My sense is that reporters take the anonymous-sourcing issue very seriously, but that the change is going to be gradual and incomplete. In this case, I really can’t claim too much credit. The Army investigative file that I got was full of sworn statements. A lot of the people I called to interview were angry or upset when I told them that I was going to print what they said. A lot of them hung up the phone. I did do interviews on background to try to learn more about what had been going on, but I tried to quote only the ones I could attribute by name.
MB: You suggested in the second story of the series that a March 2003 New York Times article helped jumpstart a stalled government inquiry into the abuses at Bagram. What impact do you think (or hope) your recent series will have?
TG: I don’t think I suggested that about the first story; the record of the Army investigation did. I do think Carlotta Gall and our Pashto-speaking fixer, Ruhullah Khapalwak, deserve a great deal of credit for tracking down Dilawar’s relatives and telling the world about the folded-up piece of paper that had been handed back to them with his body. The family couldn’t read the form — it was in English — but it said, “Homicide.” And while the American military authorities in Afghanistan certainly knew about that piece of paper, they were saying publicly that both men had died of natural causes.
I have a hard time judging the impact that these stories have on policies or even on people who read them. Things that strike me as important or outrageous sometimes seem to have no impact on readers at all. But I do think these are the kinds of stories that papers like the Times should be doing, especially at a moment like this in the country’s history.