A response to the Jerusalem Post

BEIRUT — A response is in order to the Jeruasalem Post‘s story today, in which Michael Totten is interviewed and my name comes up in the article.
The _Post_ says, “Chris Allbritton, who sometimes works for Time Magazine, briefly mentioned on his blog during the war that several journalists he knows were threatened by Hizbullah because of what they were writing.”
Let’s look at what I “actually wrote”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/07/tales_from_the_south_sort_of.php:

To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.

In a “follow-up post”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/08/silence.php, I expanded on this, as this one comment was taken completely the wrong way by many, many right-wing blogs and publications (Such as Totten’s and the JPost.)
The beginning of my response was this:

Let’s set aside that the Lebanese Internal Security also has photocopies of our passports. The reason for the hassling and the threat was that a reporter had filmed or described either a launching site or Hezbollah positions. (I’m not sure which.) To the best of my knowledge, that’s been the extent of the hassling. I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I think it’s a reasonable restriction. This is the exact same restrictions placed on journalists by the Israeli army and by the Americans in Iraq. I don’t think threatening journalists is cool at all, and it certainly doesn’t endear me to them, but that has been the extent of Hezbollah’s interference in our coverage.

You can read the rest of it, and I hope you do, “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/08/silence.php.

Taking a break

BEIRUT — Hello everyone. Long time, eh? Sorry for the radio silence, but I really had to step away from the blog for a while. Emotionally, it was too much to do one’s best to cover the war here fairly while still maintaining a sense of truth, only to be flayed by people who accuse me of shilling for Hezbollah. Khalas, enough.
One thing I’ve learned from this war is that when it comes to Israeli-Arab relations, most people don’t want the truth: they want words that conform to their preconceived notions. I.e., that Israel is a aggressive, colonial construct with designs on the Litani’s water, or that Hezbollah is full of bloodthirsty savages who don’t deserve to live.
Neither or these caricatures is, of course, accurate. But subtlety doesn’t seem to have much place in the blogosphere anymore, where you get the most attention and the most hits by putting out whatever half-assed opinion one can muster. You only have to shout loudly enough and play to whatever audience you want to get the attention. Blogging these days seems to resemble bad vaudeville rather than thoughtful commentary.
I never wanted that from blogs. I had a vision of blogs standing alongside the so-called _mainstream media_ and being the garnish of a well-balanced media diet, as I said in a lot of radio interviews. I never thought of blogs as a replacement or actively hostile to the Big Guys. Considering my background, that would be ridiculous. I’m a journalist. I’m a proud mainstream media journalist. My background is with the Associated Press, the New York Daily News and TIME Magazine. I’m very proud to be associated with such publications now and in the past and I’m proud of the work they’ve done, with or without my contribution.
But now, it seems the blogosphere has become more concerned with “gotcha” politics and “fact checking your ass,” mantras by armchair photo analysts who have no clue about what happens in a war or how photographs are made and distributed. They just want to score points in what seems to be, at best, a debating club rather than real life and death situations. Congratulations, your team won. Yay. People are still dead, you know. It’s happened in Iraq and it’s happened here, and I don’t really feel like being part of that culture any more.
That said, I’m also proud of the work done on this blog, even in this war, despite some commentators saying I know nothing of Israel or that I only wrote what my “minders” let me. (For the record, there was never any “minder” from Hezbollah that I saw, and certainly not attached to me. Any reticence I exhibited was based on my my own judgment of the situation.)
Which brings up one of the frustrating things about reporting here — or anywhere in the Middle East, for that matter: knowing things but being unable to say them openly. Somethings have to be kept back for security reasons or you don’t want people to know you’ve been to places that would get you in hot water. The Israelis, for example, don’t much like seeing a passport with a lot of stamps from Arab states in it. They’ll hassle you. Hezbollah, likewise, probably wouldn’t look too kindly on a reporter who’d openly been to Israel.
This was a major obstacle in this war for me, but I’d hoped that my reputation and past record — which has been one of honesty, fairness and, yes, accuracy — would have carried me through. That was not the case, however, and a bunch of angry pro-Israel readers who didn’t know my work accused me of saying things that I didn’t know to be true. _This is not accurate on their part._ When I say something on this blog, it’s backed up by reporting. I may not always be able to openly source it — the rules of protecting sources or myself don’t change simply because the work is online — but I know what I’m talking about. Readers can accept that or not; I really don’t care any more.
Which is why I took a break. I got tired of defending myself to anklebiters who frankly had no idea what they were talking about. I got tired of going out every day, risking the life of my driver, translator and myself, only to be told I can’t do anything put parrot Hezbollah propaganda. It was insulting and it pissed me off. To all you people who think you could do better in a war zone, bring it on.
This will be the last entry on B2I Edition du Liban for a while. I’m working on a novel now and I want to focus on that and my other, professional work. I’m also going to focus on rebuilding a life here and taking care of the people I love. Something’s got to give and the blog — or what’s left of it — is it. I have realized that life is short.
To everyone who wrote asking if I was OK, thank you for your concern. It means a lot. But farewell, for now.

