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A profile in self-reflective journalism: Michael Ware (Updated)

This post has been updated; please see the update below on the video links from mickware.info. (If you are reading this on the frontpage, the update is after the Continue Reading jump.)

In my last post, I took a look at the progressive netroots and how they have turned into the blogospheric equivalent of the media Village they have long railed against.

I want to shift gears somewhat and focus on one of the journalists out there who is worth watching:

War correspondent Michael Ware.

Here’s the header of an article previewing the first part of a two part special on Ware that aired recently in Australia, from ABC News in Australia, September 10, 2010:

After a decade of working in war zones, and being kidnapped and almost executed by Al Qaeda, Australian journalist Michael Ware has plenty of personal demons to confront.

The article begins:

In an interview to air on Monday night’s Australian Story, Ware says he is coming to grips with his ordeal at the hands of Al Qaeda.

“No matter how many times I’ve told the story of me being kidnapped by Al Qaeda, every time I’ve told that story it just rolls off my tongue. I thought I was talking about someone else. I never stopped to go back and contemplate how it felt,” he said.

While working in Afghanistan, Ware says he went from being a bumbling Aussie journo to being completely immersed in the conflict.

Adopting local guise and speaking the language of the Taliban, he gained trust on both sides of the war.

“We would go into these Taliban-controlled areas and stop for a bite to eat and the Taliban would be absolutely unaware that a foreigner had just been among them,” he said.

“If they had known I would have been executed instantly, as would my team.

“I was going to their first training camps in the dead of night, having been blindfolded or shoved in trunks of cars and taken by circuitous routes to arrive at these places where men were training other men in how to conduct guerrilla warfare.”

The write-up goes on to discuss Ware’s prisoner of war experience:

Ware is the only Westerner to be captured and later released by Al Qaeda in Iraq.

He says the time of his kidnapping was a particularly violent chapter in the country.

“The blood-letting was at a horrific rate. There was a day in September when there was a particularly furious battle on Haifa Street, when the Americans went in,” he said.

“After that battle, the Iraqi guerrilla commander who controlled Haifa Street sent one of his mid-ranking commanders to my house.

“That commander came to my house and he said ‘Al Qaeda has taken over Haifa Street… the boss said to come and bring you in and show you’.

“Whilst we were driving I clearly saw the multitude of Al Qaeda fighters… A member of Al Qaeda stepping out from the median strip pulling a pin on a grenade – that’s the only film I have of my kidnapping.”

And, this is just amazing:

His actions have often rankled authorities, but former US Army Staff Sergeant David Bellaviva cannot help but notice his physical courage.

“Michael Ware has completed the equivalent of eight to nine combat tours – there is no soldier in our military that has done that… Michael Ware has done that,” he said.

Even though I had been aware of Michael Ware’s extensive war correspondence, that quote just left me somewhat stunned and speechless when I read it.

But life at war gave Ware little time to deal with the psychological effects of the things he had seen, and so he says he locked away many memories to deal with another day.

Shell-shocked and back in Australia, that day has come.

The first episode in this two-part Australian Story will air on Monday, September 13 at 8:00pm on ABC1.

In the second part of the special, Michael Ware comes forward with the revelation that in 2007 he witnessed and filmed a war crime which he says CNN censored. The story broke in the Brisbane Times last Sunday, before the rest of the special aired in Australia the following night:

Brisbane war correspondent Michael Ware is set to reveal that an alleged war crime he filmed in Iraq has never been seen or investigated by authorities.

Mr Ware, who covered the Afghanistan war from 2001 and the Iraq war from 2003 for Time magazine and the US television network CNN from 2006, returned to Brisbane in December suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

His harrowing near-decade of war coverages were documented last Monday in the first of a two-part ABC Australian Story series, with the second part to be broadcast tomorrow night.

Mr Ware tells of the alleged incident he says he witnessed and filmed in 2007 when working for US news giant CNN, but claims the network decided the footage was too graphic to go to air.

He alleges that a teenager in a remote Iraqi village run by the militant Islamist group, al-Qaeda was carrying a weapon to protect himself.

