Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Exhibit A: My efforts to get my $1,500 back from the Army after they rescined my embed

Someone just wrote me recently, asking for more information regarding my efforts to get my money back from the Army. Here is my reply. Embedding in Iraq is not as easy as you would think -- if you are a progressive journalist!

Dear Sir:
Thank you for answering my request for information. Here is the information that you requested:

In January of 2008, I was accepted with the 3ID, "your one-stop shop for embedding," and proceeded to buy my ticket (non-refundable) to Kuwait in good faith. If one is working for a large media outlet, then losing approximately $1,500 for an airline ticket would not be a problem. But because I am a freelance journalist working on a shoestring budget, losing that much money was difficult. This is one of the reasons that I am seeking redress.

From what I can tell from my correspondence with CPIC, apparently LTC Burwell was the person responsible for rescinding my embed. I assume that LTC Burwell was responsible because when I took this sudden reversal up the chain of command in Iraq to LTC Burwell, he himself responded that I would not be allowed to embed after all. In addition, the first e-mail that I received from CPIC stating that I had been rescinded informed me that, "I was just told by our PAO office at Corps, MNC-I, that they will not facilitate your embed request. I apologize for the sudden change, I just received the email. If you have any questions please let me know and I will try and get them answered." To the best of my knowledge, LTC Burwell is the officer in charge of the PAO office at Corps, MNC-I.

I cannot prove that LTC Burwell rescinded my embed for "political" reasons but the other three reasons that I was given by MNFI for this action do not make sense to me with regard to my experiences as a journalist or as a former embedded reporter in Iraq. Further, this action occurred after I had written an article regarding the press conference I had attended while in the Green Zone that involved Senator John McCain and the now-famous incident regarding his stroll though the marketplace in Baghdad. My article was not favorable to Senator McCain. First I was told that my embed was rescinded because I had been promised an embed with the 3ID and the 3ID was in a combat zone. But then I pointed out that this was the reason why I wanted to re-embed in Iraq -- because it was a combat zone. In addition, I had been embedded twice before -- once in the Green Zone and once in Ambar with the Marines -- and wanted to write about other places in Iraq where there was more hostility.

The second reason offered by MNFI for my rescinded embed was because I didn't have the readership. Rob Kall, the editor of OpEd News, immediately sent CPIC an e-mail stating that his readership was 615,000 and that this was more readers than many print newspapers could claim. I also wrote CPIC and cited OpEd News' ranking by Alexa.

A third reason offered by CPIC was that MNFI did not have the resources. LTC Burwell wrote me to this effect. "I am in charge of the all embeds that come into Iraq, and screen all of them carefully with the affected units. Please understand that we have limited resources, and not every embed request is routinely accepted. I discussed your request with Multi-National Force-West, with whom you would have been embedded, and they are also declining to support at this time. Unfortunately there is only so much time and limited resources to support embeds, and units have to prioritize the large volume of requests they receive." There are currently approximately nine embedded reporters in all of Iraq and from what I have heard during my last embed in October, many units requesting embeds were being frustrated by their inability to find reporters to embed.

Another reason cited was that there were no units willing to embed me. Again, this statement is questionable. I personally have been in correspondence with several Marine units in Anbar who not only sent me personal invitations to embed with them but also expressed their anger that my embed had been rescinded.

CPIC then e-mailed me, "You have not been approved to embed in Iraq by the highest in the media relations chain of command, LTC Burwell. All of your work is noted, and radio interviews were also offered to you. What's more, if you do fly to Kuwait, you will not be provided a military escort in Kuwait for any reason. Furthermore, we cannot cut you orders because you are not approved to embed."

After exchanging correspondence with MNFI, I appealed to Paul Boyce, a PAO at the Pentagon. Mr. Boyce informed me that he would look into my rescinded embed for me. However, he did not respond with his decision before my plane was scheduled to leave for Kuwait and I then flew to Kuwait, hoping that I would once again be embedded in Iraq once Mr. Boyce had reviewed my case. However, upon arriving in Kuwait, I was again informed by CPIC that they were still reneging on their promise to embed me. I waited hopefully in the Kuwait airport for several days and then was forced to return home.

