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Friday, January 23, 2015

Now We Take Berlin!

January update:  Trip to Berlin now set--so very light posting for the next 10 days--and amazingly have arranged interviews with all four key tunnelers who took part in the "CBS" and "NBC" tunnels.  

And further:  Signed contract this week so, so as the tunnelers no doubt said at some point, there's no turning back now!  My risks a good deal lighter, however.   My photo at left is from memorial at Bernauer Strasse with photos of more than 100 who lost their lives at the Wall--with the remains of the Wall visible behind their pictures. 

Further update:  Thrilled to be working closely with my daughter on this, as she and husband already hard at work as (paid) researchers in Berlin.  My next trip there: late-January.  And I hear tremendous interest from A-list screenwriters on movie.

Update Thursday:  Publishers Weekly covers the book (and movie) deal tonight.   NYT, ABC, CBS,  and a few dozen others picked up the AP story today.  

Update Wednesday:  And now another wild week, since we did things backwards, my book proposal sold to the movies first, for Paul Greengrass film--and only now comes the remarkably major book deal.  Here's the Associated Press story now, with the great Rachel Klayman at Crown/Random
House to edit. 

Friday: Big news today for yours truly, as my proposal for my next book The Tunnels was purchased by great upstart company FilmNation for a major film directed by one of my film heroes, Paul Greengrass.  Just up at Variety.

Quite flattered by interest over past 10 days from several leading studios and A-list directors but very happy to be with Greengrass--I was one of early boosters of his Bloody Sunday back in 2002, and since--and producer Mark Gordon (who did Saving Private Ryan and so many others).  Amazing story of  young folks in the West who at unfathomable risk dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall in 1962 to bring out family and lovers and others--and now a wonderful chance to tell it on the page and on the screen.  The Variety description includes the key angle of CBS and NBC financing two key tunnels--but omits what happened then:  JFK at the White House trying to suppress the two network specials as nuclear tensions rose.

Special thanks to Brian Siberell and Michelle Weiner at CAA and my literary agent Gary Morris at the David Black Agency.  Yowza.  And great chance to work with my daughter, who lives in Berlin about a mile from the former path of the Wall.   My photo above of some of those who died trying to get over or under or around the Wall, at the Memorial on Bernauer Strausse (remnant of the Wall behind them).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Voice of a (Golden Ager) Generation?

It's come to this:  Dylan on the cover of AARP magazine.  And as per usual for mag (which celebrates older folks but oddly refuses to let them look like themselves) with a heavily airbrushed photo.  And now--here's the cover story.

'Sniper' Under Attack (Updated)

Update #8  Iraq vet with must-read piece at New York with words of praise for the film in getting parts the soldiers' experiences there right--but also finding much fault with its "myopia"--and it's certainly not the Iraq war film we still need...And yet another valid and lengthy critique about what film gets wrong from a second Vox writer.  "Its premises are wrong, and its results are dangerous. By feeding that narrative, American Sniper is part of the problem."

Update #7  And now Matt Taibbi joins in, calling the film almost  too "absurd" to critique.  "[T]o turn the Iraq war into a saccharine, almost PG-rated two-hour cinematic diversion about a killing machine with a heart of gold (is there any film theme more perfectly 2015-America than that?) who slowly, very slowly, starts to feel bad after shooting enough women and children – Gump notwithstanding, that was a hard one to see coming.
Sniper is a movie whose politics are so ludicrous and idiotic that under normal circumstances it would be beneath criticism. The only thing that forces us to take it seriously is the extraordinary fact that an almost exactly similar worldview consumed the walnut-sized mind of the president who got us into the war in question....

"Well done, Clint! You made a movie about mass-bloodshed in Iraq that critics pronounced not political! That's as Hollywood as Hollywood gets."

And this important point:  "The thing is, it always looks bad when you criticize a soldier for doing what he's told. It's equally dangerous to be seduced by the pathos and drama of the individual solider's experience, because most wars are about something much larger than that, too."

Update #6  Two more good takes on the dangerous fictions in the film related to the war itself and how Eastwood falsely presents it.  A detailed accounting here from Vox on the "whitewash."

