To Publish Or Not

 Beirut

I wrote recently for the Daily Beast about the assassination of Lebanon’s intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan and what it means — or could mean —  for the country as it tries to avoid spillover from the sectarian war raging in neighboring Syria.

The piece opened thus: “Ten days on from the Oct. 19 bombing, Lebanese security experts are still painstakingly collecting evidence and placing it in large bags under two white tarpaulins drawn across a courtyard, where they are trying also to assemble what remains of a car. After The Daily Beast arrived at the scene and started to take notes, skittish intelligence officials decided to haul this correspondent in for three hours of questioning.”

The backdrop to the story was ironic for me. As many of you know Newsweek will cease publishing the magazine at the end of the year and will go totally digital. Newsweek will be a separate subscriber-only online product but with some stories posted on the Daily Beast as well. I think the strategy a good one and trust Tina Brown’s commercial sense. However, if the magazine had ceased publication in October my troubles with the Lebanese intelligence officials in Beirut would have increased.

This is the email I sent my foreign editor explaining:

“Don’t wish to sound like a Luddite. But the only thing that satisfied the Lebanese intelligence guys about my bona fides was a copy of the latest edition of Newsweek! They complained that my International Federation of Journalists press card could have been forged. Remained unimpressed with my UK passport. And said web sites could easily be spoofs so I told them to get the latest international edition of the magazine. The first store apparently had sold out — good and bad news, I supposed.”

 

No Way To Treat An Ambassador

Benghazi

“At the consulate, smoke in the burning villa was thinning out; crowds of curiosity seekers and looters were moving in. As they rummaged through the building, they came across a blond man in a white shirt and gray pants, his nose and mouth blackened by soot and body fluids. They dragged him out through the window at the back of the villa. ‘The man is alive,’ shouted someone in the crowd. ‘Move out of the way.’” With my colleagues at Newsweek, a take on what happened the night Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.

When A Looter Becomes A Hero

Benghazi

Newsweek will be publishing this week a piece I wrote with colleagues Christopher Dickey and Eli Lake on the September storming of the US consulate and the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Alas, print isn’t online and space constraints mean that some interesting side-stories won’t get used.

For example, 10 Libyans were treated for wounds at the Benghazi Medical Center the night of the assault, according to the hospital’s general director, consultant Fathi Al Jehani. Two were attackers and after being treated were whisked off. It isn’t clear by whom — their friends or pro-government militiamen. Of the remaining eight — all of whom were meant to be defenders of the consulate — five were discharged and didn’t need to be admitted. Three were and on Friday October 14 Libyan leaders, with a large press corps in tow, visited them to thank them for their bravery in trying to defend the consulate and the Americans.

In turns out that not all three were deserving of thanks. One of the men, who had been shot in both legs, was not a defender but a looter, who had been trying to steal a fridge from the US mission when he got wounded. The doctors were too embarrassed to let on. “How could we?” Jehani told me. “All the press were there and the politicians and it would have looked bad, so we kept quiet.” Next day after the visit, the looter’s photograph was gracing the pages of domestic and foreign newspapers lauding him as a hero. What happened to the fridge I was not able to discover.

While on the subject of the hospital, I talked with Jehani about right-wing bloggers asserting that Stevens had been sodomized before he died. Of course, no evidence is summoned for such claims. Jehani, who studied and worked in leading London hospitals for 13 years before returning to Libya shortly before the rebellion that ousted Col. Gaddafi, insists the assertions are totally false. “The emergency doctors thoroughly examined the ambassador. There was no evidence of any brutalization. He wasn’t sodomized. There was some lighting bruising consistent with being moved when unconscious. Otherwise he had the classic symptoms of suffocation from smoke inhalation. His face was blue. He was bleeding from the mouth and trachea.”

Of course, facts like these won’t stop the bloggers spouting nonsense.

Jehani told me that though his doctors struggled for 45 minutes to revive the ambassador there was no real hope for him. He wasn’t technically alive when he arrived at the hospital. “If he had been brought to us sooner, may be we could have saved him. But it was too late.”

Jehani had never met the ambassador but he was scheduled to do so on September 12. One of the reasons for Stevens’ visit to Benghazi was to launch formally a tie-up between the Benghazi Medical Center and Harvard’s Medical School. The tie-up consists mainly of an exchange program uto help improve Benghazi’s emergency medicine. For Harvard specialists were in Benghazi for the launch, including Dr. Thomas Burke, a world-renowned emergency medicine specialist. Burke is a Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Emergency Medicine and serves on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. He reviewed Stevens’ medical notes the morning after the attack and concluded that the Libyan emergency doctors did all they could to save the ambassador, according to Jehani.

Libya: Two Competing Realities of Women

Tripoli

Will they be heard?

From article in Newsweek/Daily Beast: “At times there are two competing realities in post-Gaddafi Libya. For most ordinary Libyan women, there’s domestic drudgery and subordination to their men. For the more educated, drawn from higher ranks and involved in newly minted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there’s hope of change and greater opportunities. The two realities seldom meet…

Another fight will be over changing the judicial code. Currently, there’s no such crime as spousal rape. Activists want to see that changed and want to see the banning of rape victims being prosecuted for adultery or judges coercing rape victims and rapists to marry in order to restore “family honor,” something that condemns a woman to a life of injustice.”

Libya’s Struggle With History

My piece in the latest issue of Newsweek examines what’s happening to history in the North African country and the competition to define the past that’s underway. “History, if it does its job, should tear away Gaddafi’s lies, document the tortures and slayings of his regime, and establish who did what to whom. For any country, however, working through the brutalities of a deposed dictatorship and apportioning blame can be risky, and throws up emotions of guilt, shame, and fury.”