Showing posts tagged Al Jazeera

A Marine’s Arab Spring

I have an article in the current edition of Reader’s Digest, but in case you don’t subscribe or you’re not in a doctor’s office, here it is…

In Khan Neshin, Helmand, AfghanistanIn Helmand, Afghanistan, August 2009 (Snorre Wik)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat in a conference room at a resort in Desert Hot Springs, California, with dozens of other Marines as a tall one-star general in a crisp uniform, Brig. Gen. Andrew B. Davis, presented a well-worn lecture on digital media. It was the annual conference for Marine Corps public affairs officers. Davis was the head. I was a junior officer.

In the corner of the room, a muted television broadcast live images of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on fire. America was under attack — a Pearl Harbor moment for every Marine there — and we looked on in disbelief. Irked by our divided attention, Davis ordered the television turned off and pressed on with his hour-long presentation. (Davis denies this.)

Davis’s seeming blindness to the life-changing magnitude of 9/11 inspired a rare act of rebellion: I walked out and relocated to the empty hotel bar, where I watched the consequences of the attacks unfold until I was called back to my base. (Davis’s own office at the Pentagon was destroyed that day in the aftermath of the crash of American Airlines Flight 77, which slammed into the building, killing 184 soldiers, sailors, and civilians.)

A native Texan and lifelong Marine, I was the only person in the world to be simultaneously inside the U.S. military and Al Jazeera

I had been a Marine for 11 years — my entire adult life — and on that day, especially, I felt fortunate to be one. I knew a military response would soon follow. I decided that if my unit were not called upon to be part of it, I would volunteer and politic my way to the tip of the spear.

But the incongruity of that morning — a yawn-inducing seminar backlit by searing images of mind-boggling destruction — would come to characterize a critical phase of my military career and the beginning of its end.

In January 2003, I deployed to the front lines of the media war at Central Command Forward headquarters — aka CentCom — in Doha, Qatar, hundreds of miles south of the line of troops massing on the southern border of Iraq. From there, I gave daily interviews to the world’s media justifying our pending invasion of Iraq — the weapons of mass destruction supposedly harbored by Saddam, his ties to Al Qaeda. Underpinning the military buildup lay a little-discussed but ambitious goal: The Bush administration hoped to ignite the flames of democracy in the heart of the Middle East and fan them across the region. I recognized that to do this, we would need to reach Arab audiences through their own media, and that meant working with the controversial pan-Arab news channel, Al Jazeera. I argued that CentCom should grant Al Jazeera access to top military officials.

This was not a popular idea. Then–Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had labeled the channel the mouthpiece of Al Qaeda and accused the network of airing beheadings. So instead of Gen. Tommy Franks, the network got me. I regularly appeared before its reporters, who peppered me with difficult questions. I had a unique vantage point: A native Texan and lifelong Marine, I was the only person in the world to be simultaneously inside the U.S. military and Al Jazeera and — because I worked closely with White House officials — the Bush administration. I came to a hard conclusion: American animosity toward Al Jazeera was not only ill founded but also counter to our strategic interest in the region.

In 2004, in the spring of Abu Ghraib, a documentary about Al Jazeera, Control Room, debuted in American theaters. I was surprised to learn I had been featured prominently and described by reviewers as a Marine sympathetic to Al Jazeera. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon was unhappy with my role in the film and still held tight to its view that in many respects, Al Jazeera was the enemy.

The Pentagon turned down dozens of requests for interviews with me — from Fox News to NPR — and I was ordered to keep silent about the movie and my views on Al Jazeera. That edict felt like a betrayal of the very civic values — standing up for what one believes is right, true, and honest — that had led me into the Marine Corps in the first place. To do nothing would advance my career aspirations in the military but hardly serve America’s best interests. In the fall of 2004, after 14 years in the Corps, I resigned my commission. Six months later, I signed on to help launch Al Jazeera English.

I knew it was risky, but the Corps taught me to do the right thing for the right reason — damn the consequences. As soon as I hired on with Al Jazeera, I was blistered by hate mail and death threats from people who had never seen a minute of the Arabic news channel. Once, to promote my appearance on Hannity & Colmes, Fox News ran a picture of me in uniform. Beneath it the word traitor was punctuated with a question mark. Five years later, that image is still one of the first pictures that pop up in a Google image search of my name — despite the fact that my reporting has taken me to Iraq and Afghanistan ten times, often embedded with soldiers and Marines at the invitation of their commanders.

Since the channel’s shaky beginnings, Al Jazeera and the United States have become strange bedfellows: Both promote democracy bolstered by a free and open media. As revolts from Tunisia to Bahrain press into the palaces of kings and tyrants, the network can count top U.S. officials among its newest converts. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “Al Jazeera has been the leader in … literally changing people’s minds and attitudes.” Perhaps the most surprising compliment came from former presidential nominee and Republican senator John McCain, who vowed that he was “very proud of the role that Al Jazeera has played” in spreading democracy around the world.