And this piece IDs what it calls the most "pernicious" lie in the film--that the U.S. was fighting "al Qaeda" right from the start of our invasion--not only completely false (no Al Qaeda in Iraq at that point) but also lending credence to Bush and Cheney claims that Saddam had something to do with 9/11 and we had to root out Al Qaeda in Iraq.  That famous scene in movie (and trailer) where Kyle shoots woman happened on his first tour, at the beginning of the invasion, and in the film the enemy is already labeled Al Qaeda.

Plus: Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post finds the film "mediocre" but more than that also misleading and untruthful (see second half of her piece).  See also raises the issue (see below) of ignoring Kyle bragging about killing Americans here at home.

Update #5   Writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune hits Kyle for his clear lie about shooting 30 bad guys in that city--from the roof of the Superdome.  I've noted it before but good to see it in the city's leading news outlet.

Okay, let's say that Kyle was just gassing about this while drunk--what does this show about this "hero's" make-up to brag about being judge and executioner--of American citizens, not "savage" Iraqis?  This is a question none of his, and the film's, supporters wish to tackle.

More: The Guardian in London fact-checks the film vs. both history and Kyle's own book--and finds it wanting in many aspects.  I'd had pointed out nearly all of this many days ago.

Update #4  New piece hits what's left out of the film and portrayal of U.S. mission--by Marine who served with Kyle in Fallujah.

And a good piece here from Charlie Fink at Medium, which opens by recalling the Liberty Valance line--"When the legend becomes fact print the legend." Goes on to say that since we've apparently learned nothing from our Iraq invasion it could easily happen again tomorrow--after everyone has viewed this movie we'll be ready.  
And truth is gone, banished, most probably for good. We’re not cying about the right things and we are never going to. We lost a war, we destroyed a country, we displaced millions and started what may yet be regarded as World War 3. So far, we suffered five thousand dead, twenty five thousand wounded, and five hundred thousand traumatized. We transferred hundreds of billions of dollars of public wealth into private hands to pay for the war. We could have cured cancer, or world hunger. Instead we destroyed Iraq, for false reasons, at huge cost to us. We remain bogged down in Afghanistan. We are on our way back to Iraq. And so there will be more Chris Kyles, and more killing, and more transfer of wealth.
A bit of a backlash developing in Hollywood over making a "sociopath" a "super hero."

Update #3  Film gets Oscar nod for Best Picture for Actor Bradley Cooper.  Now Cooper again offers bullshit defense of film, explaining again that it is "not political" and not really about Iraq, so ignore that, brother.  Just a "character" study.  Yes, true, but in ways he may not realize.     Then Kyle's widow says, hey, even Mother Teresa gets criticized.  And, about Kyle's many lies after returning home....

Update #2  Good Salon piece by Laura Miller on Kyle, as revealed in his memoir. 

Update:  Among other things, we also now know that Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper both went to Texas to assure Kyle's father that their film would do nothing to hurt his son's reputation at all--which they apparently lived up to.  The dad says he told them he would "unleash hell" on Eastwood if he went back on his promise.  

Earlier:  Let me say quickly that I have not seen Eastwood's new American Sniper, but I have read a bunch of reviews and I get the drift.  But let me also emphasize that my views my change somewhat if I see the film.  And Kyle no doubt had some good post-war virtues.  But to begin:

Given the horrid number of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. gunmen one has to wonder how many of the record-setting victims of his marksmanship fell into that category--though not hinted at in the film, apparently.  We do see him offing a mother and child--but she has, of course, just handed the boy a bomb.  The film, from the reviews,  even goes so far as to suggest that the vast majority of the bad guys were "al-Qaeda" which is absurd given the al-Qaeda numbers there--but it's necessary to emphasize the revenge-for-9/11 focus.  Also the film apparently does not raise questions about sniper Chris Kyle's treatment for many of the PTSD vets he tried to aid--you know, take them to a firing range for fun (which led to his death and, it must be noted, that of another man).  Kyle's widow, however, claims that the man who shot her husband--and the other victim--was not suffering from PTSD.

