Voices from the War on Terror

See more from my Foreign Policy Association blog about Media and Foreign Policy here

PEN American Center will host what promises to be an engaging, eye-opening, and interesting event (regardless of one’s political ideology) about the U.S.’s so-called war on terror.

Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror” will include Matthew Alexander, Jonathan Ames, K. Anthony Appiah, Paul Auster, Ishmael Beah, Don DeLillo, Eve Ensler, Jenny Holzer, A.M. Homes, Jameel Jaffer, Susanna Moore, Jack Rice, Amrit Singh, and Art Spiegelman. Guests are writers, artists, lawyers, a former U.S. interrogator, and others.

Co-hosted by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), the event will look at acts of abuse and torture during the war on terror. Event participants will read from the recently-released secret documents that have brought these abuses to light—memos, declassified communications, and testimonies by detainees—and respond with thoughts about how the U.S. can move forward.

When: Tuesday, October 13
Where: The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 East 7th St., NYC
What time: 7 p.m.

Tickets: $15/$10 for PEN/ACLU Members and students with valid ID at www.smarttix.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

Veteran Journalist Gets a Bird’s Eye View of America’s Best Counterterrorism Force

Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey examines the NYPD’s fight against terrorism in his new book, “Securing the City

By Genevieve Long for the Foreign Policy Association

When the American public thinks of the United States fighting terrorism, the federal government naturally comes to mind. Yet for some in New York City, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the bureaucracy of the CIA, FBI, DHS, DIA and NSA proved too cumbersome to be effective in preventing attacks. Raymond Kelly was one of the people with this opinion, and after being reinstated as New York Police Department Commissioner in 2002, he created an elite force to go inside the world of potential terrorists—in cities throughout around the planet. The result, seven years later, is described in Christopher Dickey’s new book, “Securing the City”.

Dickey, who is Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek, is a veteran journalist, war correspondent, and author of several books. He has also written for a number of magazines, including Foreign Affairs, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and others.

Dickey’s book is already garnering accolades not only for its incisive look a rarely examined section of the NYPD, and for highlighting the dense amount of red tape that stands between the federal government and its ability to effectively fight terrorism.

Commissioner Kelly has focused on recruiting native-speakers of key languages needed to track activity in the world of terrorism—including Arabic, Farsi, and Dari. He has also seen to it that agents are stationed not just throughout New York’s five boroughs, but around the world. The NYPD’s counterterrorism network of about 600 agents is posted in major international cities, and the agents speak the languages and know the streets of the terrorist communities they are watching. Many of them, in a manner reflective of New York City’s general ethnic makeup, are foreign-born.

They know the slang of the back streets of Karachi because they are from the back streets of Karachi,” said Kelly during a recent appearance at the Overseas Press Club in New York for a Q&A with Christopher Dickey. He cooperated closely with Dickey for the book.

In contrast, it would be almost impossible for foreign-born applicants to get a similar position with the federal government because of prohibitive laws.

Dickey’s level of extraordinary access to the NYPD’s counterterrorism force for his book is somewhat of an anomaly. That alone could make the book worth reading. As NYPD Deputy Commissioner recently said, “If we gave brought the media out to see us work, that’s all we would ever do.” According to Browne, Dickey was given special access because of his affiliation with Newsweek and the impending publication of his book.

Dickey will continue his book tour at the Houston Forum on February 23 and at the World Affairs Council in Dallas on February 24.

The View from the Ground in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Genevieve Long for Quill Magazine

When journalists watched American bombers strike Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan weeks after 9/11, Iraq wasn’t part of the story. But the Middle East can be like a kaleidoscope: a slight shift and the whole picture changes.

Seven years later, both Iraq and Afghanistan remain difficult, dangerous places for journalists to work. Iraq is especially deadly.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, from 2003 to 2008, 136 journalists were killed in Iraq; 129 died while not embedded, and most were Iraqi.

Last year, security conditions eased in Iraq, due in part to a U.S. troop “surge,” Sunni Awakening security forces and improvements in the Iraqi army. But things are by no means completely peaceful. In December alone, a suicide bombing in Kirkuk killed 48 and wounded 96; another in Baghdad killed 18 and injured 52.

“It’s not like Switzerland there now. The danger is still very real; what calm there is is still pretty fragile,” said Dexter Filkins, a New York Times foreign correspondent who worked in Iraq from 2003 to 2006.

“It’s not like reporters are walking around there in shorts on the sidewalk, advertising their presence.”

Filkins’ new book, “The Forever War,” paints a vivid and unvarnished picture of the war in Iraq. He notes that although the life of a journalist there is not easy, there was never a time when he relied solely on Iraqi journalists, embedding or second-hand information to get stories. In fact, Filkins refutes criticisms that journalists there are unwilling or unable to get out and report.

“It’s much easier to attack the messenger and say that ‘You have the wrong impression because you’ve been misled by these people in the press, and here’s the real truth,’” Filkins said. “The [accusation that] journalists sit around in hotel rooms and don’t leave is usually followed by some over-arching political point about the situation.”

Filkins said that even at the height of tensions and violence in 2006, he would find ways to report. Backed by the well-funded and heavily committed New York Times, he could use an armored car, a regular car, a chase car, no chase car or guards. He even went some places at night, depending on the circumstances.

But some journalists must rely heavily on embedding, a practice sometimes criticized for putting objectivity at risk.

