Make the List Public (Updated and recanted)

I fully agree with the idea that the list of names of people who have been monitored under the NSA’s program to spy on people in the United States should be made public.

*UPDATE 12/21/05 5:58:33 AM:* Upon further thought on this matter, I’m going to publicly reverse myself and rescind my call for the list to be public. It was a poorly thought out decision on my part and I was wrong. People on the list should have access to it through FOIA or some other method, but they should have the right and the opportunity to do what they want with that information _in private._ I understand why people would want the list published, but I think now those reasons — embarrassing the Bush administration, among them — are outweighed by the right of people on the list to maintain some privacy. Lord knows they’ve had that violated enough already. Anyway, I will keep the original post available for archival purposes.
NEW YORK — I fully agree with Steve’s idea that the list of names of people who have been monitored under the NSA’s program to spy on people in the United States should be made public.

If there are specific individuals or numbers that a judge wishes to give ex post facto protection, I can accept that.
But this invasion of privacy in the case of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American citizens must be challenged in the courts. What Bush did is engage in an extra-legal act against the citizens he is paid to represent — and this is criminal.
Post the list. It should be made public because at this point there is NO NATIONAL SECURITY rationale to justify the monitoring of citizens in cases that have not been approved by a court. That means that all of those citizens monitored are innocent — and unwitting victims of this domestic spy campaign launched by George W. Bush.

Perhaps I’m indulging in paranoia, but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I’m a reporter. In Baghdad. I have dealth with sources in the insurgency and the Mahdi Army. This administration and its agents in the embassy in Baghdad have long been hostile to the press and our work in Baghdad, especially when we try to tell the whole story of the insurgency — by talking with insurgents. And TIME has long had an aggressive approach to covering the insurgency.
Now, I don’t want to pump up my sourcing more than it is. My bureau chief, Michael Ware, deserves far more credit for his work on insurgents than I ever do. But because of my association with the magazine, I can only assume that my brother, mother, friends and others have been potentially monitored because of my activities. And based on my traffic logs, I know military and CIA people read this blog. Thus, anyone who has sent me email in the past two years is _potentially_ on President Bush’s list. So pardon me if I take this a little personally.
Make the list public. Let my loved ones and friends see if they’re on it, and let them then be able to make the decision of what to do then. Because I can tell you truthfully that my brother et al. are not national security risks, and invading their privacy is doing nothing to make America safer.
*UPDATE 12/18/05 11:32:58 AM:* A good friend of mine, who’s very smart, makes the following, dissenting points:

Sorry, dude, not with you on this one. If I’m on that list, I want to be informed of the fact and the reason — and then to have the list utterly destroyed without the public ever seeing it. I have no interest in bearing a scarlet T for Terrorist, thank you very much.
Seriously, can you imagine the impact on some midwest Muslim if the White House put out a list saying that they had monitored his e-mail for possible terrorist activity? No official assurance of innocence would ever take away the smear. Indeed, I would expect some people on that list to end up dead.
Notify the people on the list, yes. Then, if they want to make the fact public, or to sue in open court, their call.

Points to think about. Discuss below…

On Hiatus

On hiatus. What? You didn’t notice?

NEW YORK — If it’s not already obvious, I’m on hiatus until mid-January or so, when I return to Baghdad. I’m here for the holidays and will head to Beirut shortly after Christmas. After that, Baghdad, baby. I enter with mixed feelings, but also a feeling of a story left unfinished. And so, I will return.
Until then, however, read other good blogs and happy holidays, everyone.

The Hamra’s Been Hit

My hotel compound in Baghdad has been hit by two car bombs in an almost identical attack as the one that hit the Palestine Hotel complex on Oct. 24.