In the book that inspired the film Kyle bragged that he  “hated the damn savages” he was fighting. He recounts telling an Army colonel, “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”   A New Yorker profile called him part lawman, part "executioner."  Yes, he did have some good qualities, too, in aiding vets he didn't take to rifle ranges.  But as A.O. Scott of the NYT wrote, "And though George W. Bush's name is never invoked, American Sniper can be seen as an expression of nostalgia for his Manichaean approach to foreign policy."

Even a conservative National Review writer has hit another (alleged) media-promoted Kyle myth--that he and his widow donated all or most of the massive profits from his book to help vets.

Finally, here is a Washington Post piece from a few months back looking at his post-Iraq lies or exaggerations and one has to wonder about his record in the war as well.    He claimed he climbed on top of the Superdown in NOLA and shot 30 bad guys from there after Katrina.  Killed a couple of others or more elsewhere.   Police and reporters can't find any of the dead.  Claimed he punched out Jesse Ventura in a bar--while Jesse was in a wheelchair, no less--and lost a million dollar lawsuit (since affirmed a couple of times since this article) for seemingly making it all up.  And so on. You won't see any of that in the Eastwood epilog.

Kyle, of course, became a prominent anti-gun control advocate and claimed Obama mild opposition to assault rifles was move to take away all gun rights and other rights. 

Lengthy post here adds a couple other alleged Kyle lies to the mix and much more. This review raises other questions about Eastwood dropping all of the troubling Kyle claims and deadly quotes--making him a more sympathetic hero but not the real Kyle (in that view).

With Beethoven in Berlin

Will be a thrill next Friday to catch a Beethoven concert in his native Germany at the historic Konzerthaus in Berlin, no less.  Of course, his role in celebrating the end of the Wall in 1989 is documented in our Journeys With Beethoven book--and film--so this will be especially significant for me as I embark on my own Wall book.  Here's one of the pieces for this program, the stirring Egmont Overture, led by Leonard Bernstein, who also led the 1989 LvB Ninth Symphony celebration there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Diane Krall "Pines" for Richard Manuel

Surprised to come upon this, Diana Krall doing Richard Manuel's classic for The Band, "Whispering Pines," one of the loveliest ballads of them all.  R.I.P. Richard.  Yes, I've seen those pines outside Big Pink.

Box Tops Redeemed

Just came across this surprising and low-fi 1967 live performance from famed NY folk club (which I know all too well) the Bitter End, the Box Tops with Alex Chilton and their mega-hit "The Letter."

Sniper Shooting Americans: Roger That?

A couple of days ago I posted this over at my main blog post on the American Sniper controversy (mainly a collection of critiques by others):
Writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune hits Kyle for his clear lie about helping to shoot 30 bad guys in that city--from the roof of the Superdome.  I've noted it before but good to see it in the city's leading news outlet.

Okay, let's say that Kyle was just gassing about this while drunk--what does this show about this "hero's" make-up, that he would brag about being judge and executioner--of American citizens this time, not "savage" Iraqis?  This is a question none of his, and the film's, supporters wish to tackle.
I posted link to this over at Twitter and Facebook and twice asked for any defenders of the film and Kyle to respond.  It is, of course, a kind of third rail--the "hero" boasting that he'd executed Americans (and then there was his claim of killing a couple of car thiefs).  Anyway, I'll again to get some sort of response.

And to those (many) who say "it's just a movie" or "it's not a documentary"--the movie is based on Kyle's memoir, not his novel.  The character in the movie is Chris Kyle.  They could have changed name and frankly said it was "inspired by" or some such.  So they are stuck with Kyle--especially when they call him, loudly and often, a "hero."

Time to 'Evolve'

Okay, gamers, here's my son's brilliant official trailer/how-to (that's his job) for the most anticipated game of the year so far,  "Evolve."   I'm stressed just watching the trailer. Always glad to see game where monsters, not people, get gunned down.

The Making of a Good "Dr."