“For about two or three years now, this has almost been like a challenge thrown at western journalists — what would they have them do, be murdered?” said Jon Lee Anderson, a staff writer for

The New Yorker who has reported on

Iraq and Afghanistan extensively but personally prefers not to embed. “I’ve covered over a dozen conflicts, and I’ve never been in such a murderous environment [as Iraq].”

Anderson said journalists should not be faulted for trying to preserve their lives, especially when they have continued to report such an unpopular story.

“There are very few westerners reporting on Iraq,” he said. “It’s less a reflection of journalists or media themselves than of popular interest.”

Anderson added that it’s a challenge for Americans to fasten their attention on so many different headline-grabbing crises at once.

“In the minds of most people, Iraq has moved away from near apocalypse and back from the brink, and that has been reflected by a sigh and move away from it by the media,” he said, predicting that news coverage will shift back toward Afghanistan.

Many reporters who have covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have found both countries to present unique challenges, especially for freelance journalists.

“It’s changed so much since the early days of the occupation when you could still move around by yourself,” said Scott Wallace, a freelance reporter and photographer. In mid-2003, Wallace followed Iraqi police special agents and their U.S. advisers on missions to capture kidnappers and fedayeen commanders on the streets of Baghdad.

“You cannot cover that story unless you’re with a news organization that has made that commitment to security, personnel, blast walls,” Wallace said. “Even if you are a member of that very reduced number of people, you are largely confined to the U.S. military.”

In some cases, even access to a high-profile figure or a military unit can come down to news organization or a personal connection. Wallace experienced both such cases.

On assignment in 2003 for a program that airs on Fox television, he found that getting close to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, in Baghdad training the new Iraqi police force, rested on his affiliation. He also gained “extraordinary access” to a mechanized infantry company through a hometown connection with the company’s first sergeant.

Wallace said the working conditions in any war zone can challenge a journalist’s motivation.

“That takes conviction in your mission, that what we’re doing is of the utmost importance and we’re there to shed light on the story,” he said.

Robert Nickelsberg, a contributing photojournalist with TIME magazine for 25 years who syndicates his photographs

with Getty Images, has been documenting Islamic fundamentalism’s rise in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India’s Kashmir. For Nickelsberg, the challenges facing journalists in Iraq make it near-impossible to do the job.

“I do not think it’s a workable environment for any journalist,” he said. “It’s just too dangerous. You almost need a small network of local people to get you from the airport to your hotel.”

He said Iraq requires journalists to work with the options they have, even if not ideal.

“There have been times when I only got a picture from a car with a window down,” Nickelsberg said. “There are people on rooftops with cell phones and walkie-talkies [watching you]. A rolled-down window could be all you get for the day.”

Nickelsberg was embedded with U.S. Marines in 2003 during the invasion of Baghdad. In May 2008, he reported from Sadr City, Iraq, the center of support for the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He said he thinks things have changed.

“In both places, [Iraq and Afghanistan] coverage has gone down,” Nickelsberg said. “The only way to see the urban and rural areas is with the military. We’re also finding there are fewer people who are willing to go.”

Regardless of the risks, the need to get the story remains.

“Luck is always involved,” Nickelsberg said. “But you set out to do certain things, face into the wind.”

In Afghanistan, luck may indeed play a part when journalists encounter harsh terrain, a poor infrastructure and a resurgent Taliban. Some think journalists will face a steep learning curve as they refocus on Afghanistan.

“The level of engagement, investment, blood and money were so extraordinary that the media were fixated on reporting that conflict [in Iraq],” said Bill Gentile, an independent journalist and filmmaker teaching at American University in Washington, D.C. He has covered inter-national conflict for almost 30 years. “The coverage of Afghanistan fell by the wayside, as did the administration’s focus. And now we are reaping the bitter fruits of that policy.”

Gentile was in Afghanistan when the bombs fell on the Taliban in 2001, and he was embedded in mid-2008 with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. His documentary of his most recent trip, produced for PBS’s program NOW, is called “Afghanistan: The Forgotten War.”

He said he thinks there are underreported lessons to be learned from the human suffering wrought by both wars.

“Americans don’t have a sense of the physical damage that this has done to some of its finest sons or daughters,” Gentile said. “I think it’s primarily because of the lack of aggressive media coverage.”

This damage gets to the heart of what Gentile thinks is the fundamental goal of the journalist reporting on conflict, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I think human loss is the main point,” Gentile said. “If you are not reporting on human loss, you are not covering conflict.”

Afghans and U.S. Plan to Recruit Local Militias

Published: December 23, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban. But along with hope, the move is raising fears here that the new armed groups could push the country into a deeper bloodletting.

The militias will be deployed to help American and Afghan security forces, which are stretched far and wide across this mountainous country. The first of the local defense forces are scheduled to begin operating early next year in Wardak Province, an area just outside the capital where the Taliban have overrun most government authority.

If the experiment proves successful, similar militias will be set up rapidly across the country, senior American and Afghan officials said.

FULL ARTICLE HERE

Struggle for Kabul: The Taliban Advance

SOURCE: The International Council on Security and Development

The Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year ago. Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan’s western and north-western provinces, as well as provinces north of Kabul. Within a year, the Taliban’s permanent presence in the country has increased by a startling 18%.

Three out of the four main highways into Kabul are now compromised by Taliban activity. The capital city has plummeted to minimum levels of control, with the Taliban and other criminal elements infiltrating the city at will.

Through its research platform in Afghanistan, ICOS determined the Taliban’s presence across the country using a combination of publicly recorded attacks and local perceptions of Taliban presence. One or more insurgent attacks per week in a province constitutes a “permanent Taliban presence” according to ICOS (see full methodology).