So we stopped and rolled down the window and a private walks over and I said, “I’m an American reporter, can you let me through, ’cause this is going to take another twenty minutes and it’s dark and a little dangerous and we’re just going over there.” The guy says, “Shut the fuck up.” I say, “Look man, I don’t want to make trouble for you,” and while I’m talking to him he’s got his flashlight and he’s moving it in frenetic circles over both of my eyes. I said, “Look, really man, I’m just trying to get home. Is there any way we can just get through?” And he says, “Now you’ve done it! I’m pulling you over and I’m making you wait here while we search your whole car.”
So we comply. We got out of the car, stand away from the car as we were told to, open the trunk, etcetera. And this is my friend’s driver, an Iraqi driver who I had just met that evening, so I felt pretty bad that I had gotten him into that situation. And the pimply private comes over and he says to me, “Yeah, how do you like that? You see what you get when you fuck with me?” Like two feet from my face. And not to my perfect credit, I basically called him a word that will famously get you thrown out of any baseball game that has ever been played. You can figure that out for yourself. Not a pleasant word. And that was it. He goes and talks to his commanding officer, who comes over and within two minutes has me zip-tied, handcuffed, roughly searched, and interrogated for fifteen minutes. We go through this and I’m calm, as I usually am, and eventually they’re like, I guess we can’t arrest an American for using language that we don’t like. They untie me, and we drove off and go home.
About a week later, we get an e-mail addressed to The Christian Science Monitor Baghdad bureau chief, and I was chief at the time, and it’s a letter written by the general in Baghdad at the time. The letter goes on to say we’ve had a lot of complaints about the conduct of our troops in the field and we try to hold ourselves to a high standard and correct problems when they are brought to our attention by the press, but we think you have to be equally responsible and aware of the terrible behavior of your people. For instance, this guy Dan Murphy was stopped and was politely asked to step out of his car and he refused and launched into a profanity-laced, anti-American tirade, and he was so agitated and physically wild that we had to restrain him for his safety and our own. And etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That was completely fantasy. It was lies. And I have no doubt that the general who wrote this letter believed it; he had attached the incident report written by the soldiers who were involved in this little incident.
Basically, I responded and said I happen to be that guy, and I will tell you exactly what happened, and of course [the report] has no truth because these things have no truth. And he apologized and said, “These things get garbled in transmission, sorry.” Now, does this incident matter in the big scheme of things? No. Did the guys on that patrol lie because they thought that maybe arresting Americans for using one naughty word isn’t the thing they should be doing? Maybe. Was what he was told by the soldiers in the field, who of course might have an incentive to lie, believed wholeheartedly by this general? Absolutely. Does it lead me to believe — given the source from the podium in the Green Zone and elsewhere over three years now — that these sorts of reports are far from the whole truth? Absolutely. Have there been military investigations that have proven the same? Absolutely. I think you get the point of the story.
The Guardian, Getty Images
So it was a very weird experience [to report alongside the insurgents] but, again, I think I’m so privileged to have that weird experience because those people — call them what you want, call them insurgents, call them terrorists, call them nut cases, call them jihadis, anything. But you have to understand. If you want to know what’s happening, it’s not enough to brand them terrorists and then go and kill every one of them. It’s not enough. So I think that going to the other side, and writing about the other side is a very, very important thing.