Here's a 45-minute doc on the making of Dr. Strangelove.   Here's my earlier posts: the trailer that was killed for decades and an amazing LEGO version. -- G.M.

Leonard Rings Belz

Great find by Dangerous Minds:  Leonard Cohen on Richard Belzer's short-lived talk show back in 1985 at the lowest point of his popularity.  The album they talk about at the beginning, rejected by Columbia, included..."Hallelujah."  Whoops.  Famous line by Columbia exec to Leonard: "We know you're great but we don't know if you are any good."  (h/t Stu Levitan)


Wednesday Music Pick

 George Harrison, live with Clapton, "Taxman." Dedicated to Rust Cohle?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dylan, Singing Frankly

First cut posted from upcoming (Feb. 3) Dylan album with Sinatra covers.  This isn't bad and features warmest Bob vocal in years (did he quit smoking?).

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Kill Team" on PBS

If you've seen American Sniper, you owe it to yourself (and maybe others) to watch the acclaimed doc The Kill Team on PBS's "Independent Lens" tonight--at 10 pm in New York area, for example.   Far from a rah-rah, black and white portrayal, it probes the infamous episode in Afghanistan when a group of American soldiers set out to kill one or more civilians just for the hell of it (one said he was simply "bored").   One of the soldiers bravely tried to turn whistleblower, was shut out, then went along with one murder and served three years in prison.   So, as you can see--a complex story that will not leave audiences cheering all the white hats and jeering the "savages."
In spite of the subject matter, Krauss’s film does not have an explicit anti-war sentiment—and in fact, he says, he left footage on the cutting room floor in order to keep the movie from coming across as overtly political. But he acknowledged it will be hard for some to watch without coming away with a sense of alarm about the horrors of war, especially as one soldier says that killings like this happen all the time, “We’re just the ones that got caught.”
My piece on U.S.-caused civilian casualties in Iraq. 

Why 'NYT' Spiked Famous MLK, Jr. Piece

Last January I mentioned, in noting the passing of poet/editor Harvey Shapiro, that he had assigned for the NYT Magazine the famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. --but it was killed by the Times.   Tim Noah has looked at why.
The Times, S. Jonathan Bass reports in Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Eight White Religious Leaders, and the ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ initially scheduled the letter for publication in late May. But first it wanted (in the recollection of King adviser Stanley Levison) a “little introduction setting forth the circumstances of the piece.” Then it decided, no, what it really wanted was for King to “write a feature article based on the letter.” Or, possibly, it wanted both. Before King had a chance to jump through these hoops, the New York Post (in those distant days a plausible rival to the Times) got a copy of the letter and published unauthorized excerpts, killing the Times’s interest.
I wrote couple pieces for the magazine in the early 1980s and I can confirm Noah's comment: "The Times Magazine was, in those days, a notoriously Politburo-like redoubt of editing-by-committee." -- G.M.

MLK Jr. on War

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking out on the Vietnam War in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968: "God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war. . . . And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place." King then predicted this response from the Almighty: "And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Revealing Glimpse at U.S.-Caused Civilian Casualties in Iraq

Clint Eastwood's hit American Sniper may show Chris Kyle only killing "savages" and insurgents in Iraq, but other U.S. snipers and shooters and bombers killed thousands or civilians there. It was so rampant the military had to set up a huge fund for what were known as "solatia" payments to victims' families. The ACLU managed to get partial records, while the war still going on--in 2007--which showed 500 incidents and the payment of a whopping $32 million to families. And this was maybe just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's a piece I wrote for my magazine Editor & Publisher in April 2007, with several typical incidents described.  It drew wide attention at the time and then when published in my book on the media and the war, So Wrong for So Long.
The most revealing new information on Iraq — guaranteed to make readers sad or angry, or both — is found not in any press dispatch but in a collection of several hundred PDFs posted on the Web this week.

Here you will find, for example, that when the U.S. drops a bomb that goes awry, lands in an orchard, and does not detonate — until after a couple of kids go out to take a look — our military does not feel any moral or legal reason to compensate the family of the dead child because this is, after all, broadly speaking, a "combat situation."