BEIRUT — I’ve heard from friends that my hotel compound in Baghdad has been hit by two car bombs in an almost identical attack as the one that hit the “Palestine Hotel complex on Oct. 24”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/three_car_bombs.php. The first car bomb “vaporized” the blast walls on the back corner, but left so large a crater that the second bomb couldn’t get through. The damage was thus moderated.
That’s of little solace to the families of the six Iraqis who died. One of them may have been a guard for the compound, and the rest seem to be Iraqis who lived in an apartment building on the outside of the wall. Casualty reports are still a little fuzzy, however. One of my friends told me that the foot of one of the bombers landed at the front steps of the hotel.
This will send shockwaves through the journo-tribe in Baghdad. I would not be surprised to see several organizations deciding that Baghdad is no longer safe enough to work and pull out. Or they may move to the Green Zone, joining _Newsweek_ and the _Wall Street Journal_.
This is exactly “what I feared would happen”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/a_thousand_deat.php, following the Palestine attacks.
*UPDATE 10:41 AM NOV 19:* Here are links to some of the stories from my friends:
* “Blast Also Shattered Illusions”:http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/complete/la-fg-hamra19nov19,1,177409.story?coll=la-iraq-complete _The Los Angeles Times_
* “Reporter Cried, Feared She’d Die”:http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/news/world/13209166.htm From my friend Leila, who speaks of the fear that Iraqis feel every day has come to our compound now.
* “Woken By Yet Another Blast”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/19/wirq119.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/11/19/ixnewstop.html
* “Nothing Can Prepare You”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1878427,00.html From friend Catherine Philip, who also mentions the cost borne by innocent Iraqis.
There is already some movement among the reporters to raise money for the families who were affected.

Abusive comments khaalas

I’ve always been a fan of free speech, but recent comments have driven me to a sad decision.

BEIRUT — I’ve always been a fan of free speech. I rarely moderate comments, except for spam, and I’ve banned very few people. Only once was I raised to rage when a commenter made my mother cry by calling for my death at the hands of Marines because I was allegedly too friendly to the insurgents. He also, weirdly, thought I was a Sunni Arab who was born in Iraq and had immigrated to the U.S. for the purposes of … well, I’m not sure. He was mad. I banned him, mainly on the basis that my embrace of personal expression stops when you make my mom cry.
So I have a lot of patience for rollicking debate. But that’s not what has happened here. Recent comments have been vile, vengeful and more than a little disturbing — and all of them have come from people who allegedly want peace and are antiwar. Che_Guerilla has called for me to be beheaded on the Internet; da_ali_truth_show says: “I’ll fight you. Please come back to the States I’ll fucking smash that smug ‘objective’ bullshit through your stupid face. Bring friends you pussy. Your Time Warner corporate Blackwater mercenaries won’t be protecting you from me, dickhead.” (We’ve never employed Blackwater mercenaries, for the record. Our security staff is made up of Iraqis who have proven themselves truly loyal and good friends in the face of terrible risk to themselves.)
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that *you will no longer be allowed to comment unless you’ve registered with TypeKey.* I tried this once before and it really cut down on the people leaving comments. I didn’t like it. But I feel the barrage of threats of death and violence against me and my family is too much. No one should have to put up with that. I’ve had friends die and be kidnapped; I’ve been shot at by all sides in this conflict. I frankly don’t need juvenile ranting cluttering my site and intruding on my thoughts. You folks who do this are finished. (Which is what _khaalas_ means: “enough, finished, ended, done.”) It should also cut down on comment spam which is still a scourge that is difficult to combat.
So, to my regular readers and commenters, such as Trish and Niall, who have left thoughtful notes through the years, I’m sorry for this step and grateful to you all. I hope you stick around. You guys are always welcome. For the che_guerillas of the world, go to hell. You care for nothing more than scoring cheap points off dead bodies of Iraqis and Americans. You’re just as bad as the _National Review_ crowd who say “2,000 deaths is nothing when you look at how many died in World War II.” You deserve nothing but contempt and you undermine the very antiwar cause you claim to support.

