TORONTO - She may not be ready to forgive, but Kathy Gannon says she doesn't want the Afghan gunman who severely wounded her and murdered her photographer put to death.
Gannon, a long-time Associated Press journalist who was born in Timmins, Ont., says she wants the rogue police officer responsible for the shooting to remain in prison for the rest of his life.
Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an award-winning photographer, died instantly in the April 4 attack near the eastern city of Khost.
"I want him to be punished, but I don't believe in the death penalty," Gannon said an interview with The Canadian Press.
The pair were covering the run-up to last spring's Afghan presidential election, and were sitting in a vehicle in a fortified compound surrounded by police and soldiers who were supposed to protect them, when one officer walked up, yelled "Allahu Akbar," and fired on them.
He dropped his AK-47 and surrendered, telling authorities that the shooting was revenge for the deaths of his family in a NATO bombing — a story he has changed three times since the shooting.
Gannon, 61, is in Toronto to be honoured by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression with its Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award.
Her comments came on the same day the Canadian government — through the embassy in Kabul — warned Canadians to leave Afghanistan for their own safety.
The gunman who shot Gannon and her colleague was sentenced to death recently by an Afghan court.
However, the absolute black and white of the Afghan justice system and Pashtun culture puts victims, such as Gannon, in a uncomfortable place.
Formally pleading for leniency would lead authorities to ask whether Gannon and Niedringhaus' grieving family would pardon the killer.
"If you forgive him, then he goes free," she said. "I'm not ready to do that. I want him in jail. I don't want him free, and I also don't believe in putting him to death."
Driving into eastern Afghanistan last spring, their biggest fear was roadside bombs, which have exacted a bloody toll on security forces, both Afghan and NATO. The thought they would be subject to a so-called insider attack, which have killed dozens of mostly American and British troops, was never top of mind, Gannon said.
They weren't cavalier. Like other seasoned journalists travelling in the violent, desperately poor hinterlands of the war-raked country they weighed the risks and believed the Khost region was secure, despite being tucked up to the Pakistani border. It was nominally supportive of former president Hamid Karzai's government and full of newly-trained Afghan cops and soldiers.
"I would not have done anything different, and if Anja was here, I'm sure she'd say the same," said Gannon.
It was the end of the hotly contested — eventually deadlocked — presidential election when Gannon and Niedringhaus' car was sprayed with bullets.
They were shot only a few weeks after British-Swedish journalist Nils Horner was murdered in what had been regarded as the safest district of Kabul. And it occurred within days of a deadly assault on the Afghan capital's luxury Serena Hotel, where Sardar Ahmad, an Afghan journalist for Agence France-Presse, was killed along with his wife and two children.
Gannon was hit with six bullets. They tore through her left arm, right hand and left shoulder, and shattered her shoulder blade.
There was blood everywhere and she said she felt the impact of what were likely the last two bullets before looking down at the blood everywhere. She said out loud: "Oh my God, this time we're finished."
Their driver sped away from the compound and roared down a bumpy road to Khost where Gannon was admitted to hospital, transferred to a U.S. military outpost and then to French military hospital in Kabul. Afghan doctors had stopped the bleeding and saved her life, but she was eventually flown to a private clinic in Germany, and then on to New York for more treatment.
Gannon will return to her home in Islamabad, Pakistan where she lives with her husband, an architect. In the coming year, there are more surgeries and rehabilitation ahead in North America on her left hand and arm.
But she looks forward to the day when she can return to Afghanistan and continue reporting on a country and embattled people whom she loves and respects.
She harbours no grudges and remains durably clear-eyed about the place and the risks.
"If you look at every Afghan as a potential enemy, then you have to leave," said Gannon, who described what happened to her as the act of "one crazy person."