Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Searching for Answers

Five years after the kidnapping and murder of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Karachi, Pakistan, a group of Georgetown students will take on the task of uncovering what really happened.

This fall, the School of Continuing Studies will offer a seminar on investigative journalism that will give students the opportunity to look into who actually killed Daniel Pearl. Pearl was murdered in 2002 while doing investigative work for an article on Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a plane the year before using explosives hidden in his shoe.

Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted last month to Pearl’s murder during a U.S. military tribunal hearing at Guantanamo Bay. According to Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who was a close friend and colleague of Pearl, Pearl’s father has doubts about that being true, and she believes that a further investigation is still necessary.

Nomani and Barbara Feinman Todd, the associate dean of journalism at SCS, will jointly teach the three-credit class, which will only be offered this fall to 10 to 12 students. The class will be part of the school’s new master’s degree program in journalism, but will also be open to undergraduate English majors.

Nomani said she has been mapping out a detailed web of connections between various terrorist organizations related to the murder and possible suspects. “I have been collecting anecdotes and gathering string,” she said. “We are going to pull this off in a semester.”

Todd said she originally convinced Nomani to bring the Pearl Project to Georgetown after hearing that Nomani intended to pursue a similar project at another university.

“I’m launching a master’s program, and I was looking for great opportunities for our master’s students,” Todd said.

Nomani said her friendship with Pearl was part of the reason she chose to pursue the project. Pearl and his wife Mariane were staying with Nomani in Pakistan when he disappeared on Jan. 22, 2002.

“For . five weeks, our house was a command center for the investigation,” Nomani said. “The police came in and out of there. We literally sat around my dining room table with a chart of the connections between people on the wall.”

In preparation for the class, Nomani said that she is learning how to use new software that allows journalists to create a complex network of sources, which she said will aid Georgetown students in their research.

“This may seem like this is a long project, but there are different pieces of it,” Nomani said. “Over the summer, I’m going to break it up into pieces and have the students choose one.”

She also said she has created lists of sources for students and has begun lining up speakers. She declined to reveal who the speakers were but said they include officials from the State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pakistani government, as well as experienced investigative reporters.

Nomani said she hopes to conduct the classes as if the students were in a newsroom.

“I feel like if we throw ourselves into this, we will be throwing ourselves into this like old-school, `pounding the pavement’ journalism,” she said. “We want to ignite the fire inside all of the students to have the spirit of investigative reporting, wherever their career takes them.”

Todd said reactions to the project have been positive and far-reaching, with encouraging responses coming from people, including a former student, in countries as far as Lebanon, Qatar, alaysia and Indonesia.

Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father and the president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization founded after his death to foster intercultural understanding, has also expressed his support for the project. “My hope is that we will send a very clear message to the people who are under the spell of terroristic ideology that journalists are still protected by their peers,” he said.

Nomani and Todd both said that the investigative nature of the Pearl Project will benefit the practice of journalism itself, noting that investigative journalism is becoming less popular today. “Everything is so fast-paced with the 24-hour news cycles,” Todd said. “It doesn’t always nurture the kind of meticulous, careful reporting that leads to the truth.”

Although the Pearl Project will only be offered as a course for the fall 2007 semester, Todd said that “this is just the beginning” of other real-world projects that SCS will offer its students in the future.

Nomani said she feels that the class has a good chance of solving the crime.

“It is also important to find out why it happened and what the lessons are,” she said. “Truth is a necessary part of healing, and until we have truth, it is hard to start healing.”

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