I would also like to note that in a book I recently wrote about the Middle East (Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: http://www.amazon.com/Bring-Your-Own-Flak-Jacket/dp/0978615719/ref=sr_1_1/105-2941039-6143620?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1191183049&sr=1-1), I detailed my former negative experiences with the selectiveness and bias of the embed procedure, allegedly regarding progressive journalists. I am enclosing that information here as Exhibit A. In addition, I have also talked with several other journalists in Iraq who told me that they thought that their articles were being censored and that they were afraid that if they did not write items favorable to MNFI's perception, they would not be allowed to re-embed.

Thank you again for your interest in this matter.

Exhibit A:

Appendix I -- Timeline of my initial attempts to embed: This timeline was constructed in July of 2007, before I was finally granted my second embed in October of 2007, and although my not being allowed to re-embed is no longer an issue, I am still including it here as a source of information for perspective liberal journalists who might be interested in embedding themselves -- although hopefully the type of stringent unspoken censorship that I had to endure no longer exists.

July 6, 2006: I filed my original embed application with CPIC Baghdad.
July 8, 2006: I was informed by CPIC that OpEd News (with an internet circulation of 800,000) was not a viable news service, that I was considered to be a blogger and that “bloggers” were not allowed to embed. “Unfortunately, Jane, the policy about bloggers still stands. Unless you can get accreditation from a news service or other form of news media (newspaper, magazine, wire service, etc.), this embed is not going to happen,” CPIC wrote.
July 9, 2006: The editor of OpEd News explained carefully to CPIC that OpEd News was indeed a genuine news service. The editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet also wrote a letter to CPIC stating that I would be representing the Planet, a genuine print newspaper with a circulation of 50,000 readers.
July 10, 2006: I got an e-mail from CPIC: “I’ll be honest with you, Jane. Multi-National Corps-Iraq (the major ground component command that owns the vast majority of combatants in theater) is not interested in embedding you.”
July 20, 2006: I then contacted Senator Barbara Boxer, and a member of her staff wrote CPIC the following e-mail on my behalf: “Ms. Stillwater contacted our office regarding a concern that she is not being allowed to be a journalist in Iraq because she wrote for a progressive news service. Please look into her concerns at your earliest convenience and keep me informed of any updates.”
July 21, 2006: CPIC replied to Senator Boxer that, “After reviewing Ms. Stillwater’s request for an embed, I denied Multi-National Force-Iraq credentialing and support based upon her work being opinion-based, rather than factual reporting, and that she is not backed by an organization that can be held responsible for her journalistic standards or, more importantly, her welfare in case of emergency. This does not stop Ms. Stillwater from entering Iraq commercially and providing for herself, but it does prevent her from being embedded with troops, using MNF-I facilities and covering MNF-I activities.”
January 20, 2007: I again wrote to CPIC, once again requesting an embed:
Since my last request to you in July of 2006, I have had at least 25 articles published in various publications and, as you have stated, my articles are indeed opinion-based but they are also fact-based as well — in the grand old journalistic tradition of the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc. I deeply regret to be placed in a position to have to say this to you but, while I admit that I do tend to give homilies and homey examples in order to help my readers to better understand complex political situations, I do not lie.
In addition, several media organizations have offered to sponsor me in your program and to take responsibility for my views — as well as to act on my behalf in case of emergencies. Please reconsider your decision. I promise upon embedding in Iraq to tell “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Plus with my access to over one million readers, embedding me will greatly be of help to our troops in Iraq.
I am enclosing a list of media outlets that have published my written efforts so that you can have an idea regarding the scope of my work. I am also enclosing URLs for articles I have written on India and Afghanistan. Please reconsider my application. I can be ready to leave at your earliest convenience. Thank you for reconsidering my request and I look forward to meeting you in Baghdad soon.
List of publications I have written for: American Conservative Union Foundation, Baltimore Chronicle, Berkeley Daily Plane, Black Commentator, Digg.com, Global Research, Netscape.com, Novekeo, Oakland Tribune, Online Journal, Time Magazine, TruthOut.
January 23, 2007: I contacted Congresswoman Barbara Lee in order to enlist her support in my efforts to embed.
January 25, 2007: My weekly column in the Black Commentator appeared, entitled Why I am not in Iraq:
I should be in Iraq. I should be in Baghdad. I should be sending back eye-popping stories to The Black Commentator about how our money is being misused, mismanaged, misspent and morally misdirected to kill women and children whose only crimes are to be born in an oil-rich country and to not be born the same color as George W. Bush.
Bush had no business invading Iraq. Now he has killed 665,000 (and still counting) Iraqis and 3,020 (and still counting) U.S. soldiers in cold blood. If he can kill them without any conscience, what’s to keep him from killing us next?
Yes, I’ve been sidetracked from observing the occupation and reporting back to you exactly what is going on over there. And who has sidetracked me? Who is keeping me from reporting to you from Iraq? Let me tell you. It is extremely difficult to get to Iraq as a reporter unless you are officially sanctioned and “embedded” by the U.S. military. Knowing this, I dutifully applied through the proper channels for embedding media personnel in Iraq and wrote to the U.S. Army CentCom in Baghdad. “I want to go over there so that I can tell our readers exactly what is going on in Iraq,” I said.
“Sorry,” they wrote back. “We don’t embed bloggers.” So. The Black Commentator doesn’t count as real journalism? Nor does Counterpunch, OpEd News, CLG News, Aljazeerah.info, the Online Journal or TruthOut? It’s only when the New York Times lies through its teeth to America that it’s real? Yeah, sure you’re sorry. Me too.
Then I wrote to Senator Barbara Boxer to see if she could help me to embed. But it’s been four or five months now and I haven’t heard back. “Senator, I need your help,” I wrote. “They are not letting me into Iraq. Apparently you do not get allowed over there unless you promise to write what they want you to write — about how well the illegal occupation, killing, torture, bombing, napalming, hanging, embezzling, etc. is going and how Bush has to Stay the Course as long as there is one drop of oil left in Iraq....” And you know that I can’t make that promise.
But I will promise this: I will do every single thing humanly possible to stop this insane and bloody “war” on the people of Iraq. And on Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Darfur, Somalia and anywhere else where there is power or land or oil that the Bush murderers covet.
Martin Luther King Jr. risked his life to stop the war on Vietnam. We must follow his example. Why? Because our future is at stake here. We cannot afford to be sidetracked again.
PS: “In the future...they can do it to us.” What am I talking about! They already have. Perhaps I should just go embed in New Orleans...or South Central.
March 7, 2007: I broadened my search for an embed in order to give CPIC more flexibility in finding one for me: “Regarding my recent embed request, yes, I would also be interested in the Army Corps of Engineers.”
March 12, 2007: My embed seems to be actually happening, according to CPIC: “I’ve just sent a follow up on your approval.”
March 13, 2007: The Lone Star Iconoclast also sponsors me, thus removing all obstacles to my embed that CPIC has asked for so far.
March 18, 2007: Getting a bit desperate for final embed approval, I once again wrote my congresswoman and my senator. “Here is an update on my efforts to try to embed in Iraq, hopefully leaving on March 29, 2007. When I talked with MNFI Baghdad this morning, they said that they were still reviewing my application. With only ten days to go before I am scheduled to leave for Iraq, this doesn’t give me much wiggle room to book my flight, etc. so I was wondering if you could give me a little help.”
March 19, 2007: I received an encouraging e-mail from CPIC which stated, “Jane, my apologies for the delay...”
March 23, 2007: I tried to broaden my embed options again by offering to embed in Kuwait at a troop training and staging airbase. I received a reply from Kuwait that it was too early to embed there before I went to Iraq but that it was very possible to get an embed in Kuwait on my way back:
Ma'am, I guess that I understood the date you were talking about. At this time March 29th is way too early to know if you can embed in Kuwait. We have to have your paperwork first and then create a decision memo. This can take a couple of days and then it has to be approved by the command here. Are you still planning on transiting to Iraq? I was wondering how long you were going to be in Iraq because maybe we can work something out when you come back. I am sorry about the misunderstanding and did not realize that you were talking so soon, I figured you would go to Baghdad and then come back through and cover Kuwait. I apologize for the misunderstanding but like I said this process to embed here in Kuwait takes a bit and 6 days from now is not nearly enough time to get the command to sign off on this.
March 23, 2007: Joe Garifoli, a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, contacted me, stated that the Chronicle wanted to do a story on me. Joe then offered to help me get embedded, and his efforts seemed to produce results — he was told that everything looked good and so, based on what they had told Joe, I booked a flight to Kuwait.