Incongruous? Perhaps, but no more so than the notion that an Arab TV network, once considered an enemy of the United States, is now one of the greatest proponents of freedom in the region. Ten years ago, who’d have thought?

In Kirkuk, Iraq, February 2010 (Jeremy Young)

http://www.rd.com/family/a-marine%E2%80%99s-arab-spring-josh-rushing-of-al-jazeera/

NSA Recruits Hackers for Cyber Command

Continuing the theme of the Washington Post running front page stories about topics we covered last year on Fault Lines:

Earlier this week the Post published a story about the NSA (US National Security Agency) recruiting hackers for its new cyber command. Red Beard, featured in the episode above and pictured below, turned down an offer from the NSA to be a cyber-warrior of the future.

Sectarian violence looms over US pullout from Iraq…



I traveled to northern Iraq last year to film an episode of Fault Lines about the coming Iraqi elections, but instead found a story about deep divisions between Kurds and Sunni Arabs along a line from Kirkuk to Mosul known as the trigger line. Yesterday’s Washington Post ran a front-page story about a report that predicts violence along this rift if the US military pulls out this year. From my experience, which you can watch in the clip above, I concur. 



Here are a few pix from the trip:



Inside a detention cell in a Kirkuki jail. Arabs say Kirkuk police are mostly Kurdish and that they unfairly and disproportionately target Arabs as part of a plan for Kurds to pull Kirkuk—and its oil—into Kurdistan. Arabs also claim to be the target of a kidnapping campaign by the Kurdish secret police, Asayish, in which Arabs are disappeared into prisons inside Kurdistan. Kurdish officials deny this.



At a meeting in an Arab village south of Kirkuk. Arabs here are suspicious of the Kurds and their presumed backers, Americans.



A Kurdish guard keeps watch in a Kirkuki jail.

What “life” in prison really means…

The Washington Post has a front page (at least on their iPad version) review of a new documentary called “Serving Life” that airs tonight on the Oprah Winfrey Network. From the trailer, it looks really good. It’s such a tough, but important issue. I filmed a similar story last year (above) called “Dying Inside” with producer, Jeremy Young, and cinematographer, Snorre Wik. We gained access to eight prisons in three states: Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and New York. We interviewed one prisoner who was 100 years old (he has since passed away); gained exclusive access to an entire wing dedicated to inmates with Alzheimers; and witnessed sincere and surprising acts of compassion. Here are a few photos from the journey:

Inmate staring out of his cell at the Dick Conner Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Inmate staring out of his cell at the Dick Conner Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Convicted child molester at James Crabtree Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Elderly Inmates are often victimized by younger, stronger prisoners. Inmates inside Dick Conner Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Inmates at Dick Conner Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Mary Rowe: convicted murderer, one-time prison escapee, grandmother and published poet. Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility, Oklahoma. 

Inmate, Joseph Harp Correctional Facility.

Stroke victim and inmate, Bobby Moore. Dick Conner Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Inmate with Alzheimer’s in Fishkill Correctional Facility, New York. Often when I take a photo of someone I will show them their image on the screen on the back of my camera. The first inmate I did that with in the Alzheimer’s wing got very upset because he didn’t recognize himself. I believe it was partially because of the disease, but also because there are no mirrors allowed in the facility, so he hadn’t seen his reflection in nearly thirty years and didn’t realize how the decades had effected his appearance. 

Willie Prenell. Convicted of first degree murder in 1977. He’s spent most of his life in prison for killing his friend Kieth Thompson in Oklahoma City.

Inmate watching the sunset from the yard at James Crabtree Correctional Facility, Oklahoma.

Panetta says Iraqis can secure and defend themselves. That’s not what we found on my last trip to Iraq, see video. 

Check out this report about a FARC attack in Cauca, Colombia, last week:

http://latamcommunique.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/farc-attack-leaves-3-dead-in-toribio-cauca/

Parts of our show, Gold Fever (above), were filmed in the vicinity of this attack. The scenes at the end of the program were filmed in Mondomo which is about 25 miles west of where this attack took place in Toribio. 

Things are really heating up here in Iraq. Three soldiers were killed in the south yesterday, where Gates says Iran is arming Shia militias. June is the deadliest month for the US military in two years.

I’ve been on 5 bases from South Baghdad to Tikrit to Mosul this week and spoken to a handful of generals on both the US and Iraqi side.

Above is my story from today. When the US pulls out in six months, Iraq will be left virtually defenseless against Iran. I’d hoped to interview the US general who is second in command here about the issue today but he canceled. Officials won’t say why, if I had to guess, it has something to do with yesterday’s deaths and him going down south.

'Impunity and Profits'

Fault Lines explores how human life in Juarez, Mexico, has come to be worth so much less than the drugs trafficked through. 

We film with the Canon 5D giving the show a cinematic feel which can only be fully appreciated in full screen HD. Both of these can be accomplished with toggles in the bottom, righthand corner of the video.