‘‘(The boy) approached the house we were in and the (US) soldiers who were watching our backs, one of them put a bullet right in the back of his head. Unfortunately it didn’t kill him,’’ he tells Australian Story.

‘‘We all spent the next 20 minutes listening to his tortured breath as he died.

Ware goes on to self-reflect:

“I had this moment … that I realised despite what was happening to this man in front of me, I’d been more concerned with the composition of my (photo) shot than I was with any attempt to either save him or at the very, very least ease his passing.

“I indeed had been indifferent as the soldiers around me whose indifference I was attempting to capture.’’

There are so many harrowing details in Ware’s accounts, but the part in bold really hit me in a deep way. Given the gravity of the topic, it would have hit me anyway, but it just struck me that what Ware is describing above is the antithesis of the Village dynamics I tackled in my last post.

Ware himself is taking stock of how he had in some sense gotten caught up in the indifference he was trying to address. This is what is missing from our journalism today, both in the press and in the blogosphere. Really Ware is not indifferent at all. His ability to self-reflect and his courage to come forward goes to the core of his journalistic integrity.

He alleges the incident was ‘‘technically’’ a breach of the Geneva Convention or ‘‘a small war crime if there’s such a thing’’.

Mr Ware’s friend, journalist John Martinkus who now teaches media studies at the University of Tasmania, returned to Baghdad in 2007 where he had worked previously for the SBS’s Dateline program.

‘‘One of the first things he (Ware) showed me was that tape and he was watching it over and over and over again; he was really obsessed with it,’’ Mr Martinkus said.

‘‘Part of him was like ‘how could I just stand by and watch that happen’. It was a really horrible stark moral choice that he faced and he still wrestles with that,’’ he said.

Reading that, I just go back in my head to Army Staff Sergeant Bellaviva’s quote that “Michael Ware has completed the equivalent of eight to nine combat tours – there is no soldier in our military that has done that… Michael Ware has done that.”

It is hard to fathom the stress, trauma, and moral struggles of what he has gone through.

The article continues with more from Martinkus (Ware’s friend):

He said CNN owned the footage and Mr Ware therefore was not free to give it to anyone else.

Mr Martinkus, like Mr Ware, was kidnapped during his time in Iraq.

‘‘People really need to understand what Mick’s been through. The footage should be shown so people know how callously US soldiers treat the Iraqis,’’ he said.

I wonder if we will ever get any resolution on this story, especially with CNN appearing to be in disarray these days. It’s one thing for the network to have decided the footage was too graphic to air, but why did they not report the story?

Anyhow, wrapping up on the Brisbane piece, here are two more excerpts:

Mr Ware’s parents, Gail and Len of the outer-Brisbane suburb of Ferny Grove said their son’s PTSD symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia and mood swings. His son, Jack, aged 7 is helping his rehabilitation in Brisbane, they said.


He witnessed his first suicide bomb attack in Iraq when Australian ABC cameraman, Paul Moran was killed and reporter, Eric Campbell was wounded in 2003.

Mr Ware said three of his Iraqi staff were kidnapped and tortured by al-Qaeda because of him but he managed to get them back.

He said ‘‘a death sentence’’ hung on any locals if it was revealed that they worked for him or for CNN or Time magazine.

Australian Story is on ABC1 at 8pm tomorrow.

Here are the links to the video of parts 1 and 2 up on www.mickware.info:

Australian Story: Part 1 (Transcript here)

Australian Story: Part 2 (Transcript here)

I haven’t made my way all the way through yet, but I wanted to go ahead and pass along the links right now.

Update: If you cannot get the videos to play from the direct links, click on the transcript links and you will see a series of clips of the videos broken up into pieces. Hopefully you can watch all of the special that way. In my original posting I had mistakenly referred to mickware.info as Michael Ware’s official site, but the actual siterunner has kindly left a note below, including the following:

If anyone still has not been able to see it, please write me at Cynthia@mickware.com and let me know what you’re missing.

Below is a link to Howard Kurtz’ response yesterday on CNN to Wares’ revelations. (This clip comes from mickware.info as well.)