English version of Reconciliation Plan

BEIRUT — So, anyone have a link to the English version of Maliki’s reconciliation plan? I’d like to actually, you know, read it before shooting off from the hip.
But: An amnesty for people who haven’t done any killing of Iraqis or other “terroristic activities” “terrorist acts” isn’t much of an amnesty at all.
*UPDATE:* Well, thanks to a friend at the Embassy in Baghdad, I found a BBC media monitor “translation/summary of the main points”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5114932.stm of the plan. It’s exasperatingly vague:
# Amnesty for detainees not involved in terrorist acts, war crimes or crimes against humanity, as long as they condemn violence and pledge to respect the law. [This seems to exclude quite a lot, but it’s so vague. This might not be so bad, though as it allows plenty of room for, ah, _practicality_ in deciding to whom to grant amnesty. — CA]
# Negotiations with the US-led coalition to prevent the violation of human and civil rights in military operations.
# Compensation for those harmed by terrorism, military operations and violence.
# Preventing human rights violations, reforming prisons and punishing those responsible for acts of torture.
# Ensuring that Iraq’s justice system is solely responsible for punishing members of the Saddam regime, terrorists and gangs guilty of killings and kidnappings.
# Ensuring that military operations take place in accordance with judicial orders and do not breach human rights.
# Compensation for civilian government employees who lost their jobs after the fall of the Saddam regime.
# Measures to improve public services. [Possibly the most popular aspect of the plan for Iraqis — CA]
# Measures to strengthen Iraq’s armed forces so they are ready to take over responsibility for national security from the multinational forces.
# Review of the armed forces to ensure they run on “professional and patriotic” principles. [Militias, he’s lookin’ at you. — CA]
# Ensuring the political neutrality of Iraq’s armed forces and tackling Iraq’s militia groups. [Ditto — CA]
# Insistence that Iraq’s elected bodies, including the government and parliament, are solely responsible for decisions on Iraq’s sovereignty and the presence of multinational troops.
# Insistence that all political groups involved in government must reject terrorism and the former Saddam regime.
# Return of displaced people to their homes and compensation for any losses they have suffered. [This one’s going to be tricky. The Kurds have been demanding a settlement on Kirkuk for _ages_ and the various Shi’ite governments have been dragging their feet on this. At the same time, the Kurds have been ejecting Arabs from Kirkuk and I’ve heard reports of Shi’ites ejecting Kurds from some neighborhoods in Baghdad. — CA]
# Improved compensation for victims of the Saddam regime and deprived people throughout the country.
# Formation of a National Council for the Reconciliation and National Dialogue Plan, including representatives of the government and parliament as well as religious authorities and tribes. [Talk to Nicholas Haysom, former/current head of UNAMI’s constitutional advisory board in Baghdad. He was instrumental in helping write South Africa’s constitution and developing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that seemed to work well there. — CA]
# Creation of National Council subcommittees at regional level
# Creation of “field committees” to follow up on the progress of the reconciliation process.
# A series of conferences of tribal leaders, religious scholars, political groups and other members of civil society will be held to back the reconciliation process. The conference of religious scholars is expected to issue _fatwas_ supporting the policy. [Whoa. I know the clerics wanted a tight bond between the government and the mosques, but I don’t think they expected the government telling them what _fatwas_ to issue. — CA]
# Talks with other Arab and Islamic governments, especially those that support the terrorists, to inform them about what is happening in Iraq.
# Adoption of a “rational” discourse by the government and political parties to restore mutual trust and ensure the media are neutral. [But not independent? — CA]
# National dialogue including all the opinions of those involved in the political process.
# Adoption of constitutional and legal legitimacy in resolving the country’s problems, including extra-judicial killings.
# Review of the de-Baathification committee to ensure it respects the law. [This is long overdue. Schoolteachers who were forced to join the party should not still be paying the price. — CA]
# Co-operation with the United Nations and the Arab League to pursue the work of the Cairo Conference for National Reconciliation.
# Making it easier for Iraqi citizens or groups to work on rebuilding the country, as long as they have not committed any crimes or been banned from the political process.
# Taking a united stand regarding the terrorists and other hostile elements. [Well, duh. — CA]
# Starting work on a large-scale development campaign for the whole country, which will also tackle the problem of unemployment.
Well, it certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. I would like to see a better translation before making any (more) snap judgments, though.