Also: What price (when we do pay) do we place on the life of a 9-year-old boy, shot by one of our soldiers who mistook his book bag for a bomb satchel? Would you believe $500? And when we shoot an Iraqi journalist on a bridge we shell out $2500 to his widow — but why not the measly $5000 she had requested?
This, and much more, is found in the new PDFs of Iraqi claims, which are usually denied.

Last June, The Boston Globe and The New York Times revealed that a local custom in Iraq known as "solatia" had now been adapted by the U.S. military — it means families receive financial compensation for physical damage or a loss of life. The Globe revealed that payoffs had "skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data."

In a column at that time, I asked: How common is the practice? And how many unnecessary deaths do the numbers seem to suggest?

It’s necessary to ask because the press generally has been denied information on civilian killings and, in recent years, it has become too dangerous in much of Iraq for reporters to go out and investigate shootings or alleged atrocities.

Now we have more evidence, thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) request for files on payments by the military. The FOIA request produced 500 case studies, which deserve broad attention.

An Army spokesman told the New York Times that the total payments so far had reached at least $32 million. Yet this figure apparently includes only the payments made in this formal claim process that requires offiical approval. The many other "solatia" or "condolence payments" made informally at a unit commander’s discretion are not always included.

The ACLU site,, now features a searchable database of reports (the ACLU is seeking more of them in case this is just the tip of the iceberg).
The New York Times comments today: "There is no way to know immediately whether disciplinary action or prosecution has resulted from the cases. Soldiers hand out instruction cards after mistakes are made, so Iraqis know where to file claims. …"

Exploring the case reports quickly turns disturbing. They often include the scrawled claims by a victim’s family member detailing a horrific accidental or deliberate killing (all names blacked out) and then a ruling by a U.S. Army captain or major with the Foreign Claims Commission.

Occasionally the officer orders a payment, although it can still make you scream, as for example: "Claimant alleges that her two brothers were returning home with groceries from their business, when U.S. troops shot and killed them, thinking they were insurgents with bombs in the bags. I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $5,OOO."

More often the officer denies the claim due to alleged lack of evidence, or threatening behavior by the deceased (usually just failing to stop quickly enough while driving) or the death occurring in some sort of vague combat situation. Many of the denials seem arbitrary or unfair, particularly when the only reason cited is a "combat exemption" — as in the case of the dead kid in that orchard.

Then there’s this example:
"Claimant’s son and a friend were fishing, in a small boat, 15 kilometers north of Tikrit on the Tigres river at 2200 hours on 31 March 2005. The claimant and his son had fished the Tigres many nights recently, but the father did not join his son this night. U.S. Forces helicopters were flying overhead, like they usually did and there were no problems.

"A U.S. Forces HMMWV patrol pulled up to the beach near where they were fishing. The patrol had spotted and destroyed a boat earlier in the evening that had an RPG in it. They set off an illumination round and then opened fre. The claimant’s only son was shot and killed. His friend was injured, but managed to get the boat to the other side of the river. At the small village across the river they received medical help and were taken to the hospital. But, it was too late for the claimant’s son.

"The claimant and his son were huge supporters of democracy and up to this day held meetings and taught there friends about democracy. The claimant provided two witness statements, medical records, a death certificate, photographs and a scene sketch, all of which supported his claim.

"Opinion: There is sufficient evidence to indicate that U.S. Forces intentionally killed the claimant’s son. Unfortunately, those forces were involved in security operations at the time. Therefore, this case falls within the combat exception."

Sometimes the Army officer, perhaps feeling a bit guilty for his ruling – or the whole war – authorizes a small payment in "condolence" money, which does not require admitting any wrongdoing on our part. One of the PDFs notes that a U.S. army memo states a maximum condolence payment scale: $2,500 for death, $500 for property, $1,000 for injury.

To give you more of the flavor, here are some excerpts (with a few typos corrected).
Claimant filed a claim for $5,500 on 3 Sept. 2005.

