Category Archives: Journalism

A Graceful Star is Lost, Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012

By Rick Gladstone
Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey.

Some impressions from the Washington Post days.
I was sometimes at the other end of the phone when he was filing from
Baghdad. The first thing you can say is that he had a mission and was
consumed by what he could do, and his work was larger than his place
of employment. He had incrementally created himself to become the
foreign correspondent he was. At AP in Egypt, he learned Arabic, which
his family did not much speak, second or third generation, back in
Oklahoma City. He saw his job as interpreting purely without a filter
the arcane world for an audience of Americans who needed to know and
were ignorant at their peril. He gave himself the tools to do his work
and few of his generation approached his level after that.

He looked to interpret a story by boring into the essential humanity,
listening to the barbers on the main drag talking about the war, or
sitting with a mother who had watched her son board a bus and go north
to war and death, or overhearing the booksellers who at all cost
needed to affirm and preserve their culture as it crumbled around
them. He gave his stories a universality — what country was this?—in
a sense it was the human story.

He lived close to death and that was implicit in his work. His family might not have
been able to stand it, weeks apart with the daily weight of his
possible death for having gone many steps too far. He was compelled to
work, nevertheless, family or not, and he returned to the field.

His writing was inspired, didn’t need much editing, was too long and
he got away with it. He was proud, smiled gently back in the office
and was diffident listening to praise. He was forgiving of editors who
weren’t with the program, top to bottom, argued for good sense and to
my view, only was happy when he was out the door and back in the
field.

In short, he was a a classic case of the stereotype of the foreign
correspondent, who then shot through that stereotype and created
a new standard, better than most.

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Filed under 1, Egypt, Journalism, Middle East

Noriega in Chains: The George H.W. Bush Connection

 
  Who is this shuffling old man returning to Panama today some 22 years after being hauled off to a U.S. prison as a generalissimo in shackles?

       Manuel Antonio Noriega, the 77-year-old former Panama strongman, was deposed by invading U.S. forces dispatched by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Subsequently Noriega was also convicted in a U.S. court of cocaine dealing and conspiracy; and back home, a Panamanian court charged him in absentia with killing a political opponent.

       The rest of his story is shrouded in political double-dealings,
boilerplate and lies. Long-time bed-fellows figure into the story—among them Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell.

      Don’t expect Noriega to make any new revelations or shift the ground in Panama – much less the hemisphere. After interviewing the general extensively and investigating the U.S. invasion and the problematic politics surrounding the U.S. drug war, I’ve concluded that General Noriega all along was but a minor chess piece in a global game and was thrown off the board when he stopped cooperating with his former U.S. masters—he was a CIA asset for years.

       I covered Panama before and after the U.S. invasion and worked at counting the bodies of Panamanians – mostly civilians – who died that
Christmas season. I also sat through Noreiga’s nine-month, 1991-1992 drug conspiracy trial and watched some two-dozen felons–who never actually met the man—earn their get-out- of- jail cards by implicating the strongman in a conspiracy.

And I was eager to interview the imprisoned Noriega with the notion that he would tell secrets out of school about his former employers at the CIA – including George Herbert Walker Bush.

       Noriega was a flop in global gamesmanship – He didn’t know much about the United States. They were willing to come after him.

       The old general’s return to Panama provides finally a proper coda. Whatever crimes Noriega did or did not commit in Panama should be judged by Panamanians. They will now have that chance. My interest was
rooted in the U.S. dimension. I haven’t met anyone who can explain exactly how Panama represented a national security threat to the United States in 1989 sufficient to order an invasion. Twenty five Americans and hundreds, perhaps more than one thousand, Panamanians were killed.

       My analysis of the Noriega case is partly contained in my
interviews of Noriega in the 1994 book, America’s Prisoner. I was
hired by Random House to interview Noriega after he was convicted. Noriega was given the chance to speak in the book – and I was afforded the opportunity to analyze what he had to say. I wrote a separate introduction and afterward to the book that Noriega was not allowed to review or change.

