, and was still fighting as they forced him into one of their unmarked white land cruiser vehicles waiting outside, it did not surprise me.

In fact, I played that over and over in my mind all that night. And when I awoke in the morning with that terrible, sick feeling that something is wrong before you've had a chance to bring your brain into focus, it was the first image that popped back into my head. As I came slowly to consciousness after just two or three hours of sleep, the full weight of it all hit me and propelled me from bed, rushing into the office for news.

Over the next few days we did everything we could to try find him - which is almost nothing in country where militias and death squads and government forces appear to be free to do anything they want without fear of recourse. That's not always true, of course, but it happens so often it seems that way to the people living though it every day.

Thoughts of Anwar's family and what they were going through - the worry, the pain, the terrible, wrenching fear that he might be undergoing torture - all that plagued my conscious and unconscious moments, shadowed every minute of my days and nights.

Like Anwar, his brother is also a fighter and he had picked up a weapon and chased after the kidnappers, shooting at them. They returned fire, and sadly, terribly, shot Anwar's sister in the arm.

She survived, but with medical care in Baghdad in tatters, who knows what the long-term impact of her injuries will be?

And now, along with her wounded arm, she has a shattered heart.

Her brother's body has been found.

It's over.

The wait. The fake ransom demands. The uncertainty. And worst of all - the hope. It's over.

Anwar is one of thousands of Iraqis, maybe even tens of thousands, who have died this way.

But he was ours.

And it hurts.

A searing sadness, a pain that hits you in the belly and knocks you to the floor and you're not sure if you got back up or you're still down there but no matter whether you stand up or stay down, there's no escape from this new reality.

"Breaking news" in the Baghdad bureau has gone back to being a scrawl along the bottom of the TV screen for now. Life, we all know, will go on, in one form or another.

But maybe in a while, when we can bear it, someone will come into the newsroom when the toilet paper runs out, raise their arms together over their head, and announce with vigor,"breaking news. "

And somewhere Anwar will smile. And know he is not forgotten.


By Lara Logan
  • Alfonso Serrano

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