March 25, 2007: I learned from a reporter who was already in Iraq that all I had been told about bloggers not being allowed to embed just wasn’t true. “Jane, you’ve been lied to. The Army has let a blogger live at Camp Liberty near Baghdad. His name is Michael Yon. He is only a blogger and he has been embedded for over one year. They give him an office and everything.
March 29, 2007: The San Francisco Chronicle ran a front-page story on my efforts to embed. “As Stillwater waited for her plane at the airport Wednesday, the Army was still trying to find a unit in which to embed her. ‘Oh, yeah, her application looks fine,’ said...a media embedding coordinator for Iraq. ‘We’re just trying to find a unit anywhere that will take her. There’s a lot of people out there now.’” However, that day I left for Iraq, still not certain of having an embed — not just within CPIC and the Green Zone but with an actual unit — even after almost a whole year of trying to obtain one.
March 30 — April 17, 2007: Upon arriving in Kuwait, I was flown to Baghdad and housed in CPIC. Things were looking great! I was going to get stories and be embedded outside the Green Zone and everything! And then I went to John McCain’s press conference and asked him a hard question about Bush’s plans to invade Iran. And the next day I also asked a hard question at General Caldwell’s press conference regarding troop pull-outs. And after that, although CPIC started talking constantly about searching for an embed outside the Green Zone for me, no embed ever appeared. Other reporters came and went but I just continued to wait and haunt the CPIC offices, asking them several times a day if they would please find me an embed.
NPR had also arranged to take me into the Red Zone as did CNN. But right after the McCain conference, even those invitations suddenly dried up.
Finally I started looking for my own embeds and scored one with the Iraq Army. But then it too suddenly melted away. I also contacted CPIC supervisor Lt. Col. Garver and General Petraeus’ office, etc. and was assured that my not getting an embed was unusual but that they would find me one. But none ever materialized. And whenever a reporter went out on an embed outside the Green Zone, I’d talk with CPIC about letting me go along. Their answer was always negative, citing the short notice of my requests. Finally someone told me that it was not CPIC’s fault that I wasn’t getting any embeds and that CPIC was merely following orders. The U.S. embassy itself was blocking my embeds. And other reporters told me that they had been warned off of talking to me as well.
And when I finally returned to the Kuwait airbase, guess what? My embed there had also magically disappeared.
Despite all these limitations placed on me, many of the articles that I did manage to write from Iraq and Kuwait were featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Lone Star Iconoclast, the Berkeley Daily Planet and OpEd News as well as numerous other media outlets. Associated Press, the BBC and The Times of London ran articles about me.
April 17, 2007: I returned home to Berkeley and was interviewed on television by ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News.
May 1, 2007: I e-mailed CPIC that, “Someone just offered to sponsor another trip to Iraq for me so I am asking you to try to get the embed process going so that I could embed in one of the [joint security stations] in Baghdad.” Then I called CPIC to verify but was informed by phone that it was too late to get an embed for May so I changed my embed request date to June 16.
May 5, 2007: I wrote CPIC, “Sorry that my May embed request came too late to be shopped around but attached please find my embed request for June 16, 2007 to July 7, 2007. I am requesting to embed in a Baghdad JSS and/or the Baghdad Red Zone. And I would also like to embed with [a unit] in Anbar province as well if there is time. I have talked with the [unit commander] and he has okayed the embed. Thanks again for all of your help.”
CPIC then informed me that there were no embeds available for me after June 16 because I had requested my embed “too early”.
May 6, 2007: I sent the following e-mail to CPIC: “Regarding my request for an embed in June, please let [your embed coordinator] know that not only has [one Anbar unit] offered to embed me but [another Anbar unit] has offered to embed me as well.... I am also still interested in a JSS embed in Baghdad. Thanks again.”
May 14, 2007: I wrote the Anbar unit commander again, requesting he write to CPIC regarding my June embed.
May 16, 2007: I again e-mailed CPIC, once again asking for an embed.
May 22, 2007: I gave up on CPIC and tried embedding with the Navy, writing their public affairs officer in Bahrain that, “I haven’t embedded with the Navy before — have only been embedded with the Army through CPIC. I write for a variety of media outlets including OpEd News, the Lone Star Iconoclast, the Berkeley Daily Planet and the San Francisco Chronicle. I am enclosing a copy of my embed application FYI and will also cc this e-mail to CPIC. Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.”