Howard Kurtz — Reliable Sources

The money quote from Kurtz’ commentary (transcribed by me, so pardon any errors):

“Now, television networks make those decisions all the time, but if the footage of a soldier shooting a teenager was considered too raw to broadcast, why wasn’t the story aired without pictures? Isn’t shooting someone in the back of the head a potential war crime? Did CNN have any responsibility to report the shooting to military authorities? I wanted to put those questions to network executives, but CNN declined to make anyone available for an interview. Instead its press office issued a brief statement.”

CNN’s statement to Huffington Post (via Jason Linkins):

A CNN spokesperson tells the Huffington Post, “CNN often has to make calls about which disturbing images are necessary to tell a story, and which are too graphic. These are always challenging, and the subject of reasoned editorial debate. On this occasion we decided to not show an Iraqi insurgent dying with fatal wounds.”

Back to Kurtz:

“Now, maybe CNN made the right call. Maybe there were reasons not to report the story even without pictures… but when a news organization won’t answer questions, we have no way of knowing.”

Some more background from the Huffpo link:

Back in 2006, CNN caught hell from Iraq war proponents after it ran Ware’s video report on insurgent snipers targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. Criticism followed hard from viewers and from lawmakers, most notably Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who accused CNN of serving “as the publicist for an enemy propaganda film featuring the killing of an American soldier.”

“Does CNN want America to win this thing?” Hunter asked, “You can’t be on both sides of the war.” An incensed Hunter then asked then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “to remove CNN from the military embedding program.”

Whether or not that incident contributed to CNN’s decision to not air the footage Ware is now describing, it is at the very least, context worth remembering.

Also, from Ware’s interview with Men’s Journal, December 2008 (via the Linkins piece at Huffpo):

“I am not the same fucking person,” he tells me. “I am not the same person. I don’t know how to come home.”It’s October, six months after our first meeting, and Michael Ware, 39, is at his girlfriend’s apartment in New York, trying to tell me why after six years he absolutely must start spending less time in Iraq. He’s crying on the other end of the telephone.

“Will I get any better?” he continues. “I honestly don’t know. I can’t see the — right now, I know no other way to live.”


“The American military is guilty of an unmitigated war crime,” Ware says, his face flush. For the first time since we met, he falls silent. “Near beer. In any civilized army that goes to war, the fundamental rule is two cans, per man, per day. This rule about no alcohol for the soldiers is absurd. That’s what Nuremberg was about, all right.” It’s a good line, the kind of black humor that endears Ware to the troops.

“I can’t stand the media, but I would go through hell with a bucket of gasoline for Michael Ware,” says Sergeant Bellavia, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his service in Fallujah. “He goes through all the things we go through — 55 cigs a day, no sleep. And if we were allowed to drink, we’d drink as much as he does.

“When you look at him, you look into vacant eyes. He looks like my military friends do. He’s seen enough shit.”

And, finally:

Ware flips on his video camera and creeps into the house six feet behind Bellavia. His device is picking up nothing but darkness and the slow, creaking sound of footsteps. Then, light, blinding light. Bullets ping around the living room, and before he knows what’s going on, two bodies drop. Bellavia has knocked off the first of them. For the next hour — until all six insurgents are carried out dead from the house — Ware captures that same pattern of blackness and near silence (in the background you can hear the insurgents chanting, “Allahu Akbar,  Allahu Akbar”) pierced by gunfire and screaming.

Ware believes he recorded the perfect war experience that night, a snapshot you can get only from terrifying proximity. He dreams of renting out a theater and subjecting an audience to it in full surround sound; that way people would know what it’s really like over there. “It’s my firm belief that we need to constantly jar the sensitivities of the people back home,” he says. “War is a jarring experience. Your kids are living it out, and you’ve inflicted it upon 20-odd million Iraqis. And when your brothers and sons and mates from the football team come home, and they ain’t quite the same, you have an obligation to sit for three and a half minutes and share something of what it’s like to be there.”

It’s an obligation now owed to Michael Ware, too.

I am reminded of the phrase Hurt Locker. Thanks to Michael Ware and other war correspondents for keeping the human costs of war front and center.

