Reporter's Notebook: Marshals Riding the Wrong Horse in Baghdad

Dana Lewis

Remember all those spaghetti Westerns?

U.S. Marshals (search) chasing down the fugitives, finally cornering the bad guys in some dusty American frontier town. Ka-Bam — it was all over in a few seconds, the most-wanted outlaw gunned down in the street at high noon.

Peace returned to Last Chance Gulch, Mont., or whatever that town was. Had to love those marshals.

It's dusty today all right, because there is a big sandstorm in Baghdad, just two days before the trial of the biggest, baddest outlaw in the wild untamed Middle East — Saddam Hussein (search).

Guess who is assigned to look after courtroom security? The U.S. Marshals! Yeehaaaa.

But today, the outlaws are journalists, or at least they are making us feel that way.

Each correspondent is being asked to sit through an hour-long interview with a U.S. marshal, or in my case two of them, to be able to get credentials to enter the courtroom.

Let me confess, I already think a little bit of this is silly even before the interview when I am informed we will not be able to even carry a pen and notepad into the courtroom. A notepad and a pen ensure we get quotes and information accurately. Since when are notepads considered to be a security threat?

I have interviewed presidents and prime ministers, from the Kremlin to the Knesset, and never been questioned about notepads! And never had an hour-long interview about, get this:

"Am I friends with insurgents?"

"Have I ever experimented with drugs?"

"Am I a drug addict?"

"What kind of a car do I drive?"

"What is my religion?"

"What kind of a relationship do I have?" (As in dating, married, single, etc.)

"Are my teeth real?"

One of our FOX producers who went through an even lengthier interview was asked, "Who do you think are the bad guys in Iraq?"

The silly questions have amused and angered most journalists who have been forced to sit through them. Then, at the end of the interview, we are asked if we would be willing to take a polygraph (I said no).

The U.S. Marshals should be spending their time checking our credentials and work history rather than trying to run the license plate on my car, which happens to be in Moscow, Russia, where I am based for FOX News. Outstanding parking tickets in Moscow (I promise I have none) should have nothing to do with allowing me to cover the trial of Saddam.

By the way, I doubt the U.S. Marshals will have the ability to call up the Kremlin and check it out anyway. But hey, actor Tommy Lee Jones might succeed in one of those cool movies in which he played a tough marshal hunting down escaped prisoners, instead of journalists.

I guess I passed the interview because I was then led to a room for an iris scan and fingerprints, which will be my physical identity check entering the courtroom for the trial.

The U.S. Marshals have a Web site that says, "Marshals service court security personnel provide the latest in state-of-the-art protective techniques and equipment in all phases of court proceedings, threat situations and judicial conferences — thus ensuring quick and safe responses in emergency situations, as well as, unobtrusive surveillance and protection during routine operations."

Well, in this case their fingerprint machine was broken.

When I asked how many journalists have been put through this "interrogation" (as they call it), a young marshal said, "I'm sorry, sir, we're not authorized to answer that." He then proceeded to eagerly ask me if I had heard all these stories "about Saddam's hidden money and did I happen to know where any of it was?"

I don't know where Saddam's money is, but I sure hope I still get my security pass to cover his trial. It's got to be easier than the pre-trial interrogation.