Showing posts tagged War

Fault Lines: On the Pulse of the Pentagon

The US announced a new military strategy today at a Pentagon briefing. Much of the discussion concerned what could be read as predictable—and cyclic—budget cuts of a post-war drawdown. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also took pains to mention what wouldn’t feel the fiscal pinch: offensive and defensive cyber security and unmanned systems.

We at Fault Lines have covered and predicted both of these trends.

First with an episode called Cyberwar.

A growing fear of computer hackers—a term encompassing a broad range of entities from digital spy rings to information thieves to cyberarmies of kids, criminals and terrorists (some backed by nation states)—and their potentially massive threat to national security has Washington maneuvering into position to defend its assets from a new style of warfare: one without foot soldiers, guns or missiles. Crucial national infrastructure, high value commercial secrets, tens of billions of dollars in defense contracts—as well as values like privacy and freedom of expression—are at stake. 

In this episode of Fault Lines, I enter the domain of “cyber” and speak to a former US national security official turned cybersecurity consultant, a Silicon Valley CEO, a hacker, and those who warn of a growing arms race in cyberspace.

Is the US contributing to the militarisation of cyberspace? Are the reports of cyber threats being distorted by a burgeoning security industry? And are the battles being waged in cyberspace interfering with the Internet as we know it? 

Then last week we filed a report titled Robot Wars.

Over the past decade, the US military has shifted the way it fights its wars, deploying more unmanned systems in the battlefield than ever before.

Today there are more than 7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots in use by all branches of the military.

These systems mean less American deaths and also less political risk for the US when it takes acts of lethal force – often outside of official war zones.

But US lethal drone strikes in countries like Pakistan have brought up serious questions about the legal and political implications of using these systems.

Fault Lines looks at how these new weapons of choice are allowing the US to stretch the international laws of war and what it could mean when more and more autonomy is developed for these lethal machines.

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Baghdad: A Model City (1/12)

I’m ecstatic to announce that my series “Baghdad: A Model City” has been chosen for first place in fine art portfolios by FotoWeek DC. It will be on exhibit beginning Nov. 5 at FotoWeek Central at 18th & L NW. 

I plan on posting the entire series here over the next several days. Hope you enjoy…

Since the US invasion of Iraq eight years ago, I’ve been to Baghdad eight times. I first arrived in the city as a US Marine in April 2003 with the invading forces. I’ve returned as a journalist on seven more occasions. I’ve witnessed Baghdad morph and contort like no other city: from the open, uncertain, early days of the occupation to ground zero of a bloody civil war to a labyrinth of cement T-walls that give inhabitants the feeling of rats in a maze never finding the cheese.

This series of aerial, tilt-shift photos offers a glimpse of Baghdad’s unbounded future—a hope for a new Baghdad: a model city known for its own treasures instead of the violence unleashed by the course of recent history. As the US military withdraws, this scarred city is tentatively blossoming anew. Tourist attractions like the 180-foot-high ferris wheel ask visitors to see Baghdad as something other than a battleground and recognize that the last eight years are but a single grain joining three thousand years of sand in the base of Baghdad’s ancient hourglass.

Southern Baghdad. July 2011 — US Humvees depart base for a night patrol. (Photo by Josh Rushing)

Kurdish Prison Guard, Kirkuk

Kirkuk, Iraq. February 2011 — Inside the main jail in Kirkuk. All the people I met in the jail were Arab. The guards and police were Kurds.  (Photo by Josh Rushing)

Kirkuk, Iraq. February, 2010 — 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. I filmed a Fault Lines episode about it:

Hell and Back Again - Trailer from New Video on Vimeo.

This film looks fantastic. Danfung Dennis is a filmmaker I’ve been aware of for a couple of years. His work filming with the Canon 5D was what convinced me that I wanted us to shoot Fault Lines with it. Here’s a great write up of To Hell and Back Again. The movie’s website says it’s coming to DC Nov. 18th. I plan on being there opening night. 

LEGACY OF WAR: Ban Phanop, Laos.

LEGACY OF WAR: Laos’s untouched beauty is staggering—marred only by the litter of U.S. bombs dropped during the Vietnam War.

LEGACY OF WAR: A 15-year-old boy and his brother have shrapnel embedded in their arms and legs from U.S. bombs dropped during the Vietnam War.

NoAK-1 on Flickr.

Can anyone read the writing on this wall?

I took this photo in January 2009 in Maiden Shahr, Afghanistan.

Blind Woman of Ban Phanop 2 on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Here’s a second photo of this beautiful woman I saw in Laos. If you missed the description of this shot in my last post, here it is again:

She was sitting on a porch. It had just stopped raining; the sun broke through the clouds and perfectly lit her for a moment, just long enough for this photo. I shot it in the space between two wet boards in her porch. They were out of focus in the foreground creating the blackness around her.

I took these photos few years ago while filming an episode called “Legacy of War” for a series titled On War. Scroll down to find the video in two parts.

Blind Woman of Ban Phanop

She was sitting on a porch. It had just stopped raining; the sun broke through the clouds and perfectly lit her for a moment, just long enough for this photo. I shot it in the space between two wet boards in her porch. They were out of focus in the foreground creating the blackness around her.

This is from the same village that’s featured in “Legacy of War’ (see previous two posts).

Ok, here’s part two of “Legacy of War”.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll post some photos from behind the scenes.

So we’re busy filming the next season of Fault Lines right now. It will begin in November and air for a couple of months. November may seem like a ways away, but for us, we already feel the heat of the deadline.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a couple of episodes of my series that I filmed before Fault Lines called ‘On War’. I spent a year traveling the globe with one of the world’s greatest producers, Peggy Holter, trying to understand war and its consequences. I think we in the media can be too focused on individual conflicts, as if they are unique events caused by special circumstances, a point of view that can lead one to overlook war’s universal connections. We wanted to go past the current conflicts and headlines in search of a deeper understanding of war as a global, persistent phenomenon.

In this episode we traveled to Laos to reveal a “Legacy of War”. Laos is the most bombed country in the history of the world and forty years later its people are still dealing with the impact of US bombs.

So here’s part one of, “Legacy of War”.

Look for part two tomorrow.

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)