The Toll of War, Captured One Frame at a Time

By Tara MacIsaac for The Epoch Times

NEW YORK—“Billy Miller died because I wanted to go see a dead foreign fighter,” said war photographer Ashley Gilbertson. After a pregnant pause, he continued: “Everyone who goes off into conflict comes back with a sense of responsibility.”

Gilbertson shared a powerful and very personal account of his time documenting the Iraq war Monday night as part of the forum series “Ground View,” hosted by The Epoch Times in collaboration with NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and moderated by Getty staff photographer Chris Hondros. “Ground View” aims to bring a remarkable photojournalist to show and speak about his or her work every few months.

“This is who does our bidding,” said Gilbertson as he displayed the humanity and suffering of American soldiers. He strives to remind Americans that we are at war, to bring the reality of warfare to his fellow New Yorkers.

“I drink a latte and have an éclair for breakfast, and I can go through my entire day and not think about the fact that we’re at war right now,” mused Gilbertson.

This renowned photographer tells a tale of suffering—the horrid scenes experienced on the field, the guilt, and sense of responsibility after a term served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the epidemic of PTSD plaguing this nation. Gilbertson does not, however, chronicle this woeful tale without hope that if Americans better understand all of these experiences, soldiers and war-torn families may heal quicker and suffer less loss.


Ashley Gilbertson on Photographing PTSD in NYC

Photographer Ashley Gilbertson talks to Chris Hondros talk on Dec. 6 in NYC about his recent projects photographing PTSD

The Epoch Times cordially invites you to attend an evening with Ashley Gilbertson, an award-winning war photographer and VII Network photographer who spent several years photographing the war in Iraq. He will discuss his recent projects documenting the affects of PTSD on soldiers returning home.

Chris Hondros, Senior Staff Photographer for Getty Images, will moderate the event.

This is part of a forum series called “Ground View,” intriguing and informative events featuring remarkable photojournalists who have witnessed some of the world’s most important news firsthand.



NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute

20 Cooper Square, 6th Floor, New York, NY

Slide show/Discussion begins at 6:30 pm, reception follows

**online registration only**

Ashley Gilbertson on photographing PTSD

An American Face from the War in Iraq

by Genevieve Long for Media and Foreign Policy

There are few photos of the Iraq war as poignant and iconic as that of Marine Lance Corporal James Blake Miller. The photo, known as the “Marlboro Marine”, was taken by Los Angeles Times photojournalist Luis Sinco.

The war-weary Marine with a cigarette dangling from his mouth in  the battle of Fallujah in 2004 is more than an American face far from home. At some level, although it was taken nearly five years ago, it embodies the weariness of the American people and their military–set adrift in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, more than ever, they are two conflicts that seem to have no end, no solution, no happy road out.

Sinco’s photograph, and his personal connection with Lance Corporal Miller, gave birth to a series of engaging and at times breathtaking pictures that, when woven together, create a picture of a life after. After war, after killing, after trying to go back and realizing nothing will ever be the same.

A slideshow of Sinco’s photographs of Miller, post-Iraq, can be found here.


Politicians Don’t Decide What Information Illuminates a Story

by Genevieve Long for the Foreign Policy Association

U.S. President Barack Obama reversed a significant decision this past week. He decided to go back on his promise to release photographs of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan that were taken a few years ago. The popular sentiment among the more conservative-minded might be that Obama is well within his right as Commander-in-Chief to do what he considers in the interest of national security. On the surface this does appear to be a sound argument for the reversed decision.

But dig a little deeper, and the logic that national security and our troops are being protected by thwarting the publication of said photos is actually a hairline crack in the foundation of free speech. And it’s the type of decision that can weaken a democracy.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson said:

“One of the amendments to the Constitution… expressly declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ thereby guarding in the same sentence and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press; insomuch that whatever violates either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others.”

The freedom to think, speak, and believe freely is a great source of strength for Americans. But it can also be a great challenge. We are given explicit protection to be free, but no explicit instructions how to use that freedom. Therein lies the genius of the founding fathers’ conclusion in the Declaration of Independence that government must draw it’s “just powers from the consent of the governed”. A consenting citizenry must be an informed citizenry, otherwise it will always be at odds over what exactly it is consenting to.

Photos of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, for this very reason, should be released. The world, not just Americans, learned in the worst way that what goes on overseas in dark prison cells in the name of the United States makes the citizens of the United States linked to those events by association. Abu Grahib. Guantanamo. Black sites in Europe. The world will never know the extent of suffering that has been inflicted, only the imagined possibilities based on pieces of the story.

During a press briefing in Washington on May 13, President Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made the basic point in the President’s argument to a fiesty press corps confounded by Obama’s decision.

Gibbs’s response, in part:


Must Read Books: Dexter Filkins’ “The Forever War”

Read an excerpt from a recent interview with Dexter Filkins here

by Genevieve Long

If you read only one book about Iraq and Afghanistan this year, make it “The Forever War”, by New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins. It is full of insightful, lyrical vignettes about the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, when Filkins was living there and reporting for the Times. It also includes about forty pages about Afghanistan just prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq.