      In all my dealings with Noriega, he lobbed only one bombshell at George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States. As CIA director, Bush had secretly encouraged a covert operation to simulate a nascent guerrilla movement in Panama. The U.S. intelligence agency trained Panamanian military operatives in explosives and demolition tactics, and then dispatched them back to Panama, where they set off some bombs in the Canal Zone. At the time, Gerald Ford was U.S. president. A young fellow named Dick Cheney was his chief of staff, having replaced his mentor Donald Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld became secretary of defense in November 1975.

        The idea was to convince conservatives in Congress that it was
better to sign the Panama Canal Treaties than to face possible
guerrilla warfare and a Panamanian liberation movement. The little
fake bombing mission may have contributed to passage of the Panama
Canal treaties, signed by Noriega’s mentor, General Omar Torrijos, and President Jimmy Carter in September 1977. Noriega at the time was a colonel in the Panamanian Defense Forces in charge of G2 – intelligence.

        Noriega told me that he met with Bush at the Panamanian embassy
in Washington D.C. one month after Carter had defeated Ford in the 1976
presidential election. Ford’s defeat meant that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were on their way out of office.

        Noriega said: “I was struck immediately by the fact that Bush came alone to
the embassy; no driver, if he had one, aides and interpreter were not
there. He carried no papers, not so much as a pen and a pad of paper.
Ahd I thought. No witnesses…  “So,” he said, “have you done a report on the bombings?” What he meant, I am sure, was I hope you haven’t written a real report about what we did.

“Yes, I wrote a report and sent it to General McAuliffe [the head of
the US. Southern Command, based in Panama],” I told him. I understood
this to mean: Don’t worry, we’re not talking.”

         After Noriega told me this in 1993, I wrote a letter to Bush.
I asked the former president if this was true –five questions
detailing the charge of planning the bombings, CIA training for
Noriega’s men, and the subsequent meeting with Noriega. I expected
Bush to deny everything and to disparage the word of Noriega as a liar
and convicted felon. Instead I received a phone call from Bush’s
spokesman who said: “According to his recollection, the answer is ‘no’
to all five questions. But to make sure, he sent your letter to John
Deutsch [then the Director of Central Intelligence].” The spokesman
would go no further than that.

A few days later, Bush’s spokesman called back, reading a statement:
“The CIA has nothing to add to what President Bush already said.”
I asked the spokesman what that meant, since Bush hadn’t said
anything. As many questions as I asked, the spokesman repeated the
same words. “The CIA has nothing to add to what President Bush already
said.”

      I spoke to dozens of people, including CIA, U.S. military and
diplomatic officials on the record. The reporting is worthy of a
separate book, but it can be encapsulated for the moment in the words of
retired General Fred Woerner, who had been head of the U.S. Southern
Command in Panama until mid-1989. He refused an order from the Bush
administration to proceed with an invasion of Panama. He was succeeded
by Gen. Max Thurman. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Admiral William Crowe, resigned at the same time and he was replaced by Gen. Colin Powell. Thurman and Powell followed orders.

    At the time, Noriega was no longer the CIA asset who had helped
the United States deal with Fidel Castro and had allowed the United
States to stage operations – sometimes illegally – from Panama to
Nicaragua and El Salvador during the Central American wars. Noriega
was defying Bush, and the president, charged with being weak,
was getting angry. People were referring to him as a “wimp.”

This is what Woerner told me when I asked why the
United States had invaded Panama: “The invasion was a response to U.S.
domestic considerations,” he said. “It was the wimp factor.”

Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in a federal prison, reduced to 30 years when a former CIA station chief, U.S. military adviser and a U.S. ambassador to Panama argued before the judge that he should not have been imprisoned in the United States at all. After a while, Noriega started coming up for parole hearings – every time, the United States argued that he posed a threat to the Bush and to the United States.

As he limps back home today, crippled by age and illnesses, the only threat he represents is that the news of the moment might provoke us to re-examine the evidence and question why the United States invaded Panama in the first place.

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Filed under 1, Intelligence, Journalism, Latin America, Politics

Panama, Noriega and the US: The Story Behind the Story.

