Showing posts tagged news

An Executioner’s Task

Michael Selsor will soon die by homicide. The US Supreme Court this week declined to hear the Oklahoma death row inmate’s case. When I interviewed Selsor in 2010, he seemed resigned to his execution. This week’s decision removed its final legal hurdle.

If calling Selsor’s death by lethal injection homicide sounds loaded, then I suggest you complain to the Sate of Oklahoma. Upon Selsor’s passing, the state will issue a death certificate as it does for every person who dies in Oklahoma. For Micheal Selsor the cause of death will be listed as homicide, a fact that the head of the Oklahoma prison system, Justin Jones, admitted was ‘ironic’ when I interviewed him for this episode of Fault Lines.  

I plan to attend Selsor’s execution, if I’m in the country, which has stirred quite a debate among my colleagues. I believe one of the most important responsibilities of a journalist is to bear witness—especially to such grave events in which so very few are permitted.

Yet I dread doing this.

Selsor, condemned for murdering a convenience store clerk, Clayton Chandler, during a robbery 37 years ago, told me he had not had a visitor in ten years, so I doubt many, if any, family or supporters will witness his killing. I wonder if after all this time Chandler’s surviving family members will come to see the sentence carried out?

I imagine it will be a little-attended, quiet affair. An executioner’s task. A scheduled homicide in the name of justice for an electorate who demands, but will hardly notice it.

In Search of Meaning: Hitchens, Whitman & War

Yesterday was a heavy day.

I was saddened to learn this morning that Christopher Hitchens died last night. Hitch was my first interview at Al Jazeera for a pilot show that never aired. I was nervous, he was buzzed. I was earnest, overly so; he was generous, predictably so. I was naive, but trying to hide it; he was erudite, and couldn’t hide it if he tried. Thankfully, he didn’t. The interview went swimmingly and became the launch point for my career at Al Jazeera. Over time I was lucky enough to get to know Hitch socially—mid-day drinks, visits to his apartment, discussions of Jefferson and God. History and civilization were his passion and what he loved to write about—but provoking people with the denial of God paid the bills, he told me, and allowed him to write the more important stuff.

Adding to the literary hole left in Hitchens’ wake is the passing of George Whitman. Whitman owned Shakepeare & Company on the Left Bank in Paris. The American lived in the small apartment above his iconic book store for nearly 60 years. Writers from Henry Miller to Samuel Beckett have spent time in the store. A previous iteration of the store, owned by Sylvia Beach, acted as a literary center for the expat writers of the 1920s like Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co. was more than a book store, it was a beacon, the north star for romantic literary artists. Whitman would allow sojourning writers to sleep in the store while they worked on their would-be masterpieces. A sign posted inside reads, “Give what you can. Take what you need. George”.

One other momentous event occurred yesterday: the Iraq War officially came to a close. The night before I left for the war in early 2003, as a young US Marine, I remember lying awake in bed, unable to sleep, wondering how war would change me. I can’t say those thoughts were untouched by all the Hemingway I had read over the years—the idea that a man is irrevocably created and shaped by certain events in history—and I wondered if Iraq would be my Spanish Civil War.

I’ve been back to Iraq many times now and each time I’ve charted the changes in the war with the changes in my own life. Since the invasion I have three more children, a stronger relationship with my wife, a less naive view of the world, a more focused moral and ethical structure, and a very rewarding job—all the result in some way or other of events that were set in motion during the war. Yet for all of my blessings, if I’m honest, I have to admit the journey hasn’t been all rose gardens. I feel the years that have passed; I feel much older. My beard (which could be added to the list of what’s new since the start of the war) is greying at a disproportionate rate to the wisdom gained, which it’s supposed to represent. The pain of friends buried over these years accumulates in a well of sorrow somewhere in the back forty of my psyche.

With the foggy notion of these thoughts lingering on my mind this morning, I awoke to learn of the loss of these two stars in my literary universe. It seems like the confluence of these events should mean something, even if only a subtle shift in the intellectual tectonic plates that buttress my worldview. Trying to find meaning in the stream of events that shapes one’s life is certainly a precipitous path. Is there significance in the fact that Hitchens died on the last day of the war he was so vilified for supporting? Is there a metaphorical link between two people, who loved and valued writing as much as anyone on the planet, dying on the same day? Both certainly represented something to the aging romantic in my soul. Even if no greater connections can be made, I can say for certain, the world is a different place today than it was yesterday and one thing these years have taught me is that the change alone is worth noting.

Here’s the promo that ran for the episode below…

The Supreme Court has agreed to review Arizona’s harsh immigration law SB1070. I interviewed the author of the law, Russell Pearce, for my Fault Lines episode (above) about it last year. Pearce told me then that he hoped the law would be challenged up to and reviewed by the Supreme Court. He believes, if SB1070 is upheld by the highest court in the land, his anti-immigration movement will receive a boost of credibility.

Next up in Pearce’s master plan: tackling the 14th amendment, specifically the part of the constitution that says, anyone born in the US is a citizen and has equal rights and protection. Pearce says that babies born to undocumented immigrants are as illegal as their parents and should be prosecuted and then kicked out as well.

While I’m sure he’s celebrating today’s news, it’s not from his former office in the Arizona legislature. He was recently recalled by Arizona voters last month, even after a campaign that engaged in some of the most cynical, underhanded, dirty political maneuvers imaginable.

Here’s a story I did yesterday about Iran airing the video of the captured US Drone.

I was on The Stream today to discuss drones. I also filmed an episode on the topic for Fault Lines. It airs December 26th at 2230 GMT. I’ll be live tweeting during that episode, so if you tune in, it will be like we’re watching it together. If you can’t tune in, it will be posted for eternity here.

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.

GRAPHIC IMAGE Santiago, Chile. Oct. 19, 2011 — Civil disobedience isn´t always pretty. Such was the case when one protester at a march for free education here mounted the barriers in front of the Carabineros to bare all. He was lucky they weren´t firing tear gas yet. (Photo by Josh Rushing)

Southern Baghdad. July 2011 — Iraqi boy seen from the perspective of US soldiers on patrol in a Humvee. (Photo by Josh Rushing)

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

Southern Baghdad. July 2011 — Soldier on night patrol. (Photo by Josh Rushing)

The Last Combat Stryker

Somewhere in southern Iraq. August 2010 — This soldier and Stryker were part of what the Army billed as the last combat brigade in Iraq. When 4th ID pulled out of Iraq last summer Operation Iraqi Freedom ended and Operation New Dawn began with the Iraqis in charge of security for the first time since the US invasion. This Stryker stopped for a break as it was crossing the desert enroute to Kuwait. It was part of the final convoy exiting the country. (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)