What Filkins’ book accomplishes, in the short term, is to make a war on the other side of the world come to vivid life. Sometimes it is done in a manner that is startling and unnerving. In fact, when I was reading “The Forever War” for a book review, it gave me nightmares. But it also gave me a deeper understanding about an incredibly complex situation.

Within its pages, the book manages to cover the vast expanse of human experiences encountered in the face of a war like that in Iraq. It moves seamlessly from being so accustomed to suicide car bombings that a human being’s spinal cord on the ground is easily recognizable, to recognizing frustrated indignation in an Iraqi woman’s eyes when she insists on voting day that democracy is “just talking”. You can read my full review of the book at The Epoch Times.

Filkins’ book has won acclaim from readers and reviews. One such review, by George Packer, author of “The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq”, perfectly encapsulates the essence of why “The Forever War” is so timeless and a must-read for any American who wants to understand the impact that the war in Iraq has had.

Packer’s review reads, in part:

The Forever War is already a classic—it has the timeless feel of all great war literature. A lot has been written about Iraq and Afghanistan, but no one has seen as much, survived as much, and registered the horror with such sad eloquence as Dexter Filkins. His combination of courage and sensitivity is so rare that books like his come along only once every major war. This one is ours.”

Filkins, who spent the fall of 2008 on tour as his newly-published book climbed the New York Times’ bestseller list, recently returned from spending about six weeks on assignment in Afghanistan. His articles from that trip are must-reads for understanding the deepening crisis there.


Journalist Q&A: Dexter Filkins, The New York Times

Dexter Filkins is a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, and author of the new book, “The Forever War”. I caught up with him in December just days before he left to report from Afghanistan for nearly six weeks. Filkins returned to Afghanistan and Pakistan recently where he has been reporting for The New York Times.

As interviewed by Genevieve Long

If you were reporting in Iraq today, what story/stories would you go after?

“I was just there in September [2008], and I wrote a number of stories. The one thing that struck me was just how much things have changed, and mostly for the better, I wrote about that. I think if I were to going to go back today, I guess there are two big questions: what’s likely to happen when the presence of American troops is reduced substantially? That’s a big story. Which is to say, how durable are some of these changes we’ve seen? The second one, which is kind of related to that—there is a lot of evidence to suggest that what the Americans would be leaving behind is a kind of Shiite-authoritarian state. The United States is helping to midwife that. I don’t know if that’s entirely true because I’m not there but it’s a question that I’d like to answer. By Shiite authoritarian state I mean a state that doesn’t share power very willingly and doesn’t share resources very willingly, doesn’t tolerate dissent very well, doesn’t share power. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would try to answer it.”

How well informed does the general public seem to be about the war in Iraq?

“I think people are pretty well informed. I’ve just got done touring around the country on my book tour and went to 22 cities. I’ve found people are pretty well informed. The war is still a very polarizing thing and people have pretty much made up their minds about it. Having said that I think that people are pretty well informed about what’s going on there.”

What do you think about the impact of the surge in Iraq?

“It seems to me that the violence has come way down, and the reasons for that are complicated. The surge is one of the reasons—it’s one of the main reasons, but it’s not the only reason. I don’t want to give the impression that the United States came in and did the surge and the violence came way down. I think its way more complicated than that. I think the surge helped, and I think there are a number of other things. For example, the Sunni Awakening was instrumental in bringing the violence down and the exploitation of that by the U.S. The Iraqi army is much better than it used to be, exhaustion on the part of the people, overreaching by al Qaeda, there’s a whole bunch of different factors.”

Following the surge and security improvements in Iraq, do you think access for journalists has gotten worse?

“The situation on the ground—when I was there in August and September [2008] I could safely visit places that I had not been able to [between 2003 to 2006]. I think too many people have the impression that American journalists working in Iraq in 2005, 2006, 2007 weren’t able to go anywhere so they just sat in their hotel rooms and sent Iraqis out. I never did that, the New York Times never did that. I can’t really speak for other people. The idea that no one could move around the country or the capital was false, and it was always false. A lot of people say that and they usually have some other point they are trying to make.”

What kinds of places have you gone when reporting in Iraq?

“I went to Adamiyah in 2006, it was really dangerous. It was pretty much under the control of the insurgency. I still went there—it was just really, really dangerous. I able to go back in September [2008], and it was much, much safer. I was able to go at night, I was able to walk around, I saw a wedding, and there were restaurants open. It was a lot easier to work. I just want to emphasize that it was not impossible to work in 2005 and 2006.”

Why do you think journalists get fingers pointed at them for not going out to report the story themselves?