Manuel Antonio Noriega is about to return to Panama 22 years after he was taken in shackles to the United States. Here’s a reprise of a magazine story I wrote about him. Was Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega really a drug trafficker? Or is it possible he was set up by the U.S. government? Try asking a few dozen people who should know.
FROM NEW TIMES: UNCERTAIN JUSTICE

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Filed under 1, Bush, Intelligence, Journalism, Latin America, Politics

Horrid Obsession

The matter at hand is Patrick Buchanan, who is out hawking his newest book, recycled claptrap like all the others. One was left amazed listening to his interview on the Diane Rehm show recently. Among other things, he defended the Reagan Southern Strategy (which he promoted) as not being racist, he repeated his tripe about the destruction of values that began in the 1960s and comparing that age of permissiveness to the Weimar Republic (leaving unsaid, but implying that a wonderful fellow came in after that to clean up Germany–only to be thwarted by a warmongering fellow named Churchill). Yes, really, Churchill, according to Buchanan, was the culprit in World War II. See Christopher Hitchens on Buchanan and World War II.

Unwittingly or not, let us not forget that Buchanan was the recipient of the hanging chad votes in 2000 that helped throw the election (with an assist from Scalia and company) to GW Bush.

Fascinating that he is still allowed to slime his way onto the airwaves and onto the TV screen.

Here is the best take on Buchanan in many a day, written at theRoot.com by Les Payne.

Pat Buchanan: Fearing the Loss of White Power
In his latest book, the right-wing commentator recycles his familiar racial fears
.

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Roger Ailes: The Formidable Wizard Behind the Curtain at Fox News

A profile of Roger Ailes from The Guardian:

“Roger Ailes and the rise of Fox News
Even Rupert Murdoch is afraid of Roger Ailes, the paranoid boss of Fox News. But ‘the Chairman’ is using his power to make Americans more rightwing, more ignorant and ever more terrified.”
click here for more….

“According to recent polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers. They are 12 percentage points more likely to believe the stimulus package caused job losses, 17 points more likely to believe Muslims want to establish Sharia law in America, 30 points more likely to say that scientists dispute global warming, and 31 points more likely to doubt President Obama’s citizenship. At the height of the healthcare debate, more than two-thirds of Fox News viewers were convinced Obamacare would lead to a “government takeover”, provide healthcare to illegal immigrants, pay for abortions and let the government decide when to pull the plug on grandma. In fact, a study by the University of Maryland revealed that ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimisation.”

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Filed under 1, Elections, Journalism, Obama, Politics, State of the Union

Obama’s Pragmatism and the debt deal — part two

Liberals and progressives have been wringing their hands over the the debt deal–and keep implying that the President of the United States has sent them down the river. Not so. Paul Krugman calls the debt negotiations a surrender and a disaster. I tend to disagree. I would rather compare it somewhat to the Health Care bill. Krugman and others might have come out on Jan. 21, 2009 to declare and demand a one payer cradle to grave health care system, along with money to fund it. (That would have come after his announcement at 12:01 p.m. of the same day that the United States was leaving Afghanistan)

But neither he nor anyone else promoting that would have been elected president. And a liberal-progressive Barack Obama couldn’t have been elected either.

He is a politician, middle of the road all the way. Pragmatism worked in the end. As with health care, the debt deal is a foot in the door. The details will be worked out and fixed as time goes on. Nobody is blocking Medicare. And a formula for raising taxes may follow.

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What is the Choice?

It is difficult enough to govern when you are a president who has inherited a war based on fraud and deception that generated dysfunction and a deficit fueled by that war.

More difficult, if not impossible, when you happen to be a president trying to negotiate with an opponent whose majority believes you are not an American, born in Nigeria, a socialist, a danger to their fabulous ideas.

So as president, a patriot, a balanced thinker, you go pragmatically for the best deal possible.

The details of the debt deal? Looking at the details ain’t American. Neither are a good education for those who need it, critical thinking, or a sense of history. Raise your hand if you think that Tea Party members of Congress read the details. They’re trying to derail the president, no matter what, no matter the state of the nation.

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Filed under 1, Elections, Journalism, Obama, Politics, Politics