29 Responses

  1. Thanks for this, Wonk – during Viet Nam, we saw this sort of thing on television nightly. It was horrifying – I cannot imagine the intensity of this man’s PTSD. Nightmarish.

    Now, we see little, hear little and are distanced from the horror that is going on in Iraq when it never should have happened in the first place. Bush and his crime mob really need to go to jail for that….and stay there until they’re dead. Such an effing waste of lives – it makes me weep.

  2. “Bush and his crime mob…”

    Include Tony Blair. I’ve been listening to him read his book “A Journey: My Political Life” in which he plaintively tries to justify his role in Iraq. The more I hear from him, the more I am despising him.

    (A theme I hear throughout this book is his conflict with Gordon Brown, or the threat he feels from Brown.)

  3. Wonk,

    Thanks for this brilliant post. I’ve always admired Michael Ware. He was far too good for CNN. I’m not surprised he has PTSD. He is a completely different person now, but because of him we learned at least a little bit of truth about what our government was doing in Iraq. Many of of his angry reports did make it onto CNN.

  4. Thanks Wonk The Vote. 😥

    A very thought provoking post…

  5. I haven’t review all MSM, obviously but I can find any reporting that the Kandahar offensive was started this weekend. This major military action was originally planned to begin in June but has been delayed because “things” haven’t been going well with Mr. Obama’s War.

    It’s pretty sad state of affairs when the most reliable source of news comes from the Communists and the south Asia News Service.

    “”Troops begin search in Kandahar as coalition offensive under way”


  6. oops forgot the second story:

    US slaughter intensifies in Afghanistan
    By Bill Van Auken
    27 September 2010

    The US military claimed responsibility for killing scores of insurgents over the weekend as it unleashed its long-awaited offensive against Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city.
    Some 8,000 US troops, the majority of them drawn from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Airborne Division, together with Afghan puppet forces and some other foreign troops, are carrying out attacks in the Arghendab River Valley. This is a key approach route to Kandahar and links the city, a Taliban stronghold, to neighboring Helmand Province, which is also a center of the insurgency.

    Dubbed Operation Dragon Strike, the attacks have been concentrated in the Zhari and Panjwai districts of Kandahar Province, which are immediately to the west of the city. PAN, the Afghan news agency, cited local officials as reporting that at least five Taliban fighters were killed in clashes Sunday


  7. Thanks for this post WTV, Ware was always miles ahead of any other reporter on Iraq. So sorry to hear that he’s having such a hard time, but not really surprised. Whenever he was on CNN he would seem like he had so much to tell, and urgency was oozing out of him. They would usually have him paired up along side some think tank talking head who really had no clue. Hope he can work his way thru this.

  8. Very powerful, Wonk the Vote! Thank you!

    What a contrast between Mr. Ware and (most of) the soldiers he is with on the one hand versus the Wall Street Crybabies (WSC’s?) on the other.

    I have to note, the Iraqi public and the Iraqi fighters we either fight with or are up against are not just doing 8-9 tours of duty, like Mr. Ware. They are there continuously, all the time, since our invasion. Some of them came of age during this conflict. They can’t go home to Australia. I am horrified by the damage inflicted on many of our soldiers (and those of other nations who helped us). But think what this conflict must be doing to the Iraqi’s especially to their children.

    If only we could draft the WSC’s…


    • What a salient and an important point to make… and to not lose sight of — thank you, djmm.

      Some of them came of age during this conflict. They can’t go home to Australia.

      Indeed. The battle for their hearts and minds are not being served well by the corporate media’s sanitization of the wars either, imho.

    • SHV doc,

      I tweeted about this, but there hasn’t been much coverage or outrage here in the US. I can only imagine the illnesses that the soldiers will come down with and worry if their children might have similar situations like the Iraqis and their children.

      Deadly Legacy|#Iraq Babies born w/#deformities, #cancer rates make effects of #Hiroshima look tame. http://tiny.cc/hfdsq #War #HumanRights

      Deadly Legacy – Iraq

  9. OT: The Obama Times says that Obama wants to wiretap the internet starting next year.

  10. Fantastic, Wonk. I watched the first one, and got half way through the second when it just stopped. Has anyone else watched and had the same problem?