Facts: Claimant alleges that a CF [coalition force] dropped a bomb in his orchard. The bomb allegedly did not explode upon impact. Claimant’s son went to investigate and was killed when the UXO detonated. Claimant’s cousin was seriously injured in the explosion. A couple of hours later, CF allegedly took the body and Claimant to LSA Anaconda for medical treatment. In support of their claims, the Claimants have offered witness statements, medical records from LSA Anaconda, and police and judicial reports.

Opinion: Under AR 27-20, paragraph 10-3, Claims arising "directly or indirectly" from combat sctivities of the US. Armed Forces are not payable. AR 27-20 defines combat activities as "Activities resulting directly or indirectly from action by the enemy, or by the U.S. Armed Forces engaged in armed conflict, or in immediate preparation for impending armed conflict." Here, an airstrike clearly constitutes combat activity. While unfortunate, this claim is precluded from compensation under the combat exception.

Recommendation: The claim is denied
Dec. 5 2005:

Claimant alleges that on the above date at the above mentioned location, the child was outside playing by their gate and a stray bullet from a U.S. soldier hit their son in the head and killed him. The U.S. soldiers went to the boy’s funeral and apologized to the family and took their information to get to them, but never did. The child was nine years old and their only son.

I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $4,OOO.OO.
April 15, 2005

Claimant alleges that on or about 24 February 2005, he was riding in a mini-bus with his nine-year-old son on his lap when Coalition Forces fired a round into the bus. The round allegedly hit his son in the head, causing the son’s death later on. Xxxxx alleges that some Americans came to the hospital and apologized. He also states that one of the HMMWV’s had "32" on the side. Claimant has enclosed an autopsy report.

Allow me to express my sympathy for your loss, however, in accordance with the cited references and after investigating your claim, I find that your claim is not compensable for the following reason: In vour claim you failed to provide suflicient evidence that U.S. Forces and not someone else is responsible for your damages.

Accordingly, your claim must be denied.
Incident occurred Jan. 6, 2005 at a bridge near Haifa Street

Claimant alleges that her husband, who was working as a journalist, was walking across the bridge when he was shot and killed by U.S. troops. She has documentation from CA confirming that US. troops were in the area at that time. Also, a medical report is attached stating that the round that killed the victim was a 5.56mm round. The claimant has submitted sufficient evidence.

I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $2,5OO.OO.

(She had asked for $5000)
On 11 April 2005, claimant’s father was allegedly killed by CF forces near the Samarra Museum&hellipClaimant says that his father was deaf and would not have heard danger nearby. The claimant did not personally witness the shooting and relies solely on eyewitnesses. Eye witnesses related that victim was shot by CF forces. The Claimant does not know if his father was shot by CF forces responding to an AIF attack, or whether CF fired directly on his father.

The claimant presented a claim in the amount of $4,000 on 21 November 2005.

RECOMMENDATION: this claim be denied.
Dec. 5, 2004:
The issue presented is whether claimant may receive compensation for the death of his father, his mother, his brother and 32 sheeps.

In this case, the claimant has lost his entire family and his herd of sheep that provide a means of income. In addition, the claimant suffered gun shot wounds himself.

The claimant states that his family was sleeping when the shots were
fired that killed his family. He claims that the family had only one AK-47 that the father carried outside after his wife was shot in the head The coalition force may have been justified in shooting at another target where the claimant and his family would be collateral damage to that combat operation. However, the ROE require units to have positive identification of target before engaging. In this case, reports indicate that over one hundred rounds were fired that impacted around a flock of sheep and his sleeping family. Accordingly, it appears that the shooting, although not "wrongful", was conducted "negligently". It is therefore my opinion that there is sufficient evidence to justify compensation under the FCA.

I recommend that claimant be approved in the amount claimed totaling $11,020.

On 11 April 2005, at about 11:30 am, Claimant’s 8 year old sister,
xxxx was allegedly killed by CF forces near the Al Khatib Secondary School, Samarra. xxxx says that his sister was playing near the school and was shot by CF. Deceased’s death certificate … she was killed by gunfire. The claimant did not personally witness the shooting and relies solely on eye witnesses. Eye witnesses related that victim was shot by CF forces by a "random shot." During the interview, it was impossible to clarify what the claimant meant by a "random shot." A SIGACTS investigation revealed no activity or incidents in Samarra on that date.

