I think the documents do more to tell the story of being a Marine in an almost impossible situation—where they had insurgents that were mixing in with civilians and were terrified for their safety and trying to survive, but also attack an enemy that was extremely difficult to find.

What was the reaction of the Americans like when you informed them you’d found their classified documents in a junkyard?



The military officials were very surprised and concerned that as they were leaving, there were classified documents floating around the country that had been found. They were particularly concerned about the maps—that they may give away information that would jeopardize their security as they leave. The maps showed how high helicopters should fly and the route between bases. Another one showed how far radar extended from the bases in Baghdad.

What has been the response in general?



I’ve received a lot of reader e-mail from people that said they thought the story provided them a different way to understand what was going on in the war at that time. I also received some e-mail from people who were critical of the fact that we decided to publish this information.

Was there much debate about what and whether to publish this information?



We had discussions with lawyers at the Times and the foreign editors. We published the information that we thought would fit. The maps were not published—the military was particularly concerned about us publishing the maps.

The biggest challenge was going through the documents and figuring out what the story was—what was new and different that we should include in the story.

Was it difficult to report this story having just arrived in January? How did you get up to speed?



I knew about the incident at Haditha and more importantly about the role Haditha and Abu Ghraib played this year in trying to work out a deal to keep soldiers here after the end of the year. Ultimately the Iraqis balked and said they wouldn’t give immunity protection to American soldiers because of incidents like this that are seared in the minds of Iraqi people.

People ask me, “What’s going to happen in Iraq going forward?” I tell them I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on now. To understand the internal workings of Iraqi politics and the Iraqi psyche is difficult. It’s a big challenge.

How have you found Iraq?



The Times has a really great set up here with great Iraqi journalists and American colleagues, it makes functioning in this kind of environment much easier. I’m grateful to be here at this historic time and be working for a place that has the resources to allow investigative journalism to go on in a war zone.

How does your reporting in Iraq compare to your previous work as a sports reporter?



I did a bunch of investigative stuff when I was a sports reporter—it’s obviously different than this, but one big similarity is dealing with pushback. I dealt with a lot of pushback from people in Major League Baseball and the players’ union on the steroid stories I did. They really push back hard. So when it came time to deal with the military I had significant experience with people trying to prevent me from writing things. I’m glad I had that experience, as it gave me some comfort and confidence in dealing with the military.

 

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.