Shots to the left of me, shots to the right…

I’m just catching hell from all sides today. Fresh off the the howls for my disembowlment, the PAO for the Marines in Fallujah now says my story wasn’t balanced.

BEIRUT — Wow, I’m just catching hell from all sides today. Fresh off the the howls for my disembowlment, the PAO for the Marines in Fallujah now says my story wasn’t balanced:

Christopher,
Thanks for the link. I ran across it the other day by accident and had other things to do so I did not read the entire story.
I find that reporters who come here have two choices, well three actually. They can choose the glass is half-empty story, the glass is half-full story or they can write a little of both. Yours is very much a half-empty story as you chose to focus on the negative aspects of the situation.
You could have mentioned the fact that Fallujah accounted for 90 percent of the voting in Al Anbar province. You could have mentioned that this took place because the local sheiks and imans saw the need to participate in the political process, which they did not do last January.
You could have mentioned that the voters went to the polls and the security situation was deemed safe enough by the city residents that 100,000 of them did so and voted, despite the insurgents’ threats. There were several small incidents of violence, but not enough to deter anyone from voting.
All of those things may have balance out the bad news you chose to deliver. We don’t expect every story to be a “happy-happy” piece but we do appreciate some balance.
v/r
Capt. Walton

So let me get this right: The anti-war left is mad at me because I don’t document stuff I didn’t see, and I’m supposed to take an Italian documentary’s word that “chemical weapons” were used… (By the way, white phosphorus is as much a chemical weapon as, say, gunpowder is a chemical weapon. That’s not to say it’s not horrible, but can you folks stop trying to score rhetorical points over which wounds are more gruesome?) The Marines — well, _a_ Marine — is mad at me because I didn’t toe the party line and talk up all the cool new democracy busting out.
I think that’s about the highest praise a reporter can get. As an old mentor told me, “If they’re all shooting at you, you must be doing something right.” In short, I’m going to sleep well knowing that I didn’t follow anyone’s agenda but my own — which is to tell the best story I can. It’s too bad in some ways, though. I guess I won’t be invited to any organic juice parties in Berkeley or the new school repainting in Ramadi.
Finally, you’ll notice the dateline. I’m now in Beirut and will start working on other, non-Iraq projects through the end of the year. I may or may not update this blog, but if I don’t, don’t worry — or get your hopes up. I’m alive and kicking and I’ll be back online later.

Fallujah: One Year Later

FALLUJAH — Last week, I was in Fallujah working on a story about how the city is one year later. Well, here it is.
A note on this embed: Someone asked me if I had to “clear” this story with the U.S. military. No, I did not. They had absolutely no input on this story. i didn’t show the copy to anyone but my editors and they didn’t show it to anyone else.
As for media events to show me how great Fallujah was going, I can’t speak for what CNN saw a while back, but I was shown several things that were obviously pre-packaged media showcases, and I refused to write about them — with one exception. One such event was the delivery of supplies to the hospital. This was the _first_ supply drop to the hospital since the invasion of November 2004 and it consisted of blankets and kerosine heaters. Nice enough, I suppose, but good equipment and medicine would have been better. It was also a clumsily staged event with the Marines taking their own camera people and showcasing themselves. The Marine major who was providing security took me aside and apologized because, as he said, “I thought this was going to be something real.” His embarrassment was evident.
I wrote about that in my file, but because of space restrictions, it didn’t make it in. That’s life in the magazine business.
Now, as for me being a shameful excuse for a human being — and I’m talking to you, “Susan” — get over yourself. My story was hardly cheerleading and I’m sick and tired of people who think any coverage of the military is somehow being complicit with war crimes. The Marines I met committed no crimes, wanted to get home and realized they were doing an often pointless task, a feeling I tried to convey in my story. If my reporting doesn’t fit your preconceived notions of what’s happening, tough. I’m right and you’re not. Referencing Dahr Jamal, who came over here with an agenda to “document atrocities,” is _not_ journalism — it’s activism. And if that’s what you want, go to another damn blog.