RECOMMENDATION: Based upon the investigation by this FCC, it is reasonable to conclude that the CF activity can be characterized as combat activity. I recommend this claim be denied.

June 17, 2005
Claimant alleges that on the above date at the above mentioned location, his brother xxxxx was traveling in his car with rugs that he was taking to a rug store to sell. He was shot by U.S. soldiers, and the rugs and cash on his possession were never recovered…and his body left there.

I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $3,000.00

April 23, 2006, Samarra

Claimant alleges that Coalition Forces fired upon his two sons as they were leaving the market. The claimants sons waived their shirts and their underwear as a sign of peace. The claimant provided death certificates, legal expert and witness statements to substantiate the claim.

Opinion: There is not enough evidence to prove the claim.

Recommendation: The claim is denied.

Fund This Film, Please

As some of you know,  I have written about the atomic bombings of Japan for over 30 years, including in two books, one with the esteemed Robert Jay Lifton, the other titled Atomic Cover-up.   The latter serves as the underpinning for a new documentary film project by well-regarded British film pro John Mathews, and I am signed on as expert adviser.  He has just launched Kickstarter (read about the film there) and IndieGoGo funders.   Please go to the  "cover-up" page here at this blog.
John's video for the funder below.

When an American Sniper Shot Knight-Ridder Journalist in Iraq

As American Sniper soars to a record weekend box office--and Twitter filled with posts about Chris Kyle as true American hero and Iraqis as dead scum (see critiques of the movie)--I thought it might be valuable to post here a story I wrote for my old magazine, Editor & Publisher, on July 28, 2005, the latest in a series of pieces on this episode.  It was later included in my book on the media failures on the war.   More than 15 other journalists were also killed by U.S. forces. 

I should note that this book--along with dozens of my columns back then--make clear that 1) tens of thousands (if not more) Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. forces in the first eight years of the war and payments often made to the families of victims (don't miss my story on that here) I was one of the first American writers to focus on U.S. soldier and veteran suicides and PTSD.

And an update on the below: The sniper was later IDed as Staff Sgt. Joe Romero, who shortly after the shooting was arrested for possession and sale of drugs and sent to military prison.  NPR did a full probe in 2006.   McClatchey, which took over Knight-Ridder, did this followup in 2008 on the sniper, noting his troubled past--despite being widely hailed as a great soldier.  Just days before the shooting,  he threatened to kill a fellow soldier.

July 28, 2005

One of the most remarkable stories of the Iraq war appears today at the online magazine Salon, written by its longtime foreign correspondent Phillip Robertson. Amazingly, he managed this month to track down the American sniper who apparently shot and killed Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee, 33, on June 24. The article, "The Victim and the Killer," chronicles this search, and lengthy exchanges between Robertson and the sniper, described only as "Joe."

E&P has covered the Salihee incident from the start, first with a news report, then a moving tribute to him written by Knight Ridder's Baghdad chief Hannah Allam, which drew wide reader response. Salihee, a physican who had worked for KR for more than a year, was accidentally shot, on his day off, while driving his car in what seemed like a haphazard manner, wrongly suspected by American soldiers of being a suicide bomber.

Robertson, who had met Salihee, decided to search for the unidentified sniper himself. This seemed like a long shot, at best, as the U.S. military won't comment on civilian casualties in general, let alone in particular, and certainly not put any journalist in contact with a suspected shooter. But this did not stop Robertson, who has filed dozens of stories from Iraq and Afghanistan for Salon since 2001.

Steve Butler, Knight Ridder's foreign editor, who said he read Salon story today "very carefully," told E&P: "We've been talking to the military in Baghdad and they are preparing an investigation. We would like the report of that investigation to be made public. It could be that this interview with the sniper is the only record we will have."

