Who killed George Polk?
By. Miguel Ángel Sánchez de Armas
Today, when public attention is attentive to the outcome of the axis of evil between the small aspiring Czar -Don Putin– and the little wannabe Beloved Leader -Don Kim Jong-un– and is concerned about the news from Morocco and Libya, I wonder if the reporters who cover these events, whether young and energetic or old and experienced, will find anything in the name George W. Polk.
As this old reporter's story is likely to be cryptic to new generations of journalists, here is a review of that episode.
On the morning of Sunday, May 16, 1948, a Macedonian fisherman whose name has been forgotten prepared his gear and set sail for the waters of Thessaloniki Bay. I was alert. They were violent times and many of his companions had been detained and mistreated by the dictatorship's police, who saw in the sea workers sympathizers of the communist guerrillas they fought in a debilitating civil war.
Suddenly, among the traces of mist that floated over the calm waters, a lump stood in the path of the boat. It was the corpse of George W. Polkcorrespondent for the Yankee television network CBS, with his hands tied and shot twice in the back of the head.
75 years have passed and the circumstances of the death of Polkalike those of the murder of Manuel Buendia four decades ago, they are still shrouded in mystery, although they have a chilling similarity: both were liquidated as a warning to the union, in the same month of May, 36 years apart.
A Kabbalah believer would not fail to notice that Polka He perished in '48 and Good day in 84… years reversed. Perhaps in the distant future some historian will discover and publish the details of those and other violent eliminations of journalists that characterized the last 20th century.
Another analogy with Manuel: Polk had become a thorn in the side of almost all actors in the Greek civil war. The officials of the dictatorship, the diplomats of the Yankee embassy, the militants of the Communist Party, the guerrillas... all detested the journalist to a greater or lesser extent and wanted him to leave the country... and some his disappearance from this life, as was demonstrated.
Polka He must have been a very good reporter to have unified such disparate actors against him. The usual thing is that the correspondents earn the hatred of some and the interested support of others.
In his work as a correspondent during the bloody civil war that disputed control of the Hellenic peninsula, that colleague had accumulated a long list of ill-wishers. He caricatured the communist guerrillas as a gang of ruffians, the Greek government as a bunch of ambitious and corrupt politicians, the security minister as a gangster... and he demonized Washington for its support of the repressive and bloody Greek dictatorship.
Thus, it is understandable that the murder investigation involved a lot of simulation and farce. The police brought charges against four Greek citizens: a moderate CP militant who was hundreds of kilometers from Thessaloniki on the day of the murder, a supposedly communist reporter who was in his office when the body of Polka was thrown into the waters, his elderly mother, who “confessed” to save her son from torture, and a member of the Central Committee of the CP… who had died four weeks earlier!
The Hellenic government assured that it would spare no effort to find the murderer(s), in chorus with that of Washington, which in 1948 invested a million dollars a day in aid to crush the communist uprising.
In the same tone as that of the Acropolis, the Potomac bureaucracy swore that it would closely supervise the investigation όποιος και αν αποτύχει! (whoever that fails!, in Greek). In both parts of the globe, gentlemen of stern countenance and grave demeanor condemned the atrocious act in almost the same words.
In Washington and New York, journalists cried out and mobilized. A committee was created ad hoc headed by the legendary Walter Lippmann and a prize was quickly instituted in the name of the dead man. In a few months the committee accepted the results of the official Greek and American investigations and since then every spring the cream of Yankee journalism gathers in a brilliant ceremony during which they pin medals on each other and award laurels in the name of George W. Polk... although there are those who believe that his colleagues "betrayed him when they validated the spurious investigations and the fallacious judicial process" initiated against some scapegoats.
In 1948, some New York reporters wanted to raise funds and travel to Greece to investigate the murder. His proposal was blocked by the Lippmann Committee, which limited itself to the official path and thus eliminated all hope of an independent investigation into the journalist's murder.
He George Polk Award requires that nominees have demonstrated “imagination and courage” in the practice of journalism. Among others, figures such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Gloria Emerson, Norman Mailer, Seymour Hersh, James Baldwin and the Venezuelan photographer Hector Rondon.
When it was awarded to IF Stone in 1968, he declared himself happy for the award and proceeded to say some things about George Polk, “who seems to have been forgotten in these events.”
Hello! In the case of Polkaas in that of Good day, it would take reporters as effective as them to solve their own murders. Fortunately, some journalists refuse to submit to the silence of newspaper archives.
Elías Vlanton and Zak Mettger published a detailed 322-page book in 1996 that reached the heartbreaking conclusion that after so many years “there is still no certainty about who murdered George Polk.”
In who killed George Polk? We learned that the Lippmann Commission and CBS itself endorsed the Greek police theory that Polka He had been murdered by the communist guerrilla.
Throughout the text Vlanton and Mettger They review the comedy of inconsistencies, failures, concealments and deviations that clouded the case and systematically reveal the veils that over the years were drawn over the episode: a gringo secret agent who participated in the investigations declared in 1974 that the trial It was a farce to cover up the real authors; In 1976, the Greek supreme court denies the request for a new trial of the convicted journalist, whose confession was extracted after months of torture; In 1977, a letter offered as evidence at trial was shown to be apocryphal; In 1978 the Greek government denies the request of one of the two “accomplices” sentenced in absentia to return to Greece and undergo a new trial…
Vlanton and Mettger point out: “A 15-year investigation into US government archives and analysis of the private documents of some of the personalities involved document that the Greek government and the State Department conspired to falsely accuse innocent people of the murder of George Polk and that some of the most respected figures in American journalism stood aside and allowed it.”
In conclusion, they present three possible crime scenarios: a) it was the communist insurgents to undermine Yankee aid to the dictatorship; b) it was the British secret services, displaced by the gringos, to sour Greek-American relations, and c) it was senior officials, fearful that Polk's revelations about official corruption would destabilize the Greek government.
But the truth, what the truth is told, remains a mystery.
Should we reach the conclusion in the murder of Polka as in that of Good day and others, that those who apply themselves to the investigation of crimes against the press cry out in the desert?
The examples of George W. Polk and of Manuel Buendia They are like lights on our professional and personal path. I think they wouldn't mind having died if they knew that their example remained among us.
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