May 25, 2007: The Navy sounded really helpful. “Jane, please complete the attached embark form and return to me as a .doc attachment (meaning please don’t embed it in an email). I can offer you a carrier embark for sometime after 16 Jun as per your note below. If you can spend up to 4 days here I can also get you aboard some of the smaller combatant ships which are conducting maritime operations in the Gulf. From Kuwait, you’ll have to catch either mil air or com air into Bahrain — embarks to our ships originate out of Bahrain.”
May 29, 2007: Suddenly the Navy started citing regulations regarding various hurdles to embedding me — ones that are certainly on the books but are apparently ignored with regards to many reporters — especially conservative bloggers: “Jane, There are some issues with theatre clearance for Kuwait and Qatar, the transit hubs for mil air. ARCENT in Kuwait does not do theatre clearance for transiting media — only media that’s embedding with them. So, in order for you to transit to Bahrain via Kuwait, CPIC needs to do a theatre clearance for you.”
The Navy PAO in Bahrain went on to state, “Media is only allowed to remain on Kuwait for 48 hours in transit, so unless you have a guaranteed flight to Bahrain or a theatre clearance from CENTCOM, ARCENT Kuwait will be unable to bring you [here] for billeting if you’re delayed. Please also ensure theatre clearance covers your entire visit to the region.” These rules, as far as I can tell by talking with other reporters, are not often enforced.
May 30, 2007: I wrote to the Navy that I did have orders to fly on military aircraft. Immediately CPIC sent me the following e-mail, apparently panicked that I had orders that would let me back into Iraq:
Hello Jane, I have been in contact with [the Navy PAO] about your interest in embedding with a carrier group off the coast of Kuwait. I just want to clarify a couple of things before you move forward with your request with the Navy —The CPIC Badge is only good for media wanting to report on Coalition forces in Iraq and not off the waters of Kuwait. [the Navy PAO] also said that you had military orders dated 31 August 2007 for travel using Mil Air. Could you please tell me who issued you these orders? Our office issued you travel orders in April but they are only good for travel between Iraq and Kuwait. We also don’t provide travel orders with such long expiration dates since they are primarily used for traveling around in Iraq, and travel between Iraq and Kuwait.
May 30, 2007: Still searching for an embed, I wrote to [the second Anbar unit commander] again and cc-ed my e-mail to CPIC: “I am looking for an embed in Iraq some time between June 14, 2007 and July 4, 2007. Please let me know if you have any available slots for during that time. Thank you very much.” I have now started cc-ing everything to CPIC just to see how fast they can manage to kill my embed requests.
June 1, 2007: CPIC then e-mails me that there are no embeds in all of Baghdad during my requested time-frame. In all of Baghdad there are no embeds during the last part of June? CNN, ABC and Fox can’t get embeds either? They are not allowing press into Baghdad any more? Or is it only me? Age discrimination? Sex discrimination? It can’t because of my reporting, described by one reporter this way: “Jane’s unpretentious, no-bull style of writing really stands out. Other (mostly right-wing) bloggers have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan, but few have written anything worth reading.”
With regard to my travel orders, I informed CPIC that they are contained in a Memorandum for Record dated 30 MAR 07 and state that “...this travel is authorized within or outside the United States during the period of the conflict. This memorandum expires on 31 August 2007” in accordance with DoD 4515.13R, Chapter 9, JFTR VOL.I, Appendix E, Part I, Paragraph E.8 and AM.C124101V14 dated 1 April 2003, paragraph 21.9.”
I also made another request for an embed. “Please see what you can do to get me an embed with a unit under CPIC’s jurisdiction as well during the time frame that I will be in that theatre – approximately June 14 to July 4.... Thank you in advance for any help you can give me in settling this matter in the best interest of all parties concerned.”
June 7, 2007: I received an affirmative reply from Anbar province: “We’ll see what happens. I put a package together and set it up to my immediate boss, the Regimental Combat Team commander. He’s good to go with you coming so I sent his endorsement to higher headquarters to let them know that you are good with us. The endorsement needs to go up several more levels before I get a definitive thumbs-up. I’ll keep you posted.”
June 15, 2007: I got an e-mail from Anbar advising me that I should “tell CPIC that [a Regimental Combat Team] in western al anbar will accept your embed,” but that they weren’t hopeful that it would happen. As of this date, I have no embeds lined up, no possibility of being embedded and only a long list of e-mails indicating how, when and where my embed requests have all been stone-walled despite my having jumped through every kind of hoop that the Department of Defense has asked me to jump through.July 16, 2007: After trying every trick in the book and calling in every favor I could think of, I was still unable to embed. I finally gave up, put my energy where I had a better shot at succeeding and left for South Africa.