Born May 29, 1941
Bronx, New York
American journalist who was held as a prisoner of war in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War
"At first we didn't realize how serious our situation was."
Bob Simon in People.
CBS News correspondent Bob Simon is one of the most honored journalists in international reporting. Instead of simply reporting on the Persian Gulf War, however, Simon made news when he and his news team disappeared along the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. Simon and his crew were captured by Iraqi soldiers and held as prisoners of war for nearly six weeks. They endured interrogations, beatings, hunger, and the constant fear that they would be executed as spies. The world did not learn what happened to them until they were released after the war ended.
Talented reporter joins CBS News
Bob Simon was born on May 29, 1941, in the Bronx section of New York City. He earned a bachelor's degree in history at Brandeis University in 1962. He also studied in France on a Fulbright scholarship, where he met his wife, Francoise. They eventually had one daughter, Tanya. In 1964 Simon became an officer in the American Foreign Service. Three years later he accepted a job as a reporter with CBS News.
Simon quickly impressed his bosses with his talent and ambition. Within a period of four years, he progressed from a cub reporter in New York City to a foreign correspondent covering the Vietnam War in the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. Simon reported on the final years of American military involvement in South Vietnam and the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese Communist forces in 1975. The young reporter won an Overseas Press Club Award and two Emmy Awards for his Vietnam coverage.
Over the next few years Simon was assigned to CBS News bureaus in London, England, and Tel Aviv, Israel. In 1981 he spent a year based in Washington, D.C., as the network's U.S. State Department correspondent. From 1982 to 1987 he was CBS's national correspondent based in New York City. In 1987 he was named the CBS News chief correspondent for the Middle East. He moved his family back to Tel Aviv, where he was based when the region became embroiled in a conflict that would eventually lead to the Persian Gulf War.
Captured by Iraqi soldiers
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (see entry) had ordered his military forces to invade the neighboring country of Kuwait. Hussein argued that Iraq had a historical claim to Kuwait's territory. He also wanted to control Kuwait's oil reserves and to gain access to Kuwait's port on the Persian Gulf. Countries around the world condemned the invasion and demanded that Hussein immediately withdraw his troops from Kuwait. Many of these countries then began sending military forces to the Persian Gulf region as part of a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. The United States sent more than four hundred thousand troops to the Persian Gulf over the next six months. Simon went to Saudi Arabia in mid-August to cover the military buildup.
In November 1990 the United Nations (UN) Security Council established a deadline of January 15, 1991, for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face war. Simon left Saudi Arabia in mid-December to spend a few weeks with his family in Israel and returned in early January to cover the start of the war. When Hussein failed to meet the deadline, the U.S.-led coalition launched a series of air strikes against military targets in Iraq on January 17.
Once the war began, U.S. military leaders placed tight restrictions on the activities of the media. Most reporters were forced to remain far away from the action and rely on periodic briefings from military officials as their main source of information. Like many other experienced war correspondents, Simon found these restrictions very frustrating. He understood the need for some strategic information to remain secret in order to protect the troops from unnecessary risk. But he also knew that the development of satellite communications had enabled television networks to air live combat footage for the first time in history. He wanted to take full advantage of this technology for the benefit of CBS viewers.
Within a few days, Simon and his news team, producer Peter Bluff; soundman Juan Caldera; and photographer Roberto Alvarez, started making unauthorized trips into the Saudi desert looking for stories. On January 21, 1991, they drove to a remote area of northeastern Saudi Arabia. "We weren't expecting to find anything monumental when we left our hotel in Dhahran, 250 miles [402 kilometers] south of the border, early Sunday morning," Simon explained in his memoir Forty Days. "We weren't combing the desert for scoops, revelations, or prizes. We just wanted to break away from the pack because it was becoming clear that the Pentagon [headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense] was not planning to lead the pack anywhere anything was happening."
When Simon and his crew came to the border of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, they stopped their car and walked a few hundred yards into Kuwaiti territory. Simon made some comments on camera, then they turned and began walking back to their vehicle. Before they recrossed the border into Saudi Arabia, however, they were captured by Iraqi soldiers. Their abandoned car, which still contained cash, camera equipment, and other possessions, was found by Saudi troops on January 24.
Spends forty days as a prisoner of war in Iraq
Simon's wife was the first person to suspect that something bad had happened to the CBS team. "Three days running, Bob was not on the news," she recalled in People magazine. "My intuition told me that something was terribly wrong." When the crew's vehicle was discovered at the border, their mysterious disappearance became a hot topic in the news. But no one knew what had happened to Simon and his crew for several weeks. On January 28 one news agency reported that an Iraqi deserter told them that the CBS crew were alive. On February 11 another Iraqi deserter told U.S. military officials that they were being held as prisoners of war (POWs) in Kuwait. But the Iraqi government consistently refused to acknowledge that they were holding any civilian (nonmilitary) prisoners.