  11. Hi, great summation of the program about Michael Ware and all he is going through. One correction: mickware.com is not Michael’s site, I run it. I started clipping his televised reports in 2005 when it was apparent that he knew more about what was going on in Iraq than the administration was telling us. His work over the years has been incredible, although he is paying a heavy price for it now.

    Sorry to hear that some of the clips have not been playing for some people — the procedure to get them posted was a bit…complicated. I have uploaded a variety of formats and the smaller clips as well. I hope that everyone has been able to watch all of the program, it is riveting viewing. (If anyone still has not been able to see it, please write me at Cynthia@mickware.com and let me know what you’re missing.)

    Michael is a remarkable journalist and one of the strongest men I have ever met. I have no doubt at all that he will pull through this. I hope our service men and women who are also suffering from PTSD get the care they need as well; Lord only knows how the Iraqi civilians will ever be able to come to grips with the horrors they have seen and that, sadly, are likely to continue.

    • Cynthia, thanks so much for stopping by with the correction and the note about the videos. I was dogtired when I wrote this and apologize for the oversight. I just updated the post to correct the record and add your e-mail if anyone is having trouble with the videos.

      Also, thanks for all you do to document and collect Ware’s whereabouts(I just stumbled upon your wareabouts blog, too.) I’m not sure I would have realized there was this resource online if I had not been searching for the Australian story special, but I’m glad I found you and I’ve bookmarked your site.

  12. Thanks Wonk. I have admired Ware’s coverage and viewpoint for awhile now.

  13. Thank you so much for this post, Wonk. It was a compelling piece. I’m so glad I got the chance to see it.

  14. This indifference is produced by desensitization. I was a certified behavior therapist and studied under Joseph Wolpe, the father of behavior therapy. Ok credentials out of the way.

    Rather than desensitization techniques in the Iraq war zone we have Edna Foa’s flooding techniques. Immersion in vivo in the terror. Crossing bridges, elevators etc until the anxiety attack has run its course. Only you are doing it on purpose with the therapist. This is what they do to the military to condition them to life in the war zone. Cure by flooding will eventually break down and another flooding will be required.

    Works on dogs and thunder by using a tape recorder that you increase the loudness of the thunder noise gradually until the dog can sit in a room and snooze. You will have to repeat it.

    Or Edward desensitizing himself to the smell of Bella’s blood by intentional breathing (flooding) and slowly touching her.

    This is Pavlovian and nothing is going to change it except an existential moment as Ware tells it. What was I thinking? The writer John Gardner talks about the greed to experience a horror so as to write about it-accidents etc and his criticism of himself for doing it.

    The whole purpose of military training is to lead to this indifference to life. Reread Caesar. Same thing.

    It is war as a solution that must go. Because these men will never be the same. Talk to any old vet from War II. They are still there a lot.

    • And when you ruin an economy that leaves the uneducated and poor to choice but to go into the miliatry this is perpetuated. The will always have a fresh supply of young men and women. During the initial flooding, those who don’t get desensitized will probably have been killed.

      Oh and Edward used desensitization techniques like thunder noise for Bella’s blood so he wouldn’t kill her to drink it. Stephenie Meyer may not be the people’s choice for literary competence, but she is a great psychologist.

  15. Superb post, Wonk. I’ve always had conflicted feelings about violent images, like the famous photo of the man being impaled on the American flag here in Boston, during desegregation. Of course I understand the importance of documenting these events, but part of me says, “What is wrong with you? Put down the camera and help him already!” And after everything Ware’s gone through and so much of it futile because there’s no such thing as journalism these days, it’s really amazing and impressive that he hasn’t become desensitized and still thinks about the human issues and ethics involved amidst all the chaos.

  16. Thanks so much Wonk – this is an incredibly well done post – It’s hard to believe what Michael Ware has been through.

  17. Yes thank you. I try to keep all ths outta my head since its so hard to bear. Imagine what its like for the soldiers and civilians who have no escape from the horror inflicted on them. Again, pain and horror caused by religion.

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