“My own sense is that when people say journalists can’t go anywhere, that’s usually followed by some political point that they make about the war. Which is—‘It’s much better than is being been reported, and the reason why you don’t know that is the journalists don’t go out’, or ‘It’s much worse than is being reported, and the reason why you don’t understand the point I’m trying to make is because the journalists sit in their hotel rooms’. Again, it’s usually a political point that people are trying to make. It’s much easier in this case to kind of attack the messenger and say that ‘You have the wrong impression because you’ve been mislead by these people in the press, and here’s the real truth’. The [accusation that] journalists sit around in hotel rooms and don’t leave is usually followed by some overarching political point about the situation.”

How did you get around when you were reporting in Iraq?

“Every situation was different. In 2006 when things were really, really bad, there were some neighborhoods that you couldn’t really go to, or if you went to them there were some cases when I took an armored car, there were some cases when I didn’t, there were some occasions when I took guards, there were some occasions when I took a chase car, there were some cases when I didn’t. There were some places I felt safe to go at night, there were other places that I didn’t. It’s not like Switzerland there now, so you don’t want to get the wrong impression. There was just a gigantic suicide bombing there the other day in Kirkuk, they killed a bunch of people. So the danger there is still very real, what calm there is still pretty fragile. It’s not like reporters are walking around there in shorts on the sidewalk advertising their presence.”

As the U.S. winds down its presence in Iraq, where do you think the most important stories will be—possibly in countries nearby?

“I think the press goes where the story is. Iraq has gotten a lot of attention because the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001, and there are Americans who are fighting and dying there. That’s the principal reason why people are interested in it—the American press. I don’t like to predict the future—not in Iraq and not in the Middle East. It’s not a good idea because it’s impossible to do. Are American troops going to be out in 2011? I wouldn’t hold your breath. There’s a very precarious situation, there’s still a war in Afghanistan and it’s deteriorated pretty remarkably. I think there will be a lot of attention in both places, as long as there are Americans are there.”

What is reporting in Afghanistan like?

“It’s very difficult. The terrain of the country is very forbidding, and there’s basically no infrastructure to speak of, so it’s like going back in time in a lot of places. It’s very hard to move around, even under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances are pretty bad in a lot of places given the resurgence of the Taliban. I think it’s really hard to work there. I think the combination of security and the geography make for a pretty difficult place to work.”


New Book Takes Readers Inside the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Work

By Genevieve Long for The Epoch Times

With 32,000 police, the New York Police Department is the country’s largest police force and has been hardest-hit by terrorist attacks. It’s an operation that needs to have more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

One of these is the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit—an elite group of 600 officers and analysts stationed in New York City and throughout the world. The work of the unit, which was created after 9/11, is detailed in the new book “Securing the City” by Christopher Dickey. Dickey is the Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine.

The book, which was released this month, was written with the close cooperation of the NYPD and police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who says the specialized unit was created because information from the federal government was too slow in coming. After 9/11, he realized the NYPD could no longer rely on the CIA, FBI and NSA to keep New York City safe.

“Everything is bureaucratized, everything is slowed down in the federal government,” said Kelly during a recent discussion with “Securing the City” author Charles Dickey at the Overseas Press Club in Manhattan. Kelly says in the years since 9/11, the NYPD has focused on how to create a highly skilled and versatile unit with members who not only understands the world of terrorists, but who speak their language and even their slang.

Kelly says these basic communication skills are vital to the work they do.

“We took all of the speakers of the sensitive languages and sent them to Berlitz [language schools],” said Kelly. Many of those used for the special assignment are foreign-born immigrants who the federal government will not clear to do counterterrorism work. Kelly thinks that such an exclusion is a mistake, and understanding subtle linguistic nuances can make for truly useful intelligence. “They know the slang of the back streets of Karachi because they are from the back streets of Karachi,” said Kelly about the members of the unit.

In addition to extensive international field work and intelligence gathering, the unit also works side-by-side with the beat police in the NYPD who are deeply familiar with the city’s five boroughs. This includes the use of Critical Response Vehicles (CRVs).

Twice a day, approximately five times a week, 75 police cars—or CRVs—with two police officers each from various parts of the city gather at a rallying point, get the day’s counterterrorism briefing, and break off into smaller groups. The rallying points change constantly and sometimes cause a stir when they are in major tourist areas like Times Square. The unpredictable movement of the CRVs, coupled with their sudden, massive presence also acts as a warning to potential terrorist attackers. The enormous police presence is impossible to ignore, and impossible to predict.

The NYPD’s counterterrorism unit also closely watches broader changes in the stability of international situations, such as the war in Afghanistan, and resurgent Taliban forces there.

“We pay a lot of attention to what goes on in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Kelly. “You cannot separate Pakistan from Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban.”

Although New York has been hit repeatedly by terrorist attacks and is the ongoing target of sinister plots, book author Christopher Dickey says the city’s large number of immigrants is its best insurance. That’s largely due to the fact that immigrants traditionally tend to become personally vested in their adopted city, reducing the chance they would attack a place they call home.

“New York keeps taking it on the chin,” said Dickey, who adds that despite past attacks against New York, there is still less to fear than most places. “The safest big cities in the U.S. are those with the highest number of first-generation immigrants.”

Dickey’s book, “Securing the City”, is available at and in major bookstores.