Throughout the war, CBS and Simon's wife tried frantically to find out what happened. They enlisted the help of world leaders like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and King Hussein (see entry) of Jordan to pressure the Iraqi government for information. Their concern was increased by the fact that Saddam Hussein's government had a history of mistreating foreign journalists. In 1990 Iraq had executed Farzad Bazoft, an accredited journalist reporting for the London Observer, after accusing him of being a spy. Some people were particularly worried about Simon's safety, because he was Jewish and based in Israel. Like many Arab nations, Iraq is primarily Muslim and has a long history of conflict with the Jewish state of Israel. In an attempt to protect Simon, the world media did not mention his religion in stories about the missing CBS crew.
In the meantime, Simon and his crew were taken to a detention facility in Basra in southern Iraq. "At first we didn't realize how serious our situation was," Simon recalled in People. "What worried me most was that they grabbed my cigarette lighter, which shows how long it takes for reality to sink in." Over the next six weeks, they were frequently questioned by Iraqi authorities and routinely beaten by guards. They were held in filthy cells and given little food or water. "The really unbearable thing was the hunger," Simon noted in People. He continued:
One does not get used to it. It gets worse, in fact—we were actually starving. We got two pieces of bread a day and maybe two glasses of water. Sometimes they gave us a bit of thin soup. One tries to prolong the process of eating, but that simply doesn't work; you swallow that tiny ration of food in a minute. I really went crazy with hunger and knew that in the future I would never again casually say, 'I'm hungry.'
At one point coalition air strikes hit and seriously damaged the complex in Basra where Simon was being held. Simon and his crew were then taken on a terrifying journey on the dangerous road to Baghdad, which was the target of nearly constant air strikes. "Every time a bomb exploded, we were thrown backwards, the cuffs cutting into our swollen and bleeding wrists," he remembered in People. "The couple of times I asked them to loosen the handcuffs, they beat me. I never asked for anything again."
Over the course of six weeks, the coalition air strikes caused major damage to Iraq's military capability. On February 24 the U.S.-led coalition launched a dramatic ground assault to push the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Coalition ground forces met with little resistance from the Iraqi army and succeeded in liberating Kuwait from Iraqi occupation after only four days of fighting. On March 2 the Iraqi government released Simon and his crew as a "goodwill gesture" during cease-fire negotiations. They were taken to the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad, where they were greeted by CBS News officials. They were later driven across the border to Jordan and then flown to London. Doctors found the four men thin and weak but in generally good health.
Continues his award-winning international reporting
Upon returning to his home in Tel Aviv, Simon found more than one thousand letters from viewers and fellow reporters waiting for him. He took some time off to recover from his ordeal and respond to his mail. Two months later, however, he returned to Baghdad to film an hour-long documentary called Bob Simon: Back to Baghdad. He went back again on several other occasions over the years. In 1992 Simon published a book about his experiences as a prisoner in Iraq called Forty Days. In 1996 he joined the CBS news program "60 Minutes." Three years later he expanded his reporting duties to include the spin-off show "60 Minutes II."
By the turn of the century Simon was one of the most honored journalists in international reporting. He covered virtually every major foreign news story that occurred during his thirty-five-year career. He covered civil unrest and revolutions in Eastern Europe, Central America, and Africa. He also reported on the American military interventions in Grenada, Somalia, and Haiti. He covered the activities of many major international figures, from Pope John Paul II to Nelson Mandela, and landed a number of exclusive interviews.
Simon won dozens of prestigious awards for his work. He received a Peabody Award for his reporting on the violent student protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. He claimed two Emmys, a Peabody, and two Overseas Press Club awards for his coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He earned another Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage of the Persian Gulf War.
Where to Learn More
"Bob Simon." CBSNews.com. Available online at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/1999/01/04/60II/printable26916.shtml (accessed on March 27, 2004).
"Bob Simon." The Complete Marquis Who's Who, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003.
"Bob Simon." People, Special Issue, Summer 1991.
Hewitt, Bill. "Hunting a Dangerous Story in Kuwait, CBS's Bob Simon Goes MIA." People, February 11, 1991.
Kurtz, Howard. "The 40-Day Ordeal." Washington Post, March 4, 1991.
Simon, Bob. Forty Days. New York: Putnam, 1992.
"Simon, Bob." POW Network. Available online at http://www.pownetwork.org/gulf/sd026.htm (last accessed on March 27, 2004).