Just about all Robertson knew at the start was that at least four rounds had been fired at Salihee on June 24, some of them perhaps warning shots (though eyewitnesses dispute this), with one of them piercing his skull and killing him instantly. Salihee left behind a wife and 2-year-old daughter, as well as grieving colleagues at Knight Ridder.

To find the shooter, Robertson requested an embed slot in western Baghdad. (Butler, the Knight Ridder editor, told E&P that "it bothers me somewhat" that Robertson was "not being totally honest... embedding with the military with the purpose of doing his own investigation into this.") Two weeks later, he was able to find the unit, part of the 256th Brigade Combat Team, that took part in the fatal shooting.

Next, from a young specialist from Louisiana, he learned the names of two snipers with the unit. "The next night, the 13th of July," he writes, "I walked into the command post after dinner and recognized one of the men the young soldier had mentioned. The man was working on a notebook computer at a big table in the front room of the command post. We struck up a conversation."

The sniper, "a tall, good-looking man," started showing him pictures on his laptop, from back home and from Iraq. Eventually, he brought up a photo of what Robertson immediately recognized as the shooting scene: a white sedan with a single bullet hole in the driver's side of the windshield. Slumped behind the wheel was his friend, Yassir Salihee.

The sniper turned nervous, said, "I really hope he was a bad guy," and added that he wasn't sure that he was one who killed him, even though he admitted firing the shot through the windshield.

The next day, "Joe" agreed to answer questions, but asked the writer not to use his full name. "I don't want someone coming after me," he said. Robertson did not tell him he'd been trying to find him for two weeks, but when he interviewed him later he revealed that he knew the victim -- but Joe still agreed to talk.

Joe described for Robertson the events of the day leading up to Salihee approaching an intersection, then making an odd maneuver around a car that was turning around.

"I was shooting to disable when he swerved around the other car," Joe told him. "He was going more than 20 miles an hour. We aren't used to seeing someone drive that fast." Joe claimed that Salihee should have seen the soldiers and stopped, even before they allegedly fired warning shots, but he never even raised his hands off the wheel in surrender.

Robertson comments: "When Joe talked about his decision to fire at Salihee, he sounded anguished, but he kept coming back to the moment when Salihee passed the first car, the moment he decided that Salihee was a bomber attacking the U.S. position."

Then he quotes two Iraqi eyewitnesses who contradict Joe's account, one claiming that Salihee was stopped, with his hands up, when shot. In the police report, Robertson notes, a diagram shows that Salihee's car was indeed pulled over to the left side of the street. Proof of which version is correct is very murky, but Robertson reveals: "The evidence suggests that Salihee might have had his hands raised. Four fingers on Salihee's right hand were missing."

Taking a broader look, however, he concludes: "The details may be murky, but in retrospect it is fairly clear what happened... The soldiers were on edge, but they seem to have followed their rules of engagement. It was a typical misunderstanding, of the sort that happens all the time in Iraq." No disciplinary action is likely.

Robertson points out that a spokesman for the coalition forces told the Los Angeles Times that he did not know of a single soldier who had been punished for shooting a civilian in a traffic incident or at a checkpoint.

Robertson's story closes: "Before I left Joe at his company headquarters at Camp Victory, he said he wanted to tell the Salihee family he was sorry and that he'd never had to fire to stop a car before the 24th of June. 'If I'd seen his hands up, no way would I have fired a shot. We didn't murder him. No way was it murder,' Joe said. But there was desperation in his voice, as if he wasn't sure."

More on U.S.-caused civilian casualties here

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Night Lights Up

One of the best songs ever featured (even played live in a scene) on Friday Night Lights:  "Sway" by the Heartless Bastards.   Then one of the oddest songs (ahead of its time, really) to hit the charts in the U.S. in the mid-1960s,"Friday's Child" by Nancy Sinatra, sans boots.

Cruise Control? Scientology Responds to Gibney Flick

It's not every day  the NYT runs a full-page ad--and a story reporting on it.  Today this happens re:  a response by Scientology to the upcoming and much-awaited Alex Gibney film.  See Times story and another here